Linda Kostowski and Sascha Pohflepp

Linda Kostowski and Sascha Pohflepp

Work from Export to World.

“The success of multi-player environments has meant the advent of economic forces in the world of online gaming and the threshold separating playful simulation and the real world has been lowered a notch. Phenomena like sweatshops and shady transactions that once manifested themselves only in the black-market economy of role-playing games like those by Blizzard Entertainment might increasingly take the center stage in the game experience.

In Linden Lab’s Second Life, interaction with merchandise is part of the design of the simulated world. Every object created can be assigned a value and can be traded in. Every user is thus automatically also a producer of virtual wares, and, in contrast to the social web, this added value is much less abstract here: after all Linden’s game currency is directly linked to the real US dollar. Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why Second Life is perceived less as a game and more as unexplored territory, and has been a much-discussed topic over recent months in the mass media. Many observers have identified this as the beginnings of a new internet and wasted no time setting up branches of their companies in this world. Perhaps it’s the three-dimensionality and its proximity to the original promises of virtual reality that make this so attractive, or simply the possibility of producing value–that is merchandise–according to classic patterns.

What is certain, though, is that these wares are digital artifacts too and, as such, can also be copied and manipulated–indeed, to a far greater extent even than some users would wish. Bottom line: there’s no escape from the world of MP3. The general outcry of about the so-called Copybot–the software that allowed someone to copy any object in Second Life–illustrates how the system still reacts so sensitively to issues like this.

Export to World seeks to comment ironically on the design and production of merchandise in virtual worlds. At Ars Electronica in Linz, retail space on Marienstrasse was temporarily converted into a shop like those found in Second Life. Large scale display ads showed what’s for sale: custom-made or purchased virtual objects that shoppers could buy at a price determined daily by the current Linden dollar/euro exchange rate. Instead of the acquired object suddenly appearing in the purchaser’s inventory, though, the proud owner received a a two-dimensional paper representation of it which he/she could manually fit together into a three-dimensional object on site. The final results are paper representations of digital representations of real objects, including all the flaws that copying entails.” – via Ars Electronica Catalog

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