If World of Warcraft were a college course, would you enroll? David Friedman, an academic economist “who teaches at a law school and has never taken a course for credit in either field” hopes so. He’s laid out a few reasons why he thinks all that copper and iron and mithril and thorium mining you’ve been grinding into virtual booty might be worth an elective credit or two.
WoW has markets and prices, including an auction house with many buyers, many sellers, and a wide range of products for sale. Prices are readily observed—starting prices, buyout prices, relative prices at one time, changes over time. Actual sales prices are a bit harder, but if your students are active players they are probably buying and selling things and could be persuaded to keep track of prices paid and received and make the information available to the rest of the class.
Check that last sentence. I wonder if Friedman realizes he’s essentially just made a case for education-funded pro bono tip-sharing. “Here’s how you turn a Libram of Constituion, a Black Diamond, a Lung Juice Cocktail, and 4 Dragon’s Breath into a Lesser Arcanum of Constitution, then sell it for a mint.” Which creates a natural disincentive to purchase all those tree-slaughtering strategy guides, in turn attenuating real-world publisher strategy guide sales.
Put the corporate strategy-guide publishers out of business? Stick it to all those shameless aftermarket retail strategy guide peddlers? With (if the university’s public) taxpayer dollars? Well there you go, now you know why these guys think Friedman’s a flaming liberal!
In all seriousness, Friedman’s points are actually pretty compelling, even if guys like Edward Castranova and others have long since tilled this turf. Using popular media to convey important, nuanced concepts like “arbitrage, collusive behavior, and predatory pricing”? Sounds like a win-win to me.
Would you enroll in World of Warcraft 101?
Hey, what self-respecting gamer wouldn’t? After all, it’s a chance to legitimize all that time you’re planning to spend holed up in your dorm slaughtering Bloodfen Scytheclaws and Ragged Young Wolves and launching company-sized all-nighter raids to — err, excuse me, I meant transacting individualist socio-economic rhetoric that transgresses marginalizing objective superstructures and re-conceptualizes the spatial aesthetics of color, animation, and architecture.