Virtual Worlds as the Rat Mazes and Petri Dishes of Economics

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This article from Slate.com provides an interesting discussion regarding the applicability of virtual worlds and MMORPGs to economics research. One of the things the article points out is that research in the real world must handle inevitable data loss – making calculations like GDP the result of estimates and approximations – while every transaction in a virtual world is tracked without error. Although some researchers are skeptical about the ability of virtual world economies to mirror the real world, the point of the article is that research tools like rat mazes and petri dishes don’t model the real world, either. What those tools provide are environments where basic principles of a given activity can be examined, so those general principles can be extrapolated and applied to the real world. Virtual worlds have an additional advantage for researchers and policymakers – the “laws” in the form of the terms of service and the general rules of the world, are both more simplistic than the real world and more malleable – making them a research tool for the intersection of law and economics, as well.