Yesterday, I posted about the “theft” of virtual money in the online game Eve. This make-believe money may be sold for real cash in the future. Are some people taking online games too serously?

So we might think. Selling virtual property has a long history, as the Internet goes. It was popularized several years back by an Ultima Online player who auctioned off his character on eBay. The response was tremendous. After that, the floodgates opened. Today, virtual items of all kinds can be found on auction sites and other places around the web.

Some MP games prohibit this activity in their Terms Of Service. Nonetheless, buying and selling goes on, underground if need be.

So we wonder if things have gotten a little crazy here, if some people have lost touch with reality to spend real money for a bunch of electrons. And yet…

And yet, don’t we do similar every day? Aren’t we spending real money to buy fiction books, see movies, watch shows on cable TV? We call this “entertainment”, but in the end, we are buying fantasy.

We are willing, and always have been, to pay for make-believe. Not only that, we become attached to fictional characters, “people” who have no existence outside of imagination.

A case in point (and by no means the only one) is Sherlock Holmes. This made-up “person” was so popular, and so beloved, readers expressed universal outrage when Doyle “killed” him in “The Final Problem”. Public pressure eventually caused Doyle to resurrect Holmes in “The Adventure Of The Empty House”.

(And that’s not even going into the matter of any number of people who actually thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person. That’s scary.)

So, if we’re willing to buy, and buy into, fantasy of all kinds, paying for virtual items doesn’t seem all that strange. They have as much reality as words on a page or images on a screen.

Further, books, movies and TV are all passive. We sit and read or sit and watch. In MP games, we sit and play. Emotional involvement is therefore much greater.

So, next time you hear about some virtual item sold for real cash, don’t shake your head in wonder. Think about the last book, movie, or TV show you paid for. In the end, it’s all the same: money for make-believe.miniscorp