Putnam in the case of increasing isolation and solitude in the US or by the Japanese sociologist Miyadai Shinji in relation to juvenile crime, school-dropout and hikikomori Japanese adolescents or young adults who conine themselves to their room or apartment. Two examples are the sud- den disappearance of the girlfriend in A Wild Sheep Chase and of the wife in he Wind-up Bird. In the iction of older Japanese writers, like Abe or Kawabata, the loss of a beloved woman never fails to be shocking Cassegard In Murakami, by contrast, the vulnerability necessary in order to be shocked is replaced by a masochistically tinged resignation which borders on indiference.
Peace of mind is paid for by loneliness. Rather than arming itself with a heightened degree of consciousness when venturing into external relations, the subject will abandon them and turn to new areas of gratiication inside the self. Com- mon to both is that they cushion the shocks that have become emblematic of modern human relationships. Both locate the object of desire outside social life, which is increasingly avoided as a source of gratiication since it remains an arena of antagonism. What are the new dilemmas that take form in naturalized modernity? Freud provides an important hint in his association of the interiorization of libido with melancholia and in suggesting that the clearest examples of such inte- riorization can be found in cases of traumatic loss that prevent the ego from investing any libido in external objects until recovery is achieved Freud , — Below I sche- matize this dilemma in the form of a semiotic square Figure 2 : Fig.
On the left-hand side we ind the world of sociality, characterized by togetherness and shock. On the right side is non-sociality, in which freedom from shocks is bought at the price of loneli- ness. At the bottom, the experience of traumatic loss brings together shock and loneliness, the worst aspects of sociality and non-sociality. In such an environment, the vulnerability to shock is in itself an invitation to shock. Not only increasing isolation, but also the frantic vigour with which this isolation is denied, the desperation of the search for belonging, is characteristic of societies today, as evinced in the resurgence of nationalism, ethnic struggles and religious fundamentalism.
If privatization is negated, the sensation of shock is likely to return. Rather it opens up a corridor away from it, which might be traveled both ways. Strategies of Waiting and Revolt At least in his early iction until the late s, Murakami Haruki appears to stoically immerse himself in naturalized modernity.
Later novels—beginning with Norwegian Wood , Noruei no mori and Dance dance dance , Dansu dansu dansu —depict protagonists who start to combat the trend towards privatization by committing themselves to other human beings. By their struggle, however, they ind themselves having to deny naturalization as well, at least to a certain extent. Shock returns to their world, and even where mutual communication is achieved it tends to be painful, casting doubt on the success of their struggle.
While the earlier novels present the clearest and most unblemished picture of a wholly naturalized and privatized world, the later novels show that Murakami is unwilling to airm this world wholeheartedly. What occupies Okada in much of the novel is the restoration of destroyed communication with his wife.
In this novel shock and pain return. As the attempt to restore his marriage ends up in the airmation of violence, this marks the failure of the dream to restore the aura without at the same time inviting shock. His works will be a useful prism for bringing into view another aspect of the discontent generated by naturalization, namely boredom. In contemporary Japanese literature and popular culture there are at least two other varieties of boredom.
A fundamental gesture in much contemporary literature is that of accepting or even celebrating boredom. Its source is resent- ment rather than indiference.
While Sachiko chatters away about parties, jewels and 10 Boredom as a new source of social discontent and even riots in contemporary societies is a phenomenon widely discussed. Meanwhile, she daydreams about the destruction of Tokyo—a daydream which is recapitulated later in the novel when Kiku, her boyfriend, hallucinates in his hotel room that Tokyo extends endlessly in all directions—an enormous, dead city—and is gripped by an urge to level it with the ground.
Smash everything! Wipe this cesspool of the face of the earth! What apocalyptic sects like Aum revolted against, according to the sociologist Miyadai Shinji, was not the dramatic upheavals of society, but on the contrary the lack of stimuli and appearance of standstill. What his protagonists are nostalgic for is not premodernity, but the kind of modernity that Benjamin portrayed, when it was still possible to be shocked.
His iction demonstrates that when experience changes, the content of nostalgia changes too. It ofers not a nostalgia for the aura but a nostalgia for its destruction, not an ideology of peace but one of shock and intensity. Although his iction abounds in seemingly shocking or nauseating episodes, these shocks are never simply given as part of experience itself, as the shocks characteristic of the modernity depict- ed by Benjamin, but are consciously produced in order to resist naturalization.
Just like Benjamin, he appears to waiting for another reality to take form, although his waiting is passive. On the contrary, one feels that he would like nothing better than to reach out to them, yet that he for some reason is unable to do so. His loneliness does not spring from the suppression of social impulses or socially oriented libido.
As I have argued above, the mechanisms behind this latter kind of loneliness are hard to explain using the framework made classical by Simmel and Benjamin and better understood using a Freudian framework in which the interiorization of libido is linked to melancholia and loss. As I have argued above, an important background to the shocks discussed by Benjamin was the atomization of social relationships through system impera- tives inherent in capitalism or the modern bureaucratic state. As long as these underlying atomizing processes are in force, attempts to reject privatization are bound to invite renewed shocks.
To both Benjamin and Adorno, the sensation of shock was arguably an integral part of their critique of myth and ideology. To both, a mythical condition is a condition in which the historical construction or mediation of social life is forgotten, hidden behind a semblance of timeless- ness Adorno , To Benjamin, however, modernity is a state in which non-identity is not only repressed, but also at the same time clearly visible precisely in the sensation of shock whenever impulses, expectations or habitual ways of living are disrupted or frustrated.
Inspired by surrealism and their method of the montage, he explicitly develops shock into a methodological tool aimed at shattering the conventional presup- positions of traditional hermeneutics. What happens to this critique when society is viewed as a naturalized moder- nity? As I tried to indicate in my discussion of reifying epithets in Murakami Haruki, the perception of non-identity may not so much have disappeared as changed character in naturalized modernity. As these epithets bring out, the very absence of pain and shock may stimulate the awareness of non-identity. Even though his modernity takes the form of a seemingly painless world of stillness, such a landscape gives rise to feelings of discomfort.
His works are pervaded by an ill-deined feeling of loss or the sense that something is miss- ing. Just as the disintegration of the aura is an ambivalent process, so the naturalization is ambivalent, encompassing destructive as well as liberating aspects. Naturaliza- tion does not mean that the possibilities for a critique of myth have vanished. Although such criticism can no longer take its point of departure in the sensa- tion of shock, the collision between this longing and the seeming immobility of the naturalized order opens up the possibility of a renewed critique.
Negative Dialektik. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Aoki, T. Murakami Haruki and Contemporary Japan. Treat, — Richmond: Curzon Press. Bauman, Z. Intimations of Postmodernity. London: Routledge. Beck, U. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Benjamin, W. London: Verso. Cambridge, Mass. Caputo, J. On religion. Cassegard, C. Shock and Naturalization in Contemporary Japanese Literature. Folkestone: Global Oriental. Castells, M. Oxford: Blackwell. Cohen, S. Freud, S. On Metapsychology: he heory of Psychoanalysis. London: Penguin Books. Habermas, J. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Harootunian, H. World Literature Today, Spring: — Jameson, F. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke Uni- versity Press. Marcus, G. Lipstick Traces. A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Marx, K. Oxford: Oxford University Press. McClure, J. Modern Fiction Studies 41 1 : — Miyadai, S. Tokyo: Tsukuru shuppan.
Kono yo kara kirei ni kietai I want to leave this world completely. Tokyo: Asahi Shimbunsha. Murakami, F. Japan Forum 14 1 : — Murakami, H. Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. New York: Vintage. Nejimakidori kuronikuru he Wind-up Bird Chronicle , vol. Murakami, R. Coin Locker Babies. Tokyo: Kodansha International. Nakazawa, S. Riaru de aru koto Being real. Okazaki, K. Taikutsu ga daisuki I Love Boredom. Putnam, R. New York: Touchstone. Rubin, J. Snyder and P. Gabriel, — Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Shimada, M. Shimazono, S. Aspects of the Rebirth of Religion. Noriyoshi and D. Reid, — Simmel, G. In he Sociology of Georg Simmel, edited by K. Wolf, — London: he Free Press. Snyder, S. Tang and S. Snyder, 69— Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. Strecher, M. Journal of Japanese Studies 25 2 : — In s, journalists and scholars begun to drawn attention to the ways in which marketing affects perceptions of necessity. Vance Packard  describes how new sophisticated techniques of consumer psychology were being used to persuade Americans to buy goods that they would not have otherwise purchased.
Yoshimi relates how the number of electric appliances that were considered sufficient for a Japanese household kept increasing throughout the postwar decades. The association of certain goods with high social status can be seen as a natural result of their rarity and exclusivity, and subsequent adoption by high-status individuals.
But in the age of mass media, perceptions of rarity, exclusivity and celebrity endorsement can also be manufactured. In opposition to mainstream fashion and the limited range of identity positions it affords, stands the use of consumption styles to create new and rebellious identities, from jeans-wearing hippies to consumption-critical punks and politically defiant hip-hoppers.
In each of these cases, the popularity of the style eventually made it commercially attractive to start producing the symbols of the rebellion industrially. A side effect of such commercialisation, however, tends to be the subversion of the original meanings of the styles. Punk styles were gentrified and disarmed when their styles were adopted into high-street fashion Barnard , p. And the menacing ghetto styles of the hip-hop movement became a fashion of choice for middle-class youth from Los Angeles to Tokyo, almost in direct opposition to the identity they were originally developed to express Barnard , pp.
As long as there are discontents, activists, politically radical African Americans, they will find new consumption styles to position themselves brazenly outside the dominant order. But with the same certainty, if they succeed, entrepreneurs will never be far behind. Central to this activity is the concept of lifestyle, which is a new way of grouping consumers. If Fordist marketing grouped consumers according to socio-demographic segments, post-Fordist marketing groups them in terms of similar tastes, attitudes and consumption patterns Slater , p.
The rationale for this grouping is the idea, elaborated in section 2. According to this view, consumers associate with a lifestyle they see in advertising, magazines and movies, and turn it into reality by adopting the corresponding consumption behaviour. As for the idea of consumption as the pursuit of experiences and artistic visions, the classic criticism, as expressed by Adorno and Horkheimer  , is that experiences produced by the capitalist culture industry are nothing but homogenous mass culture, empty and without any other meaning than the need to capture the audience.
Moreover, this Marxist perspective sees the culture industry as being in service to other industries, programming people into consumers to fulfill the needs of the expanding production. In practice, however, it tends to overlook the diverse, even active roles that consumers adopt in markets. I will therefore set this view aside for now, but invoke it later when a critical perspective is needed. The scope of this dissertation is not explicitly set to any specific geographical area. Instead, a relatively global perspective is attempted in the sense that empirical data is included from both of the two main market areas of virtual consumption explained in section 3.
To support this wide geographical scope on the theoretical level, it is necessary to briefly consider the role of culture in consumption and consumer behaviour. Shared understandings include both values what should be as well as ontological beliefs regarding the world what is. Culture is typically understood to be an attribute of a nation, geographial region or ethnicity, but lately it has also been applied to other objects, such as corporations Zelizer a, p.
In each case, a connotation of shared understandings and their concrete manifestations is to some degree present. As for how culture relates to consumption, two basic approaches can be identified in literature. However, by adopting this kind of cultural explanations too earnestly, researchers run the risk of glossing over other possible mechanisms.
For example, Horioka argues that before resorting to cultural explanations, it is important to consider whether simple economic realities might account for cross-national differences in consumption patterns. Culture is best used as an explanans when a mechanism through which an attribute of the culture could plausibly affect the behaviour in question is also proposed e.
The second approach to the relationship between culture and consumption takes a wider view, recognising that even economic institutions such as the market are products of culture. Reciprocity is understood as flows of goods within symmetrical groups such as families and neighbourhoods, while redistribution refers to centrally organised static allocation of goods, typically by the state.
The actual economic model of an entity, such as a society, is a mixture of these ideal types. Which transactions belong within which sphere is also a matter of shared understanding. There is ambiguity and fluctuation, as well as movement from category to category as a result of long-term cultural changes. In this dissertation, both approaches to theorising the role of culture are utilised to some extent. In article four, culture is used as a structural variable in statistical models to explain national differences in virtual consumption behaviour, while article two is an account of the culturally constituted economic-social institutions of an online hangout.
In section 3. In this section, I move from established theories of consumption to what I claim to be a novel mode of consumption: spending money on virtual goods. I begin with some background on the sites of virtual consumption, the virtual spaces that emerged as a result of the consumer Internet boom of the s. I follow with an analysis of how digitalisation influenced consumption in three waves: first through online retail, then by enabling increasing consumer participation, and finally by giving rise to virtual consumption.
I then proceed to the main contribution of this dissertation: applying established theoretical perspectives on consumption to virtual consumption to develop explanations for why people are spending money on virtual goods. The emergence of virtual consumption is predicated on a larger consumption-related trend that has swept over industrialised countries in the past two decades: the massive adoption of the Internet and other digital communication technologies for everyday consumer use. This section is concerned with theorising the rise of online communication in a way that provides necessary context for the practices of virtual consumption that are detailed in the later sections.
Technology is defined as the application of sciences to solving practical problems. Ostensibly, then, the aim of technological consumer products, including computers and Internet services, is to help consumers overcome their problems and fulfil their needs. But technology consumption can be approached from other perspectives as well: as one more style, marker or trend in the pursuit of social status, identity or manufactured consumerism.
Empirical studies show that socio-economically disadvantaged people tend to consume Internet services and other new technologies less than socio-economically advantaged people Hsieh et al. This could be seen from a Bourdieuan perspective as reflecting differences in the distribution of cultural capital, or from a production of consumption perspective as an instance of the triumph of frivolous mass culture over more enlightened values.
Marketing associates technological devices with images of success and sophistication, although technology products and brands can evoke ideas of freedom and independence e. But beyond this superficial analysis of communication technologies and Internet services as one more piece in the grand game of consumption, is the realisation that these technologies have also changed the way in which the game is played for many people, by extending the playfield into the online space. A large body of authorship is concerned with how identities are formed online, how people congregate in virtual communities, and how computer-mediated communication channels become to be perceived as concrete new spaces.
In the following subsections, I will cover these ideas to the extent necessary to understand the context in which Internet users engage in virtual consumption. As the use of computer-mediated communication technologies expanded from corporate groupware to hobbyist bulletin board systems, from academic data exchange to multi-user dungeons MUDs , the issue of identity entered the scene in a big way.
In professional use, identity had chiefly been an administrative and forensic matter, but in the new leisure-time oriented services, it turned back into the social and psychological question of the construction of self. A brief summary of the major claims follows. This enforces the identity in the mind of the person assuming it. In time, reputation, memories, roles, responsibilities and relationships will become pinned to the identity, further enhancing its reality. The ability to create identities can be used by the participants for experimentation and play: for trying on different identities to observe how others react to them and what kind of feelings they evoke in the self.
On the other hand, the veil of anonymity also allows the more negative aspects of human personality, such as egotism, belligerence and rivalry, to be brought forward. Anonymity, together with multitasking and asynchronous modes of communication, permits the maintaining of multiple identities simultaneously. To make use of this ability, users must split their time and attention between their various computer-mediated identities, in addition to splitting their time and attention between computer use and other activities.
This partitioning, coupled with the significance and value users invest in their computer-mediated identities and relationships, gives rise to the idea and experience of the physical body as just one facet of the self, to which there is not always willingness to assign primacy. But the relationships and the identities involved in them are never described as floating freely in some kind of a borderless cyberspace.
Instead, each identity and relationship is framed by and defined in relation to an online social group: users of a particular MUD, participants in a particular Usenet discussion group, and so on. Licklider and Robert Taylor:. They will be communities not of common location, but of common interest This prediction was shown to be insightful when groups matching the description appeared many years later and were described by authors such as Rheingold and Amy Bruckman The idea of a common interest, whether it be a hobby or profession or something as abstract as common tastes, became central in these descriptions and was elevated to the position of something of a constituting feature of virtual communities.
The reason for coming to a particular virtual community are the like-minded individuals that gather there. The membership of a virtual community is often discussed and analysed in terms of a simple structure of roles or status positions, which are usually informal. In sociology, the concept of community has been given many different definitions in different ages and contexts.
Virtual community differs from Gemeinschaft mainly in that membership is somewhat fuzzy and status positions perhaps more flexible. Although the empirical parts of this dissertation pertain to the Internet, the overall notion of virtual consumption does not need to restricted to a particular medium. Due to technological convergence, this distinction is in any case loosing some of its importance. Another common theme in works such as Rheingold , Bruckman and Turkle is experiencing the computer medium through which the virtual community interacts as a place: a location rather than a channel.
This happens in all kinds of virtual community platforms, but is particularly obvious in those that are built to simulate actual geographical space, such as many online games and hangouts Neitzel This indicates an online service with a large number of users interacting with each other synchronously, often through an avatar situated in a virtual space. Modern MMOs usually involve navigating an avatar in a virtual terrain rendered in three-dimensional graphics. The presentation style is not crucially important: the analyses in this dissertation apply for the most part even in services that only feature metaphorical space, such as social networking sites.
It is important, however, that the space and its objects are persistent : that they do not disappear or reset after every session, but continue to live and evolve even as the user logs off. Following the bar analogy above, the people came because of the drinks and the pool table and not because of the other clients. From this perspective, the element that gathers users together can be the features and content of the platform as opposed to any particular relation to the other participants.
The term is also sometimes used to describe the technological platform that mediates the community. This equates it with group-based communication technology, again rendering it redundant. Modern MMOs have user bases consisting of hundreds of thousands or even millions of active participants. For these reasons, even though the concept of virtual community has been historically important in laying the ground for understanding social forms in the online environment, it is not sufficient for understanding the complexity of social behaviour in MMOs. The question is important if virtual consumption in these environments is to be understood as social behaviour of some kind.
An easy way forward would be to consider large virtual spaces such as MMOs as vessels that act as the gathering places of several distinct virtual communities. For example, Williams et al. Guilds are a quintessential social grouping in many MMOs, and most active players belong to one. But viewing MMOs simply as collections of guild-communities would be insufficient for analysing phenomena such as inter-guild rivalry, recruitment of individuals from one guild to another, and institutions that exist outside the guild structure, such as individual fame and social status related to virtual goods.
Some larger theoretical framework is therefore necessary. Article one of this dissertation focuses on the problem of how to conceptualise MMOs in social scientific research. In many cases, these are just labels with no implied theoretical content. But for some, Castronova in particular, the naming signifies a certain theoretical approach to the subject matter:. The defining feature of a large game is that because of its sheer size and complexity, it can be categorized as a genuine human society. In other words, the society we all lived in before the advent of synthetic worlds was itself a large game.
True, it was the only large game, but these days it is no longer unique in that sense. The large game of Earth society now competes for my time with the large game of Norrath society, Norrath being the world of the video game EverQuest, which at this writing hosts the attention of some , human minds on a daily basis.
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And so long as we focus on the core mechanics of a large game, there will be little in the way of significant difference between the behavior of individuals in one large game or another. Castronova b, p. From a research point of view, this would certainly be convenient. For example, it would allow us to use MMOs as the social science equivalent of petri dishes:.
Until now, it has not been possible to take all of society as a research object [ Now however, with the advent of synthetic world technology, it is indeed possible to replicate entire societies and allow them to operate in parallel. There are serious problems with conceptualising MMOs as entire societies, however. More importantly, humans that participate in an MMO are already members of an Earthly society, and it is simply not the case that they can completely escape this identity by going online. The institutions and processes that are ostensibly internal to the virtual society itself, such as its economy and laws, are bound to larger institutions and processes, most visibly through the decisions and commercial interests of the entity operating the MMO.
Instead of attempting to theorise MMOs as communities or societies, they could perhaps be better analysed using some other social scientific constructs. Social networks —based perspectives postulate network structures consisting of ties between individual actors, but what exactly counts as a tie is a point of disagreement Burt , p. In this dissertation, MMO users are theoretised using the interactionist notion social worlds, as described below.
The social world perspective allows us to analyse the boundaries and subdivisions in an MMO user base whilst recognising that the users are simultaneously members of other social worlds, such as family and workplace. The virtual space of the servers of an MMO is seen as the central site of a new social world; the world of World of Warcraft , for example. The social world also extends beyond its central site to other sites such as discussion forums, instant messaging channels, offices and school yards.
The borders of the world are not determined by formal membership or arbitrary techical boundaries, but by the limits of communication and discourse. The limits of discourse can be understood as the ability to speak about the activities in a way that classifies the person as a World of Warcraft player as opposed to, for example, a developer or a first-time visitor.
This indicates that the social world has a degree of common culture, where culture is understood as a set of shared understandings. However, these only need to exist to the degree necessary to maintain discourse; there can be significant differences in core values, such as what kind of engagement constitutes legitimate participation. The social world also contains communities, groups characterised by shared interests and strong personal relationships. Williams et al.
The realisation that online hangouts are neither isolated silos nor independent realities, is, of course, not original. Manuel Castells argued for a vaguely network-based understanding of digital space in , somewhat against the then-prevailing accounts of online activity taking place in relatively isolated virtual communities e. In essence, it entails recognising that people are always simultaneously members of many social groupings, which continue to exert influence on them even as they engage in online activities.
In MMO related studies, this reality is sometimes still neglected in favour of an isolationist view, but in this dissertation, section 3. Whereas the previous section dealt with identity, interaction and social aggregates in computer-mediated communication and virtual spaces, this section is an introduction to the practices of consumption online.
The form of presentation is a simplified history of how the online medium has shaped consumption, culminating with the rise of virtual consumption. Discussions on production and commerce are also included where relevant. This form allows virtual consumption to be understood in context and to be contrasted with other modes of online consumption from which I will argue it is distinct.
The influence that the adoption of Internet in everyday life has had on the practices of consumption can be expressed as a sequence of three waves. The first wave was online shopping: ordering traditional goods and services over the Internet and having them delivered by mail. The paradigmatic service of the online shopping wave is Amazon. The second wave can be termed the participatory wave, and comprises a range of practices in consumption as well as in production that were set in motion by the spread of social media and social networking technologies.
It involves both information goods as well as new ways of consuming material goods. The paradigmatic service of the participatory wave is YouTube , and the paradigmatic product is a video clip. The third wave is virtual consumption, the acquisition and use of virtual goods that are rivalrous by design. Paradigmatic services are Habbo and Cyworld , and the paradigmatic product is a virtual sofa. The consumer Internet boom that started in the mids prompted retailers to start building facilities for online shopping. The basic model of online retailing was the same as with the existing modes of remote retailing, mail order catalogues and TV shopping, and utilised most of the same infrastructure: huge warehouses for stock and logistics, mail and delivery companies for distribution, and credit cards for payment.
Nevertheless, online retailing enabled a number of significant differences in consumption practices compared to brick-and-mortar stores and previous remote retailing methods. Despite, it could be said, the whole world of new problems it introduced in the form of computer related problems and glitches, online shopping realised certain clear advantages in the areas of convenience and availability Underhill Shopping at online stores is available at any time from any place with an Internet connection, allowing access for consumers who might otherwise be excluded due to distance, limited mobility or time constraints.
Online shopping can also be fast and efficient compared to the process of selecting from a mail order catalogue and relaying the order to an operator over the phone. Web search tools enable much more efficient price comparisons than traditional modes of shopping do. On the other hand, online shopping has been criticised for failing to provide some of the joys and benefits of traditional brick-and-mortar retail.
But perhaps the most celebrated feature of online shopping is the ability to reach a far wider selection than it is possible to find in even the largest superstores or mail order catalogues Underhill , Anderson For example, while a typical Borders bookstore offers a selection of books, Amazon. A similar situation prevails in several other industries and product categories. The massive selection is made possible by the low cost of listing products in an online store as well as efficient searching and browsing features that allow customers on the Web to find what they are looking for.
As demonstrated in section 2. Still, the mere availability of choice is obviously no guarantee that consumers can make informed choices. The significance of the first wave is therefore in the broadening of markets rather than in some kind of emancipation from them. The emancipatory potential of ICT becomes more apparent in the second wave, discussed next. What is termed here the participatory wave of Internet consumption has been the subject of much enthusiastic discussion and authorship in recent years, under such rubriks as Web 2.
The basic claim is that certain new technologies and, more importantly, new ways of designing online services have lead to a radical empowerment of the consumer in certain processes of production and consumption. This paradigm shift, as it is portrayed in the literature, could be conceptualised as a shift from a model where vertical information flows originate at the producer and are mediated by marketing before terminating at the consumers, to a model where information is exchanged in networks between individuals and organisations.
The consequences of this shift have been most perceptible in the markets for information goods: computer software, music, movies, images, news and any other goods that can be represented in digital form. According to Shapiro and Varian , information goods differ from ordinary goods in two ways. Creating the first copy may require substantial effort and investment, but once that is done, the cost of creating additional copies by duplicating the original is negligible. To overcome this hurdle, marketers have developed techniques such as trailers and testimonials to impress consumers of the value of their information without giving it away completely.
The first part of the value chain that was to be affected by the participatory wave was distribution. Although authors of Web 2. The second change brought about by the participatory wave concerns the value appraisal part of the chain. As a result, consumers now have more powerful means and varied angles at their disposal when they seek to assess and compare the value of information goods Benkler The third change brought about by the participatory wave links the terminal part of the traditional value chain, consumption, to its initial part, production.
New technologies allow users to move from passively experiencing information goods to actively participating in the experience, appropriating the goods to new uses, and combining and altering the goods to create entirely new experiences. Open-source software and web application mashups represent analogous processes in the technology field. All of the shifts described above, from distribution through value apprisal to consumption and re-production, are epitomised in the video sharing site YouTube, which allows users to distribute commercially produced videos, rate them, comment on them, augment them with captions and annotations, and upload remixes, derivative works and original amateur content.
It is possible to identify similar if less extensive reflections of the participatory wave in the consumption of material goods. Internet auction sites challenge the rigidities of official distribution channels. Efficient methods of information sharing have made connected consumers less reliant on views provided by marketers and word-of-mouth in their geographical community.
Moreover, social networking and mobile communication technologies allow individual consumers to self-organise in ways that improve their traditionally weak bargaining position against vendors. In many ways, the participatory wave has enabled onlined consumption to regain much of the sociability, sensuality and experiential aspects of consumption that the first wave of online shopping was said to lack.
Rational choice and efficiency considerations are sometimes invoked as the explanans of the behaviour, but as discussed in section 2. They are clearly not the values of appropriation, accumulation and exclusivity, as found in the traditional status games of consumption, but a restatement of the hacker ethic articulated by Steven Levy : freedom of access, sharing to the benefit of others, using technology to improve the world, creativity as an end in itself and valuing people based on their mental abilities rather than on their material possessions.
In other words, the participatory wave of consumption is portrayed as ushering in a new, enlightened, post-materialistic consumer, in comparison to which the petty status games of the material consumer seem positively benighted. The online shopping wave and the participatory wave are well established in consumption-related literature. In this dissertation, I argue that it is possible to distinguish a third wave of online consumption, virtual consumption. Isolated cases of virtual assets being traded for real money can be traced back to the MUDs of the s. Organised real-money trading began around , when players of Ultima Online , EverQuest and Lineage began to trade their game possessions with other players on Internet auction sites.
Habbo , a popular online hangout aimed at teenagers, has been selling virtual goods to its Western users since Korean hangout Cyworld opened in with a similar revenue model. In this sense, it could be said that virtual consumption predates both online shopping and the participatory wave.
However, it is not until the last few years that virtual consumption has become a mainstream phenomenon in the sense that mainstream Internet users can buy virtual goods in mainstream Internet services such as Facebook. The distinguishing features of this new wave of consumption are outlined in articles two and three of this dissertation. The biggest difference is in the nature of the goods being consumed.
Firstly, they are not abundant, but scarce. Operators can duplicate virtual goods at will, but to the consumer they are as indivisible as ordinary material commodities. Secondly, the value consumers obtain from virtual goods seems to be primarily related to something else than information and experience. Why are consumers nevertheless attracted to these uncopyable and aesthetically modest digital objects is a question that will be the main focus of the following sections.
I will first briefly set the scene by outlining the global commercial significance of this new wave of consumption. To get a sense of the commercial significance of virtual consumption, let us place it in context on two dimensions. The first dimension is its market size compared to the two previous waves of online consumption. The second dimension is geographical area. Virtual consumer behaviour is seen as differing considerably between these areas due to technological, cultural and historical factors Allison To illustrate the relative sizes of the three waves of online consumption in these two market areas, Table 1 presents total revenue figures from virtual goods sales, online advertising and online retail in Korea, China and the United States.
For the purposes of this illustration, online advertising is considered as a proxy for the participatory wave. The first is that compared to traditional online shopping, virtual consumption is a significantly smaller market. This is particularly the case in the United States, home of the Internet and the leading market in the two previous waves of online consumption.
The second point of note is that in Korea and China, virtual goods sales actually exceed those of the United States, despite them being smaller economies. Moreover, in Korea and China, virtual goods sales exceed online advertising revenues and are not quite as dwarfed by online retail revenues as they are in the United States.
Table 1. Dollars . These observations support the thesis, common among observers of virtual goods trade e. The figures in Table 1 are for , which is the most recent year for which full data was available, but more recent industry estimates suggest that virtual goods sales have grown while maintaining the East-West pattern Plus Eight Star Currently being pioneered in the Asian market is the idea of accessing virtual goods through mobile devices, which presents a first step in taking virtual goods out of the online context and into physical social situations.
Cold War Techno-Empires
Dollars worth of virtual items for mobile phones per month Nojima , p. As discussed above in section 2. In this section, I analyse results from empirical studies to show how virtual consumption can be seen as social behaviour within these computer-mediated social aggregates, and how it displays many of the same forms and patterns that conventional modes of consumption have been seen to follow in offline social worlds. The results provide answers to RQ 2: What kind of social structures promote and regulate virtual consumption?
The analysis is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on relationships between virtual goods and status hierarchies in traditional fantasy MMORPGs, while the second part focuses on virtual consumption in a more open-ended online hangout. The first genre of online services where real-money trading began in a significant volume were so-called massively-multiplayer online role-playing games MMORPGs launched in the late s, described in article five of this dissertation.
In the Western market, the leading titles in this sense were Ultima Online and EverQuest, whereas in the Asian market, the leading title was Lineage followed by Ragnarok Online. This results in a pattern of play known as grinding: undertaking repetitive tasks over and over again, for dozens of hours, in order to obtain gradual increases in items and skill points.
It is perhaps not surprising that many commentators as well as players themselves compare this aspect of MMORPG gameplay to work e.
Escape From Every day Life
Furthermore, that they and their opinions should deserve the respect and esteem of other players and perhaps even developers is not simply a bid for seniocracy but a reasoned argument for meritocracy: as the most experienced of the players, they should be the most knowledgeable and therefore in the best position to offer guidance.
Thus legitimised, the achievement hierarchy along which players must work to climb was the stable backbone of the economy and social structure of the early MMORPGs. But very soon, or in some cases from the very start of the game, this idyll was unsettled by so-called secondary markets. Some of the high-ranking individuals, tired of the game or in need to money, decided to offer their virtual possessions and avatars for sale at sites like eBay.
As a result, it was now possible for any player, no matter how experienced or inexperienced, dedicated or casual, to obtain high-ranking avatars and possessions simply by purchasing them from a website.
Virtual goods were commodified. While commodification preserved the material function of virtual goods, it was stripping them of their meaning. Thus many players demanded, and many of the developers granted, rules against the purchasing of virtual goods. The strict prohibition of real-money trading presents itself as a brave stand against colonisation by markets and for the conservation of better, more original values. But the story described above also facilitates an alternative interpretation, one with almost opposite moral implications.
The traditional MMORPG is ruled by the time aristocracy, because they are the only ones with the necessary resources to reach the top of the hierarchy. The introduction of markets has a democratising effect, as it allows access to those resources by the money aristocracy. The idea of the real-money trading controversy as a struggle between time aristocracy and money aristocracy is lent some support by an unpublished survey-based study of MMORPG players, where it was found that older respondents were much more likely to purchase virtual goods than younger respondents Yee The most traditional computer game players are young people and students who are able to dedicate significant time to their hobby, but gaming is also increasingy popular among the working adult population.
On the other hand, phrasing the situation in terms of class struggle perhaps makes it sound more consequential than it really is. MMORPGs are usually designed in such a way that players who wish to play together have to have avatars of approximately the same level of prowess. If working adults wish to spend time playing with their children as described by e. Finally, it is interesting to note that the conflict over virtual goods markets is more of an issue in the Western market than it is in the East-Asian market.
In China, Korea and Japan, virtual goods transactions are not uncontroversial, but they are more commonplace and developers have adapted their game designs and business models around the practice Huhh ; Nojima Virtual goods transactions are also sometimes embedded in other social and business relationships. In , as the competition among PC bangs increasingly intensified, some invented promotional tools for attracting customers. One such promotional activity was the purchase of in-game items from their expert customers to entice new customers. Thus the birth and rise of RMT in Korea directly resulted from local trading between PC bang owners and their visitors.
Because many players were on the receiving end of RMT, the trend was viewed favorably, which undoubtedly ensured the prospering of RMT. Huhh , pp. In recent years, Western MMO operators have increasingly warmed up to the idea of markets where virtual goods can be purchased for real money. World of Warcraft remains strictly against real-money trading, but the sequel to EverQuest has an official marketplace for such transactions on some servers. Moreover, many MMOs, casual gaming sites and social games are now selling virtual goods to their users themselves, as an alternative to the old subscription fee -based method of reaping revenues.
The next section examines what implications this has for the social meaning of virtual goods. Article two of this dissertation presents an empirical study of Habbo, an online service maintained by Finnish company Sulake that earns most of its revenues by selling virtual goods to its users.
In addition, it contains user homepages, group homepages, group discussion forums and social networking style features. According to Sulake, Habbo is visited by a total of 9. A localised version of Habbo is available in 32 countries. Using the concepts discussed in section 3. Each of these social worlds also extends beyond their commercially-maintained central site to user-maintained sites and mediums.
On the other hand, it can be asked whether a very open-ended environment such as Habbo contains a degree of shared culture sufficient to be described as a single social world, or whether the membership of each localised instance instead breaks down into several social worlds that have little to do with each other. In article two, the observations speak for a degree of commonality of beliefs, particularly regarding virtual items.
Instead, goods are available for purchase to anyone using a virtual currency that is obtained using the local national currency. In slightly simplified terms, each item is first purchased from Sulake, after which users trade them between each other in the course of their activities. Due to the way goods in Habbo are purchased instead of earned, they do not have any inherent link to time served in the way they did in traditional MMORPG economies.
However, article four of this dissertation indicates that users who visit Habbo every day are nevertheless much more likely to purchase virtual goods than infrequent visitors. Significant virtual possessions probably continue to be a mark of dedicated participation even in a market-based economy, although the connection is less straightforward. For some users, acquiring and displaying such status items and comparing them to the possessions of other users is a central way of participating in the Habbo world.
It is also interesting to note in this context that male users spend significantly more money in Habbo than female users, even though both genders are equally represented in the user base. Wealth is not the only axis along which members of the Habbo world seek to stratify themselves and each other. Knowledge of Habbo culture is another such axis. Furthermore, it is possible to earn significant recognition, even the aforementioned celebrity status, by hosting a popular activity or venue, such as a soccer game or a match making club.
Celebrities receive a lot of attention from other users: they are interviewed on fansites and their consumption styles are sometimes imitated by other users. Having such celebrities as friends is also a positive status sign. It is easy to see the above observations in the framework of a Bourdieuan capital system: financial, cultural and social capital as parallel resources in a game where participants seek to position themselves favourably in the field constituted by the Habbo world.
The statistical analyses in article four allow us to make some interesting conjectures regarding the convertibility of these capitals. Firstly, users who report doing a lot of organising games and events are twice as likely to have spent money in the service during the past month compared to those users who report doing little or no organising. Observations suggest that this reflects a need to spend money on components from which to construct attractive and functional venues as well as to buy prizes that can be handed out to winners in order to attract popularity.
In other words, users who are attempting to establish themselves as cultural leaders or perhaps maintain their existing cultural capital are investing a significant amount of financial capital in doing so. In principle, mechanisms exist in Habbo through which cultural capital can also translate back into financial capital; for example, some organisers are requesting admission or membership fees from their participants. The data does not permit a quantitative assessment of this payback, however. A more tentative result is that there is a relationship between spending money and the activity of making new friends.
In the United Kingdom version of Habbo, spending money is positively associated with making new friends, whereas among Spanish and Mexican Habbo users, spending is negatively associated with making new friends. In the fourth country included in the study, Japan, no relationship could be observed. This could reflect differences in the way financial capital translates to social capital in different Habbo worlds, although more research is necessary before strong conclusions can be drawn.
If so, the only thing the goods would seem to be able to signify is the wealth of the player who purchased them, making them a kind of conspicuously meaningless form of consumption. But there are two objections to this view. Firstly, the evidence suggests that it is the most dedicated users who obtain the greatest possessions in both types of virtual economies, whether it is accomplished through gameplay MMORPG or through direct purchases Habbo. Finally, it is worth noting that in both MMORPG and Habbo worlds, goods are also used in the performance of social relationships: virtual items are presented as gifts to other participants and used to pay for favours.
In the previous section, virtual goods were discussed in their capacity to act as markers of social status, and in the performance of social relationships. Explanations for this variance should be sought in other directions. Sections 2. In this section, I discuss observations from articles two and three that link these perspectives to virtual consumption. The results provide answers to RQ 1: What kind of benefits do virtual consumers experience from virtual goods? If this body is understood broadly, it can include not only the avatar but the rooms and distinctive arrangements of virtual items and furniture through which the user can, in principle at least, express themselves.
In practice, users construct their overall appearance by making selections from a large and constantly expanding variety of virtual body parts, clothes, wallpapers, items and furniture. The design and appearance of these building blocks echoes bygone eras, national cultural symbols, fantasy and science fiction canons, contemporary fashions, and other sources the designers at Sulake draw their inspirations from.
Users combine these blocks in numerous ways in a process that could be likened to creative bricolage. The results are not only variations and mixtures of the styles pre-programmed by designers, but also call into existence completely new styles that the designers had not thought of.
An example of this, given in article two, is the way a user has combined items to convey the appearance of a doctor in a hospital room, even though no notions related to hospitals or doctors were programmed in by the designers. Styles can act as a means of establishing group identity. Article two mentions two cases where a certain type of dress is a formal requirement of belonging to a certain group. This could be related to discussions of discipline, uniform and power relationships Davis , pp. Above these groups and communities in terms of both scale and informality are aggregates that could be termed lifestyle groups: groups characterised by their tastes and virtual consumption choices, rather than, for example, strong personal relationships.
According to the discussion on lifestyle groups in section 2. One such lifestyle group, identified in article two and described in more detail in Johnson and Sihvonen , are goths: a style characterised by dark, gloomy, Victorian looks, horror themes and a sense of irony. In the virtual space of Habbo, the goth style takes very similar forms as in physical spaces, but it also shows differences.
The differences can be due to the limitations and possibilities of the medium, but can also represent idiosyncrasies of the goth culture inside the world of Habbo. This highlights the question of the relationship between offline identities and identities in virtual spaces.
A goth body in Habbo could be an extension of a goth identity at school and leisure time, or it could be playful experimentation with an identity that is alien to oneself in other contexts. I return to this issue below in section 3. The above discussions have not yet strayed far from the notion of goods as social markers insofar as all meaning and value of the goods is attributed to social reality, extrinsic to the goods themselves.
In article two it is pointed out that when queried about why they chose a particular virtual attire, users do not usually respond by referring to social status or lifestyle groups, but by using aesthetic argumentation: it pleases the eye. Using a wide variety of qualitative data, a number of concrete attributes are identified that users pay attention to when choosing a virtual item. Some of these attributes, it is argued, lend themselves better to establishing social distinctions, while others are more easily seen as delivering individual psychological benefits, such as aesthetic experiences or emotional sensations.
Article three thus provides a concrete view to what kind of benefits users seek from virtual goods. For instance, one socially significant item attribute that relates to the prestige of the virtual item is provenance. This term is usually associated with art and antique, and refers to their place of origin, earliest known history or previous owners New Oxford American Dictionary.
One instance of a virtual item is generally identical to another. Individual users also attach personal meanings and feelings of nostalgia to virtual goods with which they have shared memorable times. The oldest Habbo furniture is soon a decade old, and some castles in Ultima Online are even older, so they potentially have a lot of stories to tell. Thus the notions of provenance and authenticity can be important in understanding the social as well as psychological value of virtual goods. Another socially significant item attribute is rarity: rare items are better at establishing social distance than common ones.
But the hunt for rare objects can also be described as an individualistic hedonic experience: a thrilling psychological pursuit that exists in isolation from any social meaning the objects may possibly have c. Belk Other hedonic experiences that virtual goods can give rise to include sexual arousal, the excitement of discovering new places and vistas, and the joy of playful creation.
In order not to over-emphasise social uses of virtual goods at the expense neglecting individual experiential ones, it is useful to remember that in many ways the historical roots of these graphical virtual spaces and virtual goods are in single-player video games. Whatever joys could be derived from virtual goods in these games must have been primarly hedonic and experiential, and only secondarily, if at all, social.
In the sections above, I have described how spending on virtual goods is motivated and structured by social status games, construction and expression of identity, and the pursuit of hedonic experiences and art. In each of these discussions, the environment in which the activity takes place, the virtual space with its various features, including the virtual goods themselves, has remained on the background. Yet it is obvious that by essentially determining the range of possible as well as impossible courses of action within an MMO or other online hangout, this architecture influences virtual consumption behaviour.
In this section, I seek to outline the main mechanisms of this influence as well as the role of the operator more generally, based on findings from the articles constituting this dissertation. The results provide answers to RQ 3: What is the role of the operators in promoting and regulating virtual consumption? In previous sections, the desirability of virtual goods has been located in their symbolic and aesthetic qualities. The idea of use-value or practical usefulness seems far removed from these tiny figures on the screen.
But if usefulness is understood instrumentally, as the capacity to achieve some separately defined end, then virtual goods can be useful in their own environments, in the same way as the rake is a useful tool in the garden but not much elsewhere. In article three, some uses to which virtual goods can be put are discussed. The archetypal example is the use of virtual swords and shields to vanquish computer-controlled monsters generated by the environment in MMORPGs.
The operator makes the swords and shields desirable by first programming a challenging environment and then trying to convince players that overcoming these challenges is a worthwhile goal. All the other examples follow essentially the same pattern, where the operator is ultimately responsible for creating both the problem as well as its proposed solution, the latter sometimes costing money. Though the tendency to compete for status positions is something that participants most likely bring to the MMO with them, the operator provides the means for its realisation and has ways to adjust its intensity.
This is described in article three and article two. Thirdly, providing participants with more ways to flaunt their status or possessions is likely to intensify this competition. Finally, the operator can destroy existing status positions by flooding the market, so that what were once exclusive rarities are suddenly at the reach of everyone. New rarities can then be sold to fill the vacuum.