http://transition.turbulence.org/blog/2007/09/24/idc-online-games-virtual-economies-distinction-between-play-and-production/

(Found via Weinberger, again!) The whole thing is of course worth reading, but here’s my favourite bit:

And yet, if you think about it, the logic of the system isn’t really so antithetical to play as that. In fact, if you think about it hard enough, you might conclude that play is where that logic has been headed all along. Max Weber, for instance, who thought about it very hard indeed, seems to say exactly that in those final pages of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism where he denounces the ‘iron cage’ of meaningless hyperefficiency the Puritan economic reformation has left us in, in which ‘the idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs.’ Those are the oft-quoted words anyway. Just below them in the same passage, however, Weber curiously yet much less famously suggests that dead religious beliefs don’t only survive as ghosts: ‘In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport [emphasis added].’

Weber doesn’t elaborate the point, but it makes sense: Drained of the religious significance that gave it meaning, the economic system we inhabit must either bind us to its pointlessness against our wills—a costly proposition, like any prison system—or contrive new meanings for our daily grind. And what easier way is there of contriving meaningful activity than through the mechanisms of play? Add computers to the historical picture, effectively building those mechanisms into the technological foundation of the world economy, and the contriving gets so easy that it starts to look inevitable. The grind must sooner or later become a game.”

The scope is really quite scary, similar to that moment of relevation when reading Everything is Miscellaneous. Once pointed out, the relationship between religious duty, work and the re-emergence of play in a post-religious world does indeed seem inevitable. One comment to the contrary though: I did have a go at playing World of Warcraft for a while. Its popularity makes it a lingua franca on the internet (in the same vein as episodes of the Simpsons), so I felt I ought to have a go. I got to about level 40 before it all just started to feel like *work*, and not in a pleasant way. I started to see myself as one of those chickens which gets fed when it presses the right button! So I gave up “playing”. Perhaps we need to define more carefully what we mean by “play”. I would argue that *anything* you do more than a few hours a day becomes, after a while, a drag. What I like about play is being able to change what I’m playing whenever I feel like it, I get to choose from lots of different games, and the feeling of moving toward a simple, well-defined goal. That’s what makes it different from most jobs!

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