Consuming Code: Use-Value, Exchange-Value, and the Role of Virtual Goods in Second Life

Jennifer Martin

Abstract


In recent years, there has been significant growth in consumption of commodities in virtual social worlds, such as Second Life, and in the economies that arise from this practice. While these economic systems have been acknowledged and studied, there remains relatively little understanding of the reasons why individuals choose to purchase such goods, despite the fact that reasons for consumption are strong enough to drive a virtual goods industry with annual profits in the millions of dollars. Virtual goods, the author argues, meet no immediate needs for avatars or individuals and, as such, are purchased based exclusively on their exchange- and symbolic-values. Due to the graphical nature of Second Life and the consequent visibility of commodities within the environment, these reasons for purchasing virtual goods are explored in terms of their roles for users, and especially in terms of their potential for expressing wealth, power, status, individuality, and belonging. As such, this paper considers the roles of consumption in a way that relies on and further illuminates theories of consumption and value with respect to virtual environments and commodities.

Keywords


consumption; Second Life; use-value; exchange-value; symbolic-value

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