“Why would you pay money for something that doesn’t exist?”
As a denizen of second life you may well have heard a variation of that question before. To non-players the idea that people pay actual money for items in a virtual environment can seem odd or even ludicrous. This bafflement isn’t just limited to people with no experience in SL. Within the grid you can encounter versions of this attitude ranging from “why would I pay for a premium account since it doesn’t get me anything” all the way to “I only wear free or group-gift clothing since I’m damned if I’m paying for anything here”. It confuses people why anyone would spend hundreds of dollars a month to run a SIM if they aren’t making a profit on it and it’s puzzling to some why certain designers are more expensive than others or that some people go to shoe fairs and have fifty different hairstyles.
The currently most oft remarked thing in this area inworld seems to be about gacha items. Why would people pay to collect a complete set of something inworld? Why would people pay so much money in the quest for a rare item? Why is the resale cost on these sought after items so high? To me the interesting phenomenon here is not the collector mentality. It’s that we are seeing inworld players reflecting outworld thinking. Some people are happy to spend to make their AV look good because that’s “them” but when it comes to “items” … why would you spend money to own something that “doesn’t exist”.
This came to a head for me yesterday when I heard someone say “it’s weird because none of this really exists”. Enough is enough! Tempting as it is to veer off down the side-street diversion of what constitutes real in the 21st century, let’s limit ourselves to answering “Why would you pay money for something that doesn’t exist?” That’s actually pretty simple. The answer is “That’s a stupid question.”
Ok, I know that’s not going to help you explain SL to your RL mocking friends or help you hold your head up high when SL friends visit your house and see your obsessive / compulsive collection of miniature gacha teacups in their own display stand, but hold fast fellow traveller. I’m getting to that. See, the point here is not that we don’t know why people do it. It’s that this truly is a stupid question because paying real money for things that don’t exist is so widespread now that the question is moot.
Ever rented a movie from netflix? Own a kindle? Ever put a song on your ipod? Paying for stuff which only exists in a digital medium is so commonplace now that to question why someone would spend money in SL is far less mystifying than why so many people have bought Katy Perry singles on Itunes. Just because a digital non-existent song goes in your ear doesn’t make it intrinsically more worthy than your funky SL house. We have paid for our entertainment for countless centuries and we still do. Some folks pay five bucks for instant streaming of a movie, some pay twenty bucks to stand in front of paintings, and some fork out four hundred bucks for a seat at the opera. The experience of appreciating another’s creativity is ephemeral and the medium is changing to be more like the experience.
So, it’s simple. These days the shift is fully towards consuming entertainment digitally and SL is just an extension of that. Paying L$ to improve your personal experience and enjoyment of SL is no different to putting a song on your ipod. It’s not odd; it’s the norm. Perhaps it’s not as easily understood or as clearly justifiable to other people as streaming the latest summer blockbuster direct to your TV, but it’s a damn sight less embarrassing than owning a download of “I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It”.