Lessons from a virtual bank run

When is a fake financial panic more real than the real thing? How about in an online sci-fi role-playing game?

Published September 5, 2009 10:30AM (EDT)

Which is more "real"? Virtual embezzlement, leading to a devastating bank run in an online multiplayer role-playing game, or a Wall Street financial crisis fueled by irresponsible risk management that ends up with banks getting bailed out by a federal government free to print money as it pleases?

This is what I am wondering after reading James Egan's entertaining account of malfeasance and economic chaos in the sci-fi game EVE Online. (Thanks to reader Andrew Ashcraft for alerting me to an Ars Technica blog post to Egan's piece, published in Massively, an online journal covering "massively multiplayer online roleplaying games."

EVE allows players to create their own financial entities, and one such operation, EBANK, went seriously off the tracks, ending up a whopping $1.2 trillion "InterStellar Kredits" in the red. It's a mess, and thousands of player accounts at the bank have been frozen.

For the details, I refer you to Egan's piece. But here's what confuses me. In the "real" world, the Federal Reserve has come to the aid of the banking system by essentially creating money out of thin air. But in EVE Online, where the currency is fundamentally made up, there's no Fed coming to the rescue, and players just have to deal. Which makes more sense?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Bank Bailouts Gaming How The World Works Wall Street