Is World of Warcraft Evidence for Socialism?
One might argue that World of Warcraft provides evidence in favor of their position. After all, players spend many hours "working" at producing things of no material value. A high level blacksmith or jewelcrafter or engineer has made the effort to learn and practice his craft, within the framework of the game, largely for the fun of it—possibly reinforced by various nonpecuniary motives. If it works in virtual reality, why not in realspace?
It does work in real space—within limits. Quite a lot of effort goes into a wide variety of unpaid voluntary activities. It may not result in as much effort or output as can be produced by material incentives; I do not think I know anyone who puts forty hours a week into online crafting. But we are, historically speaking, a very rich society, and may well grow richer still in the future. Reducing output to, say, half its current level might be a reasonable price to pay for a society where nobody find that he has to do work he doesn't want to do in order to pay the bills.
A more serious problem has to do with what work gets done, what goods get produced. In a market society, one of the things determining what people do is what they like doing; it is easier to hire people to do work they enjoy than work they don't enjoy. But the other thing determining what people do is what other people want done, since that affects how much you can get paid to do things. In the sort of society I am describing, the second element comes in only through mechanisms much clumsier than the price system. If nobody likes plumbing or ditch digging, someone may decide that it's his social duty to take it up or that other people will award him status for doing so. Or he may simply hope someone else does it, while he gets on with writing the Great American Novel.
One of the attractive features of World of Warcraft and its competitors is that the virtual world has been constructed, in some cases with considerable care and ingenuity, to be a place that it is fun to do things in. The real world has not. Some of the things that need doing there are things that people enjoy enough to do them even when not paid to, and some things get done that way. My guess, for instance, is that the vast majority of all novels written end up unpublished and that at least some people keep writing novels even after they realize that the chance of getting paid for them is very low. But I am dubious that all, or even most, of the world's work can get done that way. An economy in which resources are allocated almost entirely on the basis of what people want to do rather than what other people want done is likely to end up with quite a lot missing.