A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Virtual Worlds

By Colleen Kearney Rich on May 30, 2013

Kevin McCabe
Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study and School of Law

For students who have taken ECON 496 Economics of the Metaverse, class work is, in part, playing a video game. Designed by Mason economics professor Kevin McCabe, the course—lessons, presentations, even field trips—is completed within a virtual world much like the online game Second Life.

Kevin McCabe

Kevin McCabe

The students use avatars and participate in experiments in which they trade virtual goods with other students. Because the students are using representations of themselves, it lends a bit of anonymity to their role. They make decisions without knowing exactly with whom in the class they are interacting.

“In a virtual experiment, we’re able to repeat the circumstances and can reduce outside influences that may occur in real-world situations,” McCabe says. “A lot of the experiments we conduct online would be difficult to replicate in a lab in any reliable way.”

McCabe has been studying the economics of virtual worlds since 2006 and has been using these virtual worlds in his own research for years. Trust, or what McCabe sometimes calls the trust paradigm, has been at the root of his economic experiments for the past decade.

“Trust is important because behind the scenes in every economic interaction is a network of trust between people,” says McCabe. “Many of our laws are established around what happens when trust fails, so we need to learn more about the role that trust plays in these breakdowns.”

For more information about the Economics of the Metaverse class can be found here.

2011 ICES Summer High School Workshop in Economics.

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