Joe Avatar, Ph.D.

Edward Castronova has been a wizard, a clergyman, and lately, a monster-slaying blonde, all inside virtual worlds. Scholars may consider time spent immersed in digital fantasy worlds to be frivolous — but it has sent Mr. Castronova’s academic career soaring.

Back in 2001, when he was plodding away as a tenure-track professor of economics at California State University at Fullerton, he decided to try out the fantasy game Everquest for relaxation. In the thriving economy of Norrath, the Everquest world, thousands of gamers traded digital items using virtual currency, which could be exchanged for real dollars. In some ways, Mr. Castronova concluded, Norrath’s per-capita economy rivaled China’s.

He documented it in a paper, and, as a lark, posted the paper online. More than a few scholars took it seriously. By the summer of 2002, it was among the top 10 articles downloaded from the Social Science Research Network database. Mr. Castronova became a star among virtual-world aficionados, and three years ago, Indiana University at Bloomington recruited him to focus exclusively on the study of virtual worlds. Read the complete Chronicle story.

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