11/01/2011 05:20 pm ET Updated Jan 01, 2012

Neopian Economics

As a college student, the extent to which I am unaware of the world around me is a little embarrassing.

Living in the campus bubble without a TV and a predilection toward reading various versions of my horoscope instead of news in my downtime meant that I was largely ignorant of the Occupy Wall Street movement until two weeks after it began. When both my dad and a cashier at the local convenience store suggested that I open a newspaper, I knew the situation was dire.

Even after being clued in, however, I would still label my understanding of the American economy as mediocre at best. I sometimes wonder if I am representative of my age demographic in this regard.

I took an economics class in high school, but we spent most of our time watching Tucker: The Man and His Dream, a film about the automobile industry that Wikipedia understandably lists as a "box office bomb."

Undeterred by this experience, I went on to take an introductory economics course in college, but all that I really learned is that micro- and macroeconomic theory involves a great deal of perfecting the art of drawing a straight line.

Needless to say, my knowledge of economics is rather poor. I like to think that I am not entirely hopeless though -- as a preteen I spent several hours per day playing Neopets, and from the wonderful world of Neopia, I think I learned far more about economics than any class has ever taught me.

Neopets is essentially a virtual realm modeled after the real world, except instead of humans, these creatures that look like a cross between aliens and animals are the main inhabitants. The objective of Neopet(s) is to play the games and rack up as many Neopoints as possible either to buy virtual goods or to put into a Neopets bank account, mostly for the satisfaction of watching the account grow from double platinum to something more prestigious-sounding, like a diamond deposit. There was also a Neopian stock market, but my 12-year-old self was not very interested in it.

Neopia is a prime example of a competitive market, as every user can set up a store and sell goods that he or she has either won or purchased. Neopets even provides the Shop Wizard for users to see the selling price for goods so that they can set their prices accordingly, a concept that my high school economics class called "competitive pricing."

On the third day of every month, Neopian shops sell their goods at half-price. The key store to target on half-price day is the magic shop because magic potions are in high demand in Neopia, usually selling for hundreds of thousands of Neopoints in the auction and user-owned stores. On half-price day, I used to be able to snag a morphing potion for as low as 5,000 Neopoints (a steal!).

However, because the magic shop inventory would sell out within five minutes, presumably every business-savvy Neopets player also used to sit at their computers refreshing the page at the top of every hour to take advantage of the price difference for their user-owned stores. My friend majoring in economics tells me this idea is called "arbitrage." I learned it from Neopets first.

Neopets also taught me all about incentives. Every December, Neopets would host its own version of Advent Calendar, in which users could collect free goods in the days leading up to Christmas by traveling to Terror Mountain, a land located in the far recesses of Neopia (i.e. one had to scroll a bit to get there).

Typically the gift would be an omlette or an item it was possible to obtain for free on any ordinary day, but every once in a while, Advent Calendar would gift its visitors with a couple thousand Neopoints. I noticed from the forums that even the wealthiest player was willing to spend a few minutes a day for the chance of that kind of gift because really, what is a better incentive than free money?

There are a few flaws in a Neopian economic model being translated to the real world. The main issue seems to be with the Neopets themselves. Because Neopets are seemingly immortal -- mine always had a hunger level of "dying" but never actually died -- productivity is never limited by the workers themselves. It also seems possible to win an infinite number of Neopoints; I like to think that the limiting factor for my "Ultimate Riches!" bank account was the fact that my parents wanted me off the computer by 9 p.m. every night.

There is 100 percent employment for all Neopets because everyone is allowed to play the games. This is something we as Americans will never be able to achieve. And as graduation looms even closer and I begin my job search in earnest, I wish I had a guarantee of employment for the years ahead. But instead all I have is the possibility of escaping to the Neopian utopia for a couple of hours -- the only problem with that is I seem to have forgotten my password.