Skip to main content

Spontaneous disorder: conflict-kindling institutions in virtual worlds


This paper analyses the emergence and persistence of disorder due to bellicose (i.e. ‘conflict-kindling’) institutions. It does so relying on a novel empirical approach, examining the predatory and productive interactions of 400,000 users of a virtual world as well as its institutions. The paper finds that while there are many cases of spontaneous order in that virtual world, and while the users are not more conflict-loving as such, bellicose institutions sanctioning suicidal attacks in a supposedly safe region spontaneously emerged and rigidly persist, thus upholding disorder (i.e. a particularly violent kind of ordered anarchy).

Corresponding author
Hide All
Aas B. G., Meyerbröker K. and Emmelkamp P. M. G. (2010), ‘Who am I – and if so, where? A study on personality in virtual realities’, Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2 (5). Available at: (accessed: 23 November 2010).
Abbink K. (2012), ‘Laboratory experiments on conflict’, in Garfinkel M. R. and Skaperdas S. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Peace and Conflict, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 532–56.
Acemoglu D., Johnson S. and Robinson J. A. (2001), ‘The colonial origins of comparative development: an empirical investigation’, American Economic Review, 91 (5), 1369–401.
Aronson E. and Carlsmith J. M. (1968), ‘Experimentation in social psychology’, in Lindzey G. and Aronson E. (eds), The Handbook of Social Psychology, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, pp. 345–88.
Bainbridge W. S. (2007), ‘The scientific research potential of virtual worlds’, Science, 317 (5837), 472–6.
Bargh J. A., McKenna K. Y. A. and Fitzsimons G. M. (2002), ‘Can you see the real me? Activation and expression of the “true self” on the internet’, Journal of Social Issues, 58 (1), 3348.
Baumeister R. F. and Vohs K. D. (2005), ‘Four roots of evil’, in Miller A. G. (ed.), The Social Psychology of Good and Evil, New York: Guilford Press, pp. 85101.
Brennan G. and Buchanan J. M. (1985), The Reason of Rules, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Buckels E. E., Jones D. N. and Paulhus D. L. (2013), ‘Behavioral confirmation of everyday sadism’, Psychological Science, 24 (11), 2201–9.
Castronova E. (2001), ‘Virtual worlds: a first-hand account of market and society on the Cyberian frontier’, CESifo Working Paper 618, 2 (1), 166.
Castronova E. (2008), ‘A test of the law of demand in virtual world: exploring the Petri-dish approach to social sciences’, CESifo Working Paper, 2355, 123.
CCP Chronotis* (2010), The circle of life, EVE Online | EVE Insider | Dev Blog. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
CCP Fallout* et al. (2010), New Dev Blog: The Circle of Life, EVE Online | EVE Insider | Forums. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
CCP Fear* (2008), Serious security, EVE Online | EVE Insider | Dev Blog. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
CCP Hellmar* et al. (2003), CONCORD deploys special ops, EVE Online | EVE Insider | Dev Blog. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
CCP LeKjart* et al. (2003), PKs in secure areas, EVE Online | EVE Insider | Dev Blog. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
CCP Oveur* (2006), Nothing endures but change, EVE Online | EVE Insider | Dev Blog. Available at: (accessed: 21 June 2011).
CCP Taera* et al. (2008), New Dev Blog: Serious Security, EVE Online | EVE Insider | Forums. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
Collier P. and Hoeffler A. (2004), ‘Greed and grievance in civil wars’, Oxford Economic Papers, 56 (4), 563–95.
CSM Ankhesentapemkah* (2008), Suicide Ganking Part 2, Suicide Ganking Part 2 – CSMWiki. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
CSM and CCP (2008), ‘CSM-CCP Meetings 01 – 20–23 of June 2008’. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
CSM and CCP Games (2010), ‘CSM meeting with CCP, 18th to 20th February 2010 Iceland’. Available at: (accessed: 22 June 2011).
Destiny Corrupted* (2011), ‘Suicide ganking: solutions?’ Crime and Punishment. Available at: (accessed: 19 July 2011).
DiMaggio P. and Powell W. (1991), ‘Introduction’, in Powell W. and DiMaggio P. (eds), The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, pp. 138.
Duffy J. and Kim M. (2005), ‘Anarchy in the laboratory (and the role of the state)’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 56 (3), 297329.
Fehr E. and Gächter S (2000), ‘Cooperation and punishment in public goods experiments’, American Economic Review, 90 (4), 980–94.
Fiedler M. and Haruvy E. (2009), ‘The lab versus the virtual lab and virtual field – an experimental investigation of trust games with communication’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 72 (2), 716–24.
Frevert U. (1995), Men of Honour: A Social and Cultural History of the Duel, Williams A. (trans.), Cambridge: Polity Press.
Grossman H. I. (1999), ‘Kleptocracy and revolutions’, Oxford Economic Papers, 51 (2), 267–83.
Guðmundsson E. (2009), ‘Quarterly Economic Newsletter – EVE Online 2nd Quarter 2009’. Available at: (accessed: 24 March 2011).
Guðmundsson E. (2010), ‘Quarterly Economic Newsletter – EVE Online 2nd Quarter 2010’. Available at: (accessed: 24 March 2011).
Herrmann B., Thöni C. and Gächter S. (2008), ‘Antisocial punishment across societies’, Science, 319 (5868), 1362–7.
Hillman A. L. (2004), ‘Nietzschean development failures’, Public Choice, 119 (3–4), 263–80.
Hofbauer J. and Sigmund K. (1998), Evolutionary Games and Population Dynamics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holland B. (2003), Gentlemen's Blood: A Thousand Years of Sword and Pistol, New York: Bloomsbury.
Huizinga J. (1949), Homo ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Johnson D. R. (2001), ‘Due process and cyberjurisdiction’, in Ludlow P. (ed.), Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 329–38.
Lastowka F. G. and Hunter D. (2004), ‘The laws of virtual worlds’, California Law Review, 92 (1), 373.
Leeson P. T. (2007), ‘An-arrgh-chy: the law and economics of pirate organization’, Journal of Political Economy, 115 (6), 1049–94.
Leeson P. T. (2009), ‘The laws of lawlessness’, Journal of Legal Studies, 38 (2), 471503.
Leeson P. T., Smith D. J. and Snow N. A. (2012), ‘Hooligans’, Revue d’économie politique, 122 (2), 213–31.
Mantzavinos C. (2001), Individuals, Institutions, and Markets, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McKenna K. Y. A. and Bargh J. A. (2000), ‘Plan 9 from cyberspace: the implications of the internet for personality and social psychology’, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4 (1), 5775.
Ménard C. and Shirley M. M. (2008), ‘Introduction’, in Ménard C. and Shirley M. M. (eds), Handbook of New Institutional Economics, Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 118.
Messinger P. R., Ge X., Stroulia E., Lyons K., Smirnov K. and Bone M. (2008), ‘On the relationship between my avatar and myself’, Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 1 (2). Available at: (accessed: 23 November 2011).
Mildenberger C. D. (2013a), Economics and Social Conflict, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Mildenberger C. D. (2013b), ‘The constitutional political economy of virtual worlds’, Constitutional Politcal Economy, 24 (3), 239–64.
Mildenberger C. D. (2015), ‘Virtual world order – the economics and organization of virtual pirates’, Public Choice, 164 (3–4), 401–21.
Morningstar C. and Farmer F. R. (1991), ‘The lessons from Lucasfilm's Habitat’, in Benedikt M. (ed.), Cyberspace: First Steps, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 325.
Nee V. (1998), ‘Sources of the new institutionalism’, in Nee V. and Brinton M. C. (eds), The New Institutionalism in Sociology, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, pp. 116.
Nisbett R. E. and Cohen D. (1996), Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South, Boulder: Westview.
North D. C. (1990), Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
North D. C. (2005), Understanding the Process of Economic Change, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
North D. C., Wallis J. J. and Weingast B. R. (2009), Violence and Social Orders: a conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Óskarsson P. J. (2010), ‘Democracy and the internet – the theoretical foundations and practical applications’. University of Iceland, Master's thesis.
Powell B. and Wilson B. J. (2008), ‘An experimental investigation of Hobbesian jungles’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 66 (3–4), 669–86.
Schelling T. C. (1978), ‘Altruism, meanness, and other potentially strategic behaviors’, American Economic Review, 68 (2), 229–30.
Shirley M. M. (2008), ‘Institutions and development’, in Ménard C. and Shirley M. M. (eds), Handbook of New Institutional Economics, Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 611–38.
Skarbek D. B. (2011), ‘Governance and prison gangs’, American Political Science Review, 105 (4), 702–16.
Slater M., Antley A., Davison A., Swapp D., Guger C., Barker C., Pistrang N. and Sanchez-Vives M. (2006), ‘A virtual reprise of the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments’, PLoS ONE, 1 (1). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000039.
Slonim R. L. and Roth A. E. (1998), ‘Learning in high stakes ultimatum games: an experiment in the Slovak Republic’, Economics of Governance, 66 (3), 569–96.
Thomson J. J. (1976), ‘Killing, letting die, and the trolley problem’, The Monist, 59 (2), 204–17.
Velleman J. D. (2013), ‘Virtual selves’, in Foundations for Moral Relativism, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, pp. 521.
Whitty M. T., Young G. and Goodings L. (2011), ‘What I won't do in pixels: examining the limits of taboo violation in MMORPGs’, Computers in Human Behavior, 27 (1), 268–75.
World Bank (2011), World Development Report 2011. Conflict, Security, and Development, Washington DC. Available at: (accessed: 18 April 2011).
Worth N. C. and Book A. S. (2014), ‘Personality and behavior in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game’, Computers in Human Behavior, 38, 322–30.
Yee N. (2006), ‘The demographics, motivations, and derived experiences of users of massively multi-user online graphical environments’, Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15 (3), 309–29.
Yee N., Bailenson J., Urbanek M., Chang, D F.. and Merget D. (2007), ‘The unbearable likeness of being digital: the persistence of nonverbal social norms in online virtual environments’, CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10 (1), 115–21.
Yee N., Harris H., Jabon M. and Bailenson J. (2011), ‘The expression of personality in virtual worlds’, Social Psychology and Personality Science, 2 (1), 512.
Zimbardo P. G. (2005), ‘A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators’, in Miller A. G. (ed.), The Social Psychology of Good and Evil, New York: Guilford Press, pp. 2150.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Institutional Economics
  • ISSN: 1744-1374
  • EISSN: 1744-1382
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-institutional-economics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 12 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 61 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 11th October 2017 - 24th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.