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Video Games Could Save the Greek Economy

greeceGreece’s new finance minister has a challenging job before him. Yet with his rigorous economics experience and unique background as a central banker for the Steam game platform, he may be best positioned to pull Greece out of its financial crisis.

An economics professor by trade, Yanis Varoufakis first became interested in virtual economies after receiving an email from Gabe Newell, co-founder of video game developer Valve and its popular game platform Steam, during the height of the Eurozone crisis. Newell explained to Varoufakis that Valve was plagued by a similar problem to that of the broader European Union – one virtual economy was dragging down the economic system. Shortly after, Varoufakis joined Valve to oversee and control virtual markets in Valve games such as Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2. Each game’s economy is also connected through the Steam platform, which links several games to create a shared currency – an arrangement resembling the Eurozone partnership between Germany and Greece.

“Economic theory has come to a dead end – the last real breakthroughs were in the 1960s,” said Varoufakis. “But that’s not because we stopped being clever. We came up against a hard barrier. The future is going to be in experimentation and simulation – and video game communities give us a chance to do all that.”

Virtual worlds consisting of millions of players allow in-house game economists such as Varoufakis and CCP Games’ chief economist Eyjólfur Guðmundsson to experiment with different economic models and learn how consumers interact with one another. Guðmundsson oversees Eve Online, a sprawling community with more than 400,000 players who buy and sell raw materials, speculate on commodities and form trade coalitions and banks as in real-world economies. “For all intents and purposes, this is an economy that has activity equal to a small country in real life,” Guðmundsson said. Varoufakis has also called virtual economies “an economist’s paradise.”

Now, in his new role as the Greek finance minister, Varoufakis must revive the country’s anemic economy. With his experimental results from his time at Valve, he may be able to convince a skeptical Germany that easing Greece’s debt is the only way to turn around the country – and with it the broader Eurozone.

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