In 2008, I purchased my first digital outfit. I gave little thought to the significance of my decision. It was just one aspect of Maplestory, the free online role-playing game my friends and I were obsessed with. The game’s objective was to embark on a heroic adventure, and our virtual avatars had to be properly equipped for the journey. That meant swords, shields, capes, and all sorts of fantastical attire.
The most eye-catching virtual clothes and accessories cost actual cash, not in-game money, which I would buy with allowance money from my parents. The individual items were available for purchase in the “cash shop,” and cost from $1 to $10. They didn’t help defend against enemies or bestow extra power; they existed to serve a solely aesthetic purpose by covering up unwieldy battle regalia.
The clothes were also programmed to expire after 90 days. In hindsight, their semi-permanent nature was