A virtual world is a computer generated environment in which users create a simulated representation of themselves — an “avatar” — that occupies a simulated world and creates a life there.
There are different types of virtual worlds, some are for single users, others encourage multiple users. There are worlds that are very similar to the real world and others that are complete fantasy.
A “massively multiplayer online game,’ is a virtual world that can support hundreds or even thousands of players at once. It usually has users living in real-time action, following real world rules and communicating with others.
Second Life, one of the most popular virtual worlds, allows users to make themselves and the world they inhabit whatever they want it to be – oftentimes a combination of reality and fantasy. Users can go grocery shopping, for example, but they might fight a dragon on the way.
While some users participate in the gaming aspect of virtual worlds, others use it to meet people and socialize. Virtual worlds that recreate three dimensional forms of hospitals, museums, libraries, have become important educational tool. They’re even serving as meeting places for online university courses.
In the business world, marketers see new opportunities for product placement in virtual worlds. A promotion for the IMAX screening of the latest “Harry Potter” movie, for example, ran first in Second Life and was given credit for boosting online movie ticket sales. In some virtual worlds both virtual and real-life products are even available for users to buy.