CNET has an interesting interview with Bruce Damer, a virtual world expert and author of the 1997 book Avatars (he also runs the very cool DigiBarn computer museum but that's a different story). "I'm sort of a 'Gandalf of the Grey' of virtual worlds", he says. "I've seen all of the ages of middle virtual earth."
Oh, and where did the interview take place? CNET's bureau in Second Life of course.
During the interview, Damer has a good stab at answering those critics who are skeptical about the value of virtual worlds.
Some criticize the environments by saying they take people away from "real" contact. But for several decades "real" contact has become a complex recipe that includes phone, telex, messages/letters/memos, media, etc. Face-to-face conversation is a smaller and smaller fraction of our communications. I see virtual worlds as bringing us a bit back toward embodied person-to-person conversation but also allowing people to have a creative element...Although he concedes that virtual world fatigue can become an issue.
Of course these environments wear you out cognitively faster and that's a problem--at least for codgers like me. Try navigating around for hours and communicating and see if your brain turns to mush. It is related to a kind of overload tracked by NASA in their extra-vehicular activity training and missions. In always trying to keep track of where you are in space (or a 3D virtual space), you use different parts of your brain than in simple texting, so you can get brain tired--unless you are 11, of course.Let's hope IBM is reading this, as the company is set to plunge another $10 million into virtual worlds over the next year.