Living in a Virtual World
Multiplayer play has always been a hugely important aspect of gaming. From the very first game Pong, game developers knew the importance of stirring player's competitive fires by allowing them to challenge and compete against each other. With the advent of the internet, it became easier for gamers to find partners to team up with, and challengers to face.
The internet also made it possible for completely new game types to emerge. No longer were developers restricted to having games that could be played by 1, 2, or 4 players. They could now create worlds that could be populated by literally hundreds or thousands of players at the same time. This gave rise to virtual worlds, persistent game environments where the game essentially never ended. Virtual worlds came in two main forms, the social-centric virtual world, and the more gaming-centric MMORPG.
Real-Life Virtual Worlds
Second Life was one of the first major virtual worlds, and remains around to this day, more than a decade after its release. Second Life allows players to life out a virtual life not dissimilar to their real one. They can build and decorate their own properties, provide entrepreneurial services to other players, socialize, partake in fun activities, and even have relationships and marry themselves off to a virtual partner.
Despite Second Life's initial popularity, there have been few other attempts at strictly social virtual worlds that have acheived any success. There and Active Worlds are two of the older and more successful attempts, while a few other programs like Kaneva and Moove are designed more as interactive social networks that have more of a focus on real interactions as opposed to adopting a virtual persona.
Another and more popular form of virtual, persistent world exists in the form of MMORPG's. MMORPG's take place in the same persistent worlds and allow for many of the same actions as real-life virtual worlds: players can explore, interactive, have relationships, provide services, have houses or pets, and more. However the virtual life aspect of the game is wrapped around an RPG core, where players must complete an overarching journey, often to defeat evil and save the world. There are bosses to team up with other players and fight, clashes between armies of opposing real world players, often in the form of competing factions or races, and dungeons and instances to be tackled. 2006's World of Warcraft is the most well-known of this style of game, and still stands as the most-played subscription game to this day, with nearly 10 million monthly players.