for National Geographic News
Part of the Digital Places Special News Series
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Every day millions of personal computer (PC) gamers plug into online worlds that slake all kinds of fantasies.
Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs)—such as World of Warcraft and Everquest—allow people to don online personalities, or avatars, and duke it out in make-believe environments.
But virtual worlds aren't just for nerds anymore.
In the simulation game Second Life, savvy entrepreneurs can buy and sell digital real estate, create their own lines of avatar clothing and accessories, and hold virtual concerts, lectures, and sporting events.
And as the game has grown in popularity, many corporations are hot on the heels of independent retailers to become part of the phenomenon.
Tomorrow Reuters Group Plc. will join brand names such as Sony, Adidas, and Nissan in being represented in Second Life. The global news agency is opening a virtual bureau complete with publications, video feeds, and roving avatars reporting on in-game events.
"As strange as it might seem, it's not that different from being a reporter in the real world," Adam Pasick, the Reuters correspondent who will serve as the virtual bureau's first chief, said in a Reuters report.
"Once you get used to it, it becomes very much like the job I have been doing for years."
Observers say that some day synthetic worlds such as Second Life could reshape global commerce and perhaps even the way people interact over the Internet.
"Imagine a future where virtual reality and the real world blend together," said Edward Castronova, associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University in Bloomington.
"It is a real possibility, and it just takes an ordinary PC."
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