Second Lives by Tim Guest
I've just this minute finished reading the above book. The strapline reads, "A journey through virtual worlds".
From 1981 his mother took him to live in communes around the world, alternate worlds rather than virtual worlds. But he uses this experience to create a fascinating account of virtual worlds.
Though mainly based on/in Second Life he looks into other role playing games such as Quest and World of Warcraft (where he meets up with his estranged father from time to time).
The book opens in Boston, Mass. where a nurse in a care home has created a character called Wilde for a group of patients with cerebral palsey. As the group is a mix of males and females, and the makeup of the character is democratically decided, Wilde is sometimes a man, and sometimes a woman.
From enabling the wheelchair bound to fly, he moves into second life and meets up with terrorists and Second Life mafia, who will take apart your character or delete your casino.
He explores the use the US Army has made of role playing games. Of how they are re constructing the whole world, virtually, so that they can rehearse operations before actually going in to action. He tells of how the US Army Recruiting Service developed an online role playing game as part of their recruitment process, and saw recruitment rise for the first time in years. Not only that, everyone who played the online game had to register, so that if and when they turned up to join up, the sergeant only had to call up their name from a database to see what sort of material they were made of.
The flip side of that coin is the online training recruits scheduled for overseas engagements receive. Working with phsychologists the army has produced such stress inducing scenarios as having the soldier man a checkpoint somewhere abroad and have a family approach, gesticulating and shouting incomprehensibly, and watching how the soldier reacts. Are they an innocent family, or are they terrorists attempting to blow the checkpoint away?
He meets the Chinese woman who employs a team to manufacture Second Life artifacts for real life money. She is now a dollar millionaire.
There's an awful lot more food for thought in this book, from the plain weird to medical advances.
It should make for good holiday reading.