Design Observer adds its take on life in synthetic worlds, pointing out that from a design point of view, the success to online multi-player games doesn't have as much to do with the atmospherics as it does with the experience.
Game designers have identified the primary motivations for MMORPG users: exploring: seeing what is there and mapping it for others; socializing: forming groups and having shared experiences; achieving: building things and accumulating social respect; and controlling: directing and dominating others. Notice that neither 'marvelling at the scenery' nor 'enjoying aesthetic refinement' make this list. It is experiential qualities that make synthetic worlds truly immersive and which pose the greatest design challenge.
The author Dmitri Siegel also references Edward Castronova’s recent book Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games.
I'm interested in the very real economic and personal exchange happening in these lands. And gaming can also expand the mind. I'm a fan.
But like Ethan Zuckerman, I believe that synthetic modeling must occasionally give way to action in the carbon-sphere.