A Virtual Holiday in the Virtual Sun

Vacation, work, and life in the virtual world. A look at the imaginary destinations visited by millions of people each year in places like Second Life.

The New York Times, October 28, 2005

Imagine relaxing in a tiny private cove, on a lava beach near the mists of a waterfall. The sun is shining, a tropical bird cries somewhere in the distance and the cares of the working world seem a million miles away.

It’s an idyllic vacation spot, but the best thing about it is that it takes less than five minutes to get there from anywhere in the world. In fact, you can reach it without ever leaving your home. That’s because it exists not in any physical location but in one of the many virtual worlds that millions of people now travel to every day with the help of nothing more than a decent computer graphics card and a broadband Internet connection.

Though most of these worlds take the form of multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft or Star Wars Galaxies, a few are simply open 3-D environments whose members can get away from it all in a place filled with colorful diversions and other cyberexplorers like themselves. Even in game worlds, many players log on not to slay orcs or blow up death stars but to spend time with friends, see the sights and take a small vacation without ever stepping foot outside their door.

More than 10 million people around the world travel to such imaginary destinations regularly. They get there via software that lets them guide their onscreen representatives, known as “avatars,” through places built entirely of pixels where they can interact with one another. Their destinations include virtual dance parties and nightclubs, auto races and yachting events, “Star Wars”-style cantinas, whimsical underwater jazz clubs and much more.

Read the complete text at The New York Times.