What is a Virtual World?
What a virtual world actually is, has been explained in several places throughout this site. However, this is still one of the most common questions asked by non-industry visitors to the site.
This FAQ entry has therefore been created to give a single, focused definition to answer this question.
Virtual worlds exist on the internet; within individual PCs, or on large machines. They are virtual because you cannot touch them - they are entirely made of software which runs inside a computer. At the same time, they are miniature worlds, places where the mind can wander, free of the limitations of whatever physical body it was saddled with. For those who choose to spend time within them, virtual worlds offer deep, and meaningful experiences, to the point where they may even preserve sanity that would otherwise have been lost.
Different worlds are used for different purposes. Some are purely research-based, examining simulated ecosystems, or advancing the field of AI. Others are used to recreate historical situations, such as life within the Roman empire, or historic Greece. Still others are primarilly for recreation, taking the basic elements of games, adding in meaningful social interaction, and the chance to make a real, lasting mark on a world.
Many worlds are a mix of all three, and much much more as well.