"Immersive virtual and gaming environments can no longer be dismissed as a fad. More than 200 virtual worlds are either available or under development, and online games number in the thousands. These environments continue to seize the imagination and trigger creative and technological innovations that show no signs of slowing down. Virtual worlds enable rich, vivid, and compelling online interactions this emphasis on the visual is a revolutionary improvement over more traditional two dimensional, text-based methods of interaction through such formats as e-mail, chat rooms, discussion groups, and web logs. The standards, protocols, and infrastructure established and adopted for virtual worlds have the potential to directly and substantially affect the future of the internet. The nation that most influences this process will likely dominate the next-generation internet in the same way that the United States was able to dominate the first-generation internet. Once a pioneer in virtual world technologies, the United States is no longer leading the race to adopt the next-generation internet technologies. Because virtual worlds may be a potent means of spreading values and ideologies, the culture that seizes the technological high ground in these spaces will have the advantage in spreading its world view. Virtual culture exposes nuanced views of identity and personhood that lurk within rich, vivid, and compelling 3D online interactions. Real world identities of person, group, and nation can blur in digital spaces. In the powerful medium of virtual worlds, online experiences can influence and even alter offline behavior. People will increasingly see their online, virtual identities as extensions of their real selves."
Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/