Swampland in Florida 2
At the end of the last century, I had a neighbour in San Francisco who spent all his free time hooked up to the internet playing the original EverQuest game (it's an MMORPG). He would put in hours and hours of gameplay to earn a magic sword or spell, and then he'd sell it to some Japanese guy on eBay for $300-$400.
This was in the early days of the online economy, but because of the brisk 'Royal Amulet of Takish-Hiz,' etc. trading business, the GDP of EverQuest managed to surpass that of China back in 2002. Now that's impressive.
Nowadays, there are reportedly hundreds of Asian sweatshops where menial gamers toil away in the mines (literally) to earn online goods for their taskmasters. Just type 'World of Warcraft' into eBay and see what comes up.
I myself played most of the (few) virtual environments available in the late 90's. My favourite was Moove, principally because it was free and you could put paintings on the wall. I discovered later it was mostly popular with cybersex cruisers–though it's pretty obvious to me now. Just look at their front page:
How could I have missed that? Anyway, I got bored with meeting random avatars of people I didn't know and probably didn't like. Consider what percentage of real-life people you would bother to talk to? So I gave up on virtual life (there's Me, and there's Awesome Me: the Avatar).
But many didn't. You've probably heard of Second Life, the virtual community that boasts everything from shops and banks to colleges and gigs. But did you know that some people are paying $1,675 plus $295 per month for their own SL island? Why? Investment and rental properties–just like out here on Earth. The Second Life economy should top $650 million GDP this year.
Sadly, the same problems are plaguing virtual property developers as have done their bricks-and-mortar counterparts for eons. There is no government of Second Life, so what happens if a lowly programmer decides to add some land here, move some water there? Prices fluctuate, and those in the know make a packet. Brown envelopes all around. Sure, doesn't that sound a bit like our old pal Bertual Reality?