The power of virtual environments and computer games cannot be understated in its ability to inspire, attract and empower. Virtual environments and computer games comprise the primary manifestation of digital technology in the lives of millions of people: This is how many learn, communicate, understand, relax and even give meaning to their lives.

Games are characterized by rules, explicit goals, and carefully crafted combinations of play, challenge, and achievement. No longer the exclusive province of teenage boys, computer games have expanded in:

  • platform (e.g., mobile phones and social media)
  • audience (surveys show 69 percent of all heads of households play computer and video games, 40 percent of all gamers are women, and one out of four gamers is over the age of 50)
  • purpose (games to promote health, education and social change are skyrocketing in popularity)

Virtual environments are persistent, interactive, shared spaces enabled by software, computers and high-speed networks. They are becoming important venues for interaction in education, business, science and medicine, as well as entertainment, gaming and social bonding. Virtual environments, although commonly used for social interactions, are distinct from social networks and news groups. Virtual environments typically have visual structures, an “avatar” that represents the user and is able to move around and perform actions in the visual structure, and a sense of persistent existence that continues when any one user is logged out.