What's new, new media?

A Virtual World is a computer-generated simulated reality. It allows users to interact with the digital environment (which can include automated "characters" or usable materials) and with other users through the use of an "avatar," a digital persona created and controlled by the user. The most popular "virtual worlds" today are online games, which in subject matter from the sword-and-sorcery uber-fantasy of "World of Warcraft" to the banal minutiae of "The Sims Online."

The notion of the Virtual World as an alternate reality first entered the pop culture lexicon in 1982, with the release of "Tron." Although a critical and commercial dud upon its release, the film was the first to make considerable use of digital effects. Two years later, William Gibson published Neuromancer, incorporating Gibson's vision of a futuristic cyberspace (a term which Gibson himself had invented in his novelette "Burning Chrome" two years earlier).

The evolution of digital technology became central to the growth of the video game industry, creating ever-more precisely detailed cyber worlds. In 1999, at the crest of the first boom in internet-based companies, "The Matrix" was released in theaters. Intriguingly, the film inverted the visual aesthetic of "Tron." Whereas the earlier film's virtual world was dark and chaotic, in "The Matrix" the virtual world appears real, for all intents and purposes, whereas the "real" world is dark and dystopian.

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) have become increasingly popular in recent years.