Really interesting article from Wired News on the 'game' Second Life. Highly recommended reading. Not a big hit as yet but this is a clear combination many social-cultural and educational trends:
1) WHAT IF (the trend to extend one's life into others, exploring one's personality from many angles like age, gender, sexual orientation, jobs, physical capabilities etc.)
2) TRANSFORMATION (by Pine II and Gilmore). This trend is about the marketing phase after the experience economy in which we currently operating. Focus on more substantial life issues that matter. Self exploration, spirituality, self knowledge etc. I expect these kind of 'games' or online environments to flourish the coming years. We can also witness the same (psychological and social) dynamic in games like Habbo Hotel and PowerBabe, both very successful cases in Europe and the Netherlands, respectively.
"In Second Life, there are no defined limits to the ways players can interact. They can communicate and socialize through normal chatting or instant messaging, or in clubs or associations. Other MMOs, such as World of Warcraft, EverQuest and Ultima Online, to name a few, dwarf Second Life's 25,000 users. Still, many industry observers feel Second Life offers the best platform for mixing social interaction, play and the opportunity to tackle serious issues. "There isn't really another platform that is so free of gaming lore," said Ed Castronova, a professor at the University of Indiana and an expert on MMOs. "In Second Life you can make anything." Castronova cited Second Life's flexibility as the main reason people are using the game for serious purposes."