However, for many inhabitants of Second Life, it is not just a 3D online game, but another world that “…has its own economy and millions of residents who own and create property, make friends and even get married” (CNN Living, 2008). These virtual worlds (VWs) have become conduits for socialization, collaboration, entertainment, social networking, and business development (Mennecke et al. 371).
In VWs like Second Life, users must build virtual representations of themselves through creation of customizable avatars, which gives them a 3D body that they control and provides a “tangible embodiment of their identity” (Ducheneaut, Wen, Yee, and Wadley 1151). Through the avatars, users can discover an ever-growing assortment of virtual sites, fabricate all sorts of items, from clothing to buildings, and create businesses to sell their goods or services, forge relationships with other players through their interactions with their avatars, and buy virtual property (Hayes 154). According to Dell, as many as 13 million people have logged on to Second Life at least one time and about 450,000 subscribers are from more than 50 countries are online in any given week, ranging in age from 18 – 72, 27% of which are female (Hayes 154). Researchers have begun to conduct studies to analyze the way self-perception formed through interactions in VWs affects behaviors in the real world (Dell). According to Ducheneaut, Wen, Yee, and Wadley, "the choices users make when creating and customizing their avatar will have repercussions on their interactions with other users” (1151), which can cause users to create online personas that are sometimes the complete opposite of who they are in real life.