ABC News has a story up on experiments using virtual worlds to test real world theories. This article explores the desire of educators to use these virtual worlds as test beds for theories, and the challenges that face them (funding) in pursuing these experiments:
Ironically, one of the areas this article proposes testing are the economies of these worlds. Edward Castronova, in several interviews, has speculated on creating two identical virtual worlds with different economies, and then turning users loose to see how different theories play out.
“By tapping into the behavior of an estimated 73 million online gamers, Mr. Bloomfield and others hope to study the effects of public policy with an ease and specificity that only computers can deliver. The tools are not yet perfected. But the potential is too strong to ignore, says Bloomfield.”
Others are more skeptical on the validity of this type of experiment in these mostly “game” environments:
“Many skeptics, however, say that results found online don’t mean anything in the real world. While virtual worlds are more realistic and immersive than Pong, they are still video games. Motivations and incentives are purposefully skewed to make the experience fun.”
Note: there are some very interesting video links embedded in this article on autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. I am not sure what the connection is, but there are interesting to watch.