I have never really played MMOGs or been part of virtual worlds, though I have always been around people constantly raving about it. I am going to base my comparison of the forms of World of Warcraft and Second Life on an audacious premise. I am going to explain my understanding of the difference based on the method of recommendation I received from people who play these games regularly.
One observation I have noticed in these worlds I cannot mention enough that continues to reinforce the notion of productive play are the lengths people will go to make themselves feel comfortable in a virtual world. Using the example of the Uru Diaspora (Pearce 2006, p.3), it is incredible how people will create artifacts which give them a sense of relief and familiarity. I think the contrast in this regard to players in World of Warcraft is that in the WoW world, people attach themselves to communities based on the tasks they can perform together. In places like Second Life, people don't mind creating artifacts in isolation in or seeming individualistic and then looking around for people with similar interests.
While reading the papers, I was trying to vicariously decide on why people prefer one to the other. I cannot find a clear distinction between the 2 from my limited experience but I can however describe why I think they are both essential in understanding human behaviour. I realise that my observations will seem diminishing in significance from the already existing discussions from people who have extensive experience in this.
I am trying to apply a cognitive theory behind what I have observed. I found it interesting there are so many aspects of specific types of virtual worlds that bleed onto other types and essential to their sustainability. It's interesting how text based virtual realities do in terms of providing an substitute social reality. Curtis talks about how an emotional experience is often limited in a text based virtual reality. I have noticed that certain types of people would find different realities to be intrusive.
I wonder if people suffering from Asperger's Snydrome can improve their condition by practicing their social skills in Second Life. Or could they only grasp the weight of social awareness by going on a team mission in WoW.
In "A Rape in Cyberspace", Julian explains explicitly how complicated this "realities" are between the virtual world and the real world. From a neuro-scientific view point, it's more interesting to see how the people define "reality". Would we be able to argue with them that what they define reality as being is not so, because that's not how we perceive it?
In games like WoW, it would be easier to argue with a player that his reality is a bit warped because the actual emotional response of using spells and magic would not translate to the real world. In second life, however, the emotional responses can be studied in parallel and it would seem odd to convince someone that their reality is not "real" because their emotional reactions are very real to them as the same personal situations can occur in real life.
I hope my blogpost on this subject does not seem too ignorantly contrived but an attempt at vicariously understanding the behaviour in these worlds at a cognitive level.
Curtis, P. "Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities." http://www.eff.org/Net_culture/MOO_MUD_IRC/curtis_mudding.article
Dibbell, Julian. (1993/1998). "A Rape in Cyberspace." http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/bungle.html
Farmer, R. & Morningstar, C. (1990/1991) "The Lessons of LucasArts Habitat." http://www.fudco.com/chip/lessons.html
Pearce, C. (2007). "Narrative Environments from Disneyland to World of Warcraft." In Space, Time, Play: Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level. Friedrich von Borries, Steffan P. Walz, and Matteas Bottger (eds). Basel: Birkhauser. http://lcc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/PearceSpaceTimePlay.pdf
Taylor, T.L. (2003). "Intentional Bodies: Virtual Environments and the Designers Who Shape Them." International Journal of Engineering Education 19, no. 1. www.itu.dk/~tltaylor/papers/Taylor-Designers.pdf