I have to admit, I have never gotten virtual worlds. I enjoy simulation games such as The Sims, Sim City, Spore, etc. I enjoy MMOs such as Kingdom of Loathing and have been experimenting with writing my own. When I was ten I even enjoyed text based games and adventure MUDs. I like coding and content creation so I should obviously like virtual worlds such as Second Life. I just don't get them.
These virtual worlds provide people with a blank forum and engine to create objects, interactions, and societies that are different and unique from the real world. Early pioneers in the though of these world's such as Dibbell and Curtis argue for the needs of rules and enforcers of rules. At they same time, they recognize that the citizens have to be involved in the process otherwise the game falls apart.
That, I accept, is one of the draws of these worlds. Often the community is small enough and disparate enough that very little effort leads to a big impact in the way the world woks. For people who are interested in doing these things they can quickly become part of the lore of the game.
Habitat proved to be a more interesting story. There was combat between players and the admins played as villains against players. In their recount, Farmer and Morningstar write about their adventures as The Shadow and Death in Habitat. One time, when a player killed their characters and stole a one of a kind weapon, a developer threatened the player with banning if they did not return it. Feeling that this broke the game world, when it happened again, the admins ransomed the gun back in a large spectacle. This proved to be more popular.
Apparently, the concept of fairness is a big deal to players of MOOs. Some get it and embrace it, others do not. Mnookin describes the system of law that was created for LambdaMOO and its evolution, successes, and failures. Meanwhile, other games such as Habbo Hotel face charges on their Wikipedia page of moderators being unfair and arbitrary. It is interesting, however, that Habbo had a volunteer admin force until its parent company decided that they should be employees instead.
In Productive Play Pearce claims that virtual worlds are more fun when players are able to produce and create. Maybe I would enjoy these games better if there were mechanics involved which encouraged me to craft and build instead of having to find my own way and meaning. This is something that combat muds such as World of Warcraft have inherently over virtual worlds such as Second Life. Everyone understands hit the boar in the head until it gives you XP.
Virtual worlds give you what you put into them. It seems fitting that real life, which has no purpose other than what one creates would translate into an open virtual world. It also seems fitting that in such an open system relationships, societies, governments, and cultures will form as well. However, I do not find having to find my own meaning as much fun as playing a role which has meaning assigned to it. That is the difference between a MMO such as WoW and a virtual world such as Second Life. In one, my goals and meaning are clear, kill bad guys and loot. In the other one my goals are less clear. At the end of the day, people must find their own enjoyments.