Virtual Worlds share a general idea much closer to exploration and discovery than a set goal. While not necessarily excluding traditional playstyles, such as most MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, most virtual worlds are a bit closer to MUDs, or Multi-User Dimensions. Pavel Curtis identifies MUDs as lacking a true goal, being extensible as to accept user-created content from multiple users, almost as if it were not a game at all. I would argue that the definition of a game is any context separated from real life that is used for entertainment, even if that entertainment has no overarching goal—but that doesn't necessarily go against what Curtis says.
Take for instance, Habbo Hotel. As another blog user stated, it is simply a “glorified chat room”. Users can move about the virtual space to talk with various people also connected to the virtual world, as well as set up their own rooms or hang out in pre-made rooms. The majority of the program is largely just chatting with various people—while you can decorate your room or do a host of other actions, there is little incentive to do anything else. While in-game goals are not necessary for virtual worlds like this one, if Habbo Hotel has any desire to ascend beyond an amusing chat client, it needs to find more incentive for its players to explore or do other things. That is not to say that Habbo Hotel is completely lacking in things to do.
Pearce outline in her paper Productive Play that games do have the power to be productive, that is, create, enrich, and challenge the human mind to grow. Pearce says that this has the ability to challenge the usual ways games are played, as well at the falsely perceived notions that gaming is simply all about a lust of media violence. This has been true with recent endeavors such as the Nintendo Wii and online rooms much like Habbo Hotel. Your ability to customize your room, your music preferences, and other things outline a new age of “productive play”, even though the productivity is relatively simple. As a matter of fact, this isn't as recent as it sounds—edutainment games have been around since the 90's, such as the Math Blaster series. Productive play is merely one bridge that can bring together people for a learning experience.
However, freedom of a virtual world can be challenged, as there are inevitable evildoers in its depths. Julian Dibbel tells of a vicious cyber rape in a MUD. The resulting politics call into question whether or not the person should be banned, what kind of rules should be implemented, and the various politics of all involved, and some who weren't. Even Habbo Hotel itself isn't immune to the dangers of unruly players—there was a time a year ago in which, under accusations of racism, a slew of internet goers flooded the servers and forced the servers to shut down. With a virtual world comes the weight and decisions of the real one, and Dibbel claims that perhaps before the digital world is as involved as this one, perhaps we should step back an analyze the potential and the danger as a whole.