"If once we were able to view the Borges fable in which the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up covering the territory exactly (the decline of the Empire witnesses the fraying of this map, little by little, and its fall into ruins, though some shreds are still discernible in the deserts - the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction testifying to a pride equal to the Empire and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, a bit as the double ends by being confused with the real through aging) - as the most beautiful allegory of simulation..."This particular idea of simulation, a copy of some original thing which might acquire more attention than the original itself, makes me think of what Google Earth might turn into.
"...this fable has now come full circle for us, and possesses nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.The simulacrum concept (a copy with no original), however, appears to be more similar to our fantasy virtual worlds: Second Life, World of Warcraft, There, Project Entropia.
Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory - precession of simulacra - that engenders the territory, and if one must return to the fable, today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself."
The major distinction between these two types of online worlds (that one is based on our physical world and the other is totally fictional) might become more pronounced in the future as these places gain in popularity. Each type has its benefits: one is instantly familiar, the other allows more creative freedom. Both seem to have their own place in the foreseeable future. If people someday spend so much time in virtual worlds that the real one is no longer familiar, the Earth-simulation type might fade away.