Dr Castronova, who has written a book on the subject entitled Exodus To The Virtual World, drew parallels to the 1600s when thousands of people left Britain for a new life in North America.
“That certainly changed North America – and that’s usually what we focus on – but it certainly changed the UK as well,” he said.
“So what I tried to do in this book is say, ‘listen – even if the typical reader doesn’t spend any time in virtual worlds, what is going to be the impact on him of people going and doing this?'”
And he predicted that everyone will be involved in a virtual environment within ten years – although the level of that involvement will vary.
The appeal of online virtual worlds such as Second Life is such that it may trigger an exodus of people seeking to “disappear from reality,” said Edward Castronova, Associate Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, an expert on large-scale online games.