Today, I realized something. Books are the original "Second Life". When I am reading a good book, I am taken out of my own skin into the experiences of the character. I see vividly the landscape of that new land and I feel the emotions. A good author can bring me to tears, make me laugh out loud, have me squirming in my seat. A good story can do that without computer graphics and Linden dollars.
When I was younger, an appealing character and a good story never ended with the close of the book. My imagination took over and created new characters and scenarios over which I had total control. I even played games based on favorite books with my friends and siblings - real games with real dirt and real hazards and real fun. But these games were of our own making and they had little to do with our everyday real lives.
Think of Tom Sawyer playing Robin Hood in his long underwear in the woods around Hannibal, Missouri. Children have been playing with the people they meet in books as long as books that appeal to children have been around. I'm sure us older people create fantasies around our favorite characters though not as often as when we were young. It is hard to say goodbye to someone who has inhabited your brain for several hours.
Online worlds offer a chance to create your own story, be someone else for awhile. They have the element of chance that comes from interacting with characters over whom you have little control. There is the excitement of visual and aural stimulation and endless choices.
All that said, I prefer books. A quiet corner in the sunlight, a well-written paperback in my hand and I can enter a "second life" where everything is a surprise and all I have to do is let the story unfurl in my mind's eye.