We've always dreamed of perfect places: Eden, heaven, Utopia. Imagine gambling without loss, love without heartbreak, sex without exposure, experience without risk. Welcome to the fascinating world of online virtual reality, the land of invented places and populations that is entered and inhabited every week by nearly fifty million people worldwide. Each participant creates a virtual body, works at virtual jobs, and makes virtual friends and family. In Second Lives, Tim Guest, an internationally acclaimed young journalist, takes us on a revelatory journey through the electronic looking glass as he investigates one of the most bizarre phenomena of the twenty-first century. From Second Life to EverQuest and beyond, here are the computer-generated environments and characters that can easily become more engrossing and fulfilling than earthly existence. With the click of a mouse you can select eye color, face shape, height-you can even give yourself wings. Your character, or avatar, can build houses, make and sell works of art, earn money, get married and divorced. In this fascinating and groundbreaking book, Guest meets people who found meaningful love and friendship despite never having met in person, catches up with the companies that have used virtual worlds to make big money, investigates the U.S. military's massive online global model that trains soldiers to fight anyone anywhere, and travels all the way to gaming-crazed Korea to get a taste for just how big this phenomenon really is. At first glance, these new computer-generated places seem free from trouble and sorrow. But Guest examines the dark side of this technology too, including the online criminals who plague imaginary worlds, from cyber mafiosos and prostitutes to real hackers and terrorists. It seems that one cannot escape greed, corruption, and human weakness-even inside a computer screen. Are these virtual worlds a way to enhance life or to escape it? Guest explores this question personally as he lets himself be transported into myriad parallel universes. By turns provocative, inspiring, and disturbing, Second Lives is a crucial book for this millennium. After all, real life is so twentieth century. Advance praise for Second Lives "Tim Guest is a young writer with the literary goods. My Life in Orange, his hit memoir of growing up in a commune, looked at his past; his riveting new book, Second Lives, looks at our future: the world of virtual reality and the spellbound people who inhabit it. The book is some kind of revelation-by turns compelling, chilling, and illuminating. Curious, intelligent, offbeat, and artful, Guest is at the beginning of a big career." --John Lahr, senior drama critic, The New Yorker, author of Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton Praise from England for Second Lives "An anthropological adventure but also Guest's personal voyage...? fascinating portrait of rainbow landscapes and their inhabitants." -Time Out London "Rich and colourful...?n important mapping of a new social frontier." -The Guardian "Remarkably timely." -The Sunday Telegraph "Astonishing." -The Sunday Times From the Hardcover edition.