The Drudge Report has a link to this article in London’s Independent about the online world of the Sims. The role playing game has gotten its creator into some scandal as a professor used his online character to study what was happening has high school computer geeks pretended to be online pimps, prostitutes, and thugs.

Alphaville quickly turned into a hellhole of scam-artists, crime syndicates, mafia extortion artists and teenage girls turning tricks to make ends meet. It became a breeding ground for the very worst in human nature – a benign-sounding granny, for example, who specialised in taking new players into her confidence, then showered them in abuse. Then there was the scam-artist known as Evangeline, who started out equally friendly and then stole new players’ money.

Professor Ludlow, who teaches at the University of Michigan, decided he would chronicle Alphaville’s seamy reality by setting up a newspaper,The Alphaville Herald, run by his game alter-ego. He reported on the scams and the prostitution rings, and also interviewed the protagonists. (Evangeline, his most intriguing source, turned out, in real life, to be a spectacularly warped teenage boy.)

But that was before his dispassionate academic inquiry ran smack into the authoritarian brick wall of the game’s manufacturer and controller, the California gaming company Electronic Arts.

The Alphaville Herald was closed down and Professor Ludlow’s avatar, Urizenus, was kicked out of town. “While we regret it,” Electronic Arts told him in a letter, “we feel it is necessary for the good of the game and its community.”

The whole thing is quite fascinating. I know people who would rather spend their time pretending to be someone else online than livingin the real world. Bloggers, to some degree, do that. But, I think bloggers have to be grounded firmly in reality, otherwise what the heck would they blog about.

One of the most interesting pieces of the article was at the very end.

For some people, a life online is better than the real thing, because you can be more than you are in real life. In June last year, for example, Sim mobs turned up on virtual doorsteps, demanding protection money – payable in the online currency, simoleans. Don’t think that is trivial: right now, one million simoleans trades for $22 (£12) on the auction website eBay.

Online economies can even intermingle with the real one. Last month, a court in Beijing ruled in favour of Li Hongchen who sued the operator of the online game Red Moon after his virtual money and weapons were stolen by a hacker. The court said that because the virtual goods had been acquired using his labour, time, cash and “wisdom”, they belonged to him and had real value.