Young people can derive huge benefits from multiplayer online role-playing games, according to academics at Brunel University.
The researchers concluded that online gaming enhances, rather than constricts, the imagination of young people.
These virtual worlds offer an opportunity to experiment with different identities such as gender, race or ability, and enable gamers to benefit from opportunities that they may not encounter in the real world, according to the study.
"Virtual environments, like Runescape, form important new leisure spaces for the many young people who occupy them," said Crowe.
"In the real world, where streets or town centres have become inaccessible to many young people, or are considered risky or unsafe by them or their parents, it is not surprising that virtual public spaces have become increasingly attractive as a leisure setting.
"Our research explored how Runescape's appeal lay in the provision of an environment in which young people can experiment symbolically with the cultural institutions and structures of the material world.
"Young people can establish their presence, identity and meaning in ways that might not be accessible or permissible in their everyday lives."
Runescape is one of the most accessed and popular of the virtual worlds, particularly among people aged 11 to 18.
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