Virtual environments or virtual worlds resemble the real world in several ways. They are governed by a specific sets of rules that we don’t always necessarily have a grasp of. They give users a certain level of autonomy that is constrained by the preset rules and/or the community. They also have a fair amount of risk involved when dealing inside them.
Risk, I think, is what most people overlook when it comes to the virtual world. People think that since the virtual world is on the internet then it must have less risk; people act like the internet removes risk from the equation when it is quite the opposite. One could argue that the internet involves more risk. More information available faster can mean a more volatile market and community.
Sure things like death are less of an issue (and in some cases a non-issue) in virtual worlds, but that does not preclude those worlds from being less risky than the real one. People expect less risk in virtual environments but that is when there is less fun and a lack of options. Replicating the risk of real life gives users the chance to fully explore the human condition and try things that one would not normally be able to.
A good example of this would be a player being a pirate in EVE Online. Normally, people can’t just go around and be a pirate all day as their desk job but virtual environments give people the chance to experience and think about more than life actively can present them. The risk is what makes it worth it because people feel more fulfilled when they complete something risky compared to completing something they know they won’t have a problem doing. Fiero can be a powerful thing.