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Online game universes continue to move forward in their attempts to offer intense human experiences to isolated dorks who refuse to leave their bedrooms. The latest trend now appears to be online drug-use.

MIT's Tech Review reported last Friday on RedLightCenter.com, a site which until now has focused on web-pimp functions. There are smutty pics, sex-talk internet radio, and a virtual-reality world where nudie avatars can get jiggy with one another, doubtless to the intense gratification of the men and boys controlling them. So far, so Second Life. El Reg's intrepid Sadville-based reporter has already delivered searing NSFW coverage from the furry-penis crowd, virtual fisting fanciers, lesbian BDSM vampire covens and other communities on the electronic eroto-fringe.

Now, however, RedLightCentre also offers avatars the chance to take virtual ecstasy, light up a virtual jazz-cigarette, or sample a few simulated hallucinogenic mushrooms. Brian Shuster, CEO of the site's parent company, handed Tech Review a sturdy line of high-minded waffle as to just why his firm was offering this service.

"Users have a totally revolutionary mechanism to deal with peer pressure, and actually to give in to peer pressure, without the negative consequences," he said.

"Users can enjoy both the social benefits of virtual drugs as well as the entertainment associated with drug use, all with no actual drug consumption, [so] the value of taking actual drugs is diminished."

In the end, however, Shuster cracked and admitted: "we aren't putting this product out as a way to stop drug use. That's simply a side effect. We are putting out virtual drugs because they are fun and because they make our parties much better!"

Taking a line through MMOG activities, a trend seems to be emerging here. The original and still the biggest group of online thrillseekers focus on high-intensity combat. This is, in fact, an activity which at the moment is available for Brits and Americans in the real world as well as online. Nonetheless, joining the military is time-consuming and uncomfortable, and real firefights often aren't as much fun as computer ones. It's very difficult to carry enough ammo for a start, and losing can be permanent.

As for fighting dragons, doing magic or tangling with enemy starships in the interstellar void, these things can't be done at all in real life.

It seems fair enough, then, to suggest that in many ways the online battlers have some justification for not seeking out their chosen thrills in the real world. This is less true of the internet rumpy-fanciers in many cases, but not all. Even the most resolute, attractive and socially-skilled could struggle to find willing meatspace partners for some of the stuff that apparently goes on in Sadville. Even so, in general it can look a bit pathetic to be having one's sex online when you could probably get laid for real with a little bit of savoir-faire.

And now we have virtual drugs, for people so socially inept they can't even manage substance abuse. Even the spottiest, most doleful teenage boys could formerly cope with that kind of very basic social interaction. What's next? What else could be too difficult for nerds to achieve in real life?

It can't be too long until we have virtual real-ale night down the pub, simulated afternoons catatonically watching Trisha while picking one's nose, or online chairs by the fire with pipe and slippers. MySpace already offers the chance for endless obsessive conversations with alienated teenagers about music.

Watchingpaintdry.com, anyone? ®

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