Metroblogging Azeroth put up a link to this very strange site called the "Synthetic World Initiative" out of Indiana University. I have to say, it looks pretty academic and obscure, but the base idea here is that they're organizing "expeditions" into uncharted territory of the modern world-- namely, virtual, online worlds just like the one we spend most of our time in, Azeroth.
The reason why they're doing this, however, isn't really clear. Their about page quotes Shakespeare a lot-- the end result is that they seem to be attempting to quantify these new online, virtual worlds in the same way unknown worlds were quantified back in the Age of Exploration. But here's the really interesting part: it seems like they're going to discover these online game worlds by playing a game of their own. They're going to research virtual worlds by creating and interacting in their own virtual world. They say they're "test[ing] the possibility that professionals engaged in a properly designed game would generate both entertainment and productivity at the same time."
Which is a fancy way of saying, I guess, that they're going to play their own roleplaying game, while playing online games and studying them (sweet gig if you're a social sciences college student). For their first "Kuriaan Expedition" (named after, I gather, something from their created game), they're meeting in World of Warcraft, over on the Alliance side of the Silver Hand server (on Sunday, they're leading an expedition into the Deadmines). At any rate, it should be interesting to see what analysis comes out of it-- odds are they won't find much we don't know about, but maybe their work will help to correct public perception of online gaming. And hey, if you're over on Silver Hand, go give 'em a /wave for us.