In the recent issue of La Civilta Cattolica, a Vatican-approved religious journal, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro explores the popularity of Second Life and advises his readers to visit the virtual world. He recommends experiencing the world from the inside to understand its potential and risk.
The risk "is the alienation, the shelter in a fictitious and painless world" that may lead people "to lose the contact with 'first life' and its incomparable wealth," he said, as translated by Google.
Linden Lab's recent gambling ban, however, may save more souls than intervention by those devoted to the divine. Following last week's clampdown on virtual casinos, the blogosphere is abuzz with talk of a financial meltdown and customer exodus in Second Life.
"The casino folks are pulling out of SL, because they can't afford to maintain their holdings without income," wrote journalist and Second Life resident Shava Nerad on the Terra Nova blog Sunday. "They have their assets locked, apparently -- something that's been remarkably hard to substantiate."
And while not everyone agrees that there's a financial crisis brewing, some of the economic statistics show that the Second Life economy has taken a hit.
A chart from the Reuters Second Life bureau, for example, shows the number of U.S. dollars spent in Second Life per day declining from more than $2,000,000 on July 26, the day the gambling ban was announced, to about $800,000 on July 30.
Also, the average number of Linden dollars spent on each square meter of land in Second Life has also declined this month, from L$ 9.0743 in June to L$ 8.4875 as of Monday.
Nonetheless, with more than 8 million registered users, Second Life isn't in danger of disappearing overnight. Some people even believe that Linden Lab's effort to clean up Second Life is a prelude to a play for mass-market appeal and acquisition by Fox Interactive Media, owner of MySpace.com.
Linden Lab would not comment on whether it has had such discussions. "Unfortunately, it's Linden Lab's policy not to comment on rumors," said a company spokesperson.
Father Spadaro observed that it is "possible to offer those who are within the Second Life an experience of God." The unanswered question is whether the experience of God will prove more profitable to Linden Lab than the experience of gambling.
Editor's Note: This story was modified on July 31 to correct the amount of money in U.S. dollars being spent each day in Second Life.