The 7 Best Virtual World Games

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The best virtual world games immerse you inside a fictional realm, allowing you to live out some part of life that you just can't do in reality. These games are available on a variety of platforms and enable you to experience new universes and see things a little differently.

Some might be truly fantastical like Toontown Rewritten, which allows you to take on the identity of a quirky animal species, while others, like Minecraft, might tap into your creative abilities. In each case, much of the fun stems from creativity and escapism, in a way that story-led games simply can't provide.

The idea here is to allow your imagination to run wild in an open-ended approach that means you don't feel constrained by any narratives. With increasingly powerful PCs and gaming consoles, it's possible for some of these worlds to feel near never-ending, which enhances that feeling that you're truly getting away from everything. Plus, you get to explore new surroundings while being safe and having fun. 

With a different virtual world for every kind of interest and taste, many of these games are ideal for short or long sessions depending on your mood. Here's a look at the best virtual world games.

The Rundown
Minecraft is ideal for kids and adults alike, thanks to its endless amount of creativity and possibility.
Players can choose from one of four exaggerated and inaccurate examples of the workplace in a first-person perspective.
About half a million users still play thanks to its highly interactive nature that lets you live the life you've always dreamed of.
Aimed at kids, the game is full of imaginative cities that are delightfully animated and offer plenty of zany moments.
The world is filled with characters that players can have conversations with, leading to gaining friends, foes, and even starting wars.
You're able to explore a multitude of user-created worlds along with replications of real-world locations.
The game has one of the largest virtual goods catalogs out there, with more than 30 million items.

Best Overall: Mojang Minecraft

Minecraft
What We Like
  • Sandbox approach offers many possibilities

  • Core mechanics are simple to grasp

  • Lots of depth to crafting

What We Don't Like
  • Will feel aimless to some

  • Each version requires separate purchase

Minecraft strikes the perfect balance of a virtual world game that's ideal for kids and adults alike. That's thanks to its endless amount of creativity and possibility. The open world sandbox game can be played alone or with friends online and offline, with cross-play meaning you can play across different consoles, mobile devices, or PCs. 

The fun of Minecraft comes from exploring its randomly generated worlds of high mountains, thick forests, and vast seas, all before manipulating them to your heart's content. The game's survival mode is more game-like, having you forging tools from acquired crafting materials while fending off enemy threats at night.

However, it's the creative mode that allows your imagination to run riot, with the ability to build mostly anything you can imagine if you put in the time and find key components. It's easy to lose hundreds of hours here if you so wish.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) | Install Size: 394MB

"Minecraft remains one of the best all-around games for kids and families—a simple experience with surprising depth that rewards initiative and creativity." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Microsoft Minecraft

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best Humor: Owlchemy Labs Job Simulator

Job Simulator
What We Like
  • Humorous game with a lighthearted feel

  • Fun for the whole family

What We Don't Like
  • Requires VR

  • Not full-on escapism

At some point, we've all wanted a change of job roles. Job Simulator makes this possible while, fortunately, adding a hefty dose of humor to the results so it still feels like a form of escapism. Players can choose from one of four exaggerated and inaccurate examples of the workplace in a first-person perspective.

It's possible to try your luck as an auto mechanic, gourmet chef, store clerk, or office worker. They might not sound fascinating, but with VR and motion controls, you get a surprising amount of outlandish freedom.

That means the ability to bake pizzas covered in bacon and cookies throwing staplers at co-workers or, well, eating food from the trash. It's not quite pure escapism compared to other virtual world games here, but Job Simulator is quirky enough that you'll still feel like you've lost yourself to a new world.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) | Install Size: 970MB

Best Escape: Linden Lab Second Life

Second Life
What We Like
  • Highly sociable

  • True escapism

  • Can set up businesses

What We Don't Like
  • Adult only

  • Needs a big time commitment to achieve anything

Second Life has been around since 2003, but it continues to be one of the most popular virtual world games in existence. About half a million active users still play today thanks to its highly interactive nature that lets you live the life you might have always dreamed of.

Aimed at people ages 16 and older, you can make finely detailed 3D models of yourself and then immediately go out and do everything from performing in entertainment events to even starting your own virtual business. The latter can even lead to real profit—such is the level of immersion of the world.

You also get to connect with others around the world, with options to join thousands of unique groups, partake in contests, workshops, and parties, create your own real estate properties, and develop and shape the world around you.

ESRB: N/A | Install Size: 110MB

Best Cartoon: Toontown Rewritten

Toontown Rewritten
What We Like
  • Ideal for kids

  • Vibrant animations

  • Quirky humor

What We Don't Like
  • Not aimed at adults

  • No mobile support

Toontown Rewritten is a free-to-play revival of Disney's Toontown Online, a virtual playground where you can live out your dreams of being a cartoon. Aimed at kids, the game is full of imaginative cities that are delightfully animated and offer plenty of zany moments.

You start off by creating your unique identity, with the option to pick from multiple animal species such as a trouser-wearing bipedal dog or a dressed-up crocodile. Enter the world and you discover plenty of games and activities to be a part of with a hint of storyline too, thanks to needing to fight off pinstripe-suited corporate robots.

Sounds violent? Only in a cartoony way, with the option of throwing pies or dropping anvils to combat them. Just what you'd expect of a cartoon world.

ESRB: E (Everyone) | Install Size: 500MB

Best Fantasy: Bethesda The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Nintendo Switch)

What We Like
  • Well-written plot

  • Highly interactive world

  • Detailed role playing

What We Don't Like
  • Not as open-ended as some virtual worlds

  • Picky controls

Considered one of the best role-playing games of all time, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available on a variety of formats, giving you a fantasy-style form of escapism wherever you go. Its open-world adventure is one of the most immersive out there, even if it's not quite like setting up a new life.

Players can do virtually anything and become anyone in this land. The world is filled with tons of interactive characters that players can have conversations with, leading to gaining friends, foes, and even starting wars. Skyrim's main storyline focuses on a dragon set to destroy the world, but there are plenty of detours you can take in the meantime.

Extensive side missions and subplots enable you to gain new abilities and form your character into a persona you want them to be, before choosing to save the world.

ESRB: M (Mature) | Install Size: 34.98GB

"The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a well-written, highly immersive action role-playing game. It‘s great for any player who enjoys fantasy, dragons, and magic in an expansive open world." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Lifewire / Kelsey Simon

Best Classic: Activeworlds Inc. Active Worlds

Active Worlds
What We Like
  • Low system requirements

  • Vast world with plenty of history

What We Don't Like
  • Looks dated

  • No mobile support

Active Worlds has been around since 1995, offering a huge online virtual world where you can build your own realities and develop customizable 3D content. You're able to explore a multitude of user-created worlds along with replications of real-world locations, giving you quite the sense of freedom.

The sandbox world allows you to use hundreds of millions of objects in large, interactive environments where you can navigate to cities and towns, before choosing to chat with other players there, play games, and even ride roller coasters. It truly feels like being part of a completely different world.

You can even purchase worlds up to 4,000,000 square meters in size, gaining full domain over your universes and choosing to invite people to join in and explore. If you've ever wanted to feel omnipotent, this is a great way to do so, even if it does look a bit rudimentary by modern-day standards.

ESRB: N/A | Install Size: N/A (Online build)

Best Realistic Graphics: IMVU 3D Avatar Creator & Chat

IMVU
What We Like
  • Realistic graphics

  • Huge virtual goods catalog

What We Don't Like
  • Suitable only for adults

  • A little shallow

IMVU offers reasonably realistic graphics and physics for a virtual world game because it focuses on giving you a new life within that world. The game has one of the largest virtual goods catalogs out there with more than 30 million items so you can customize your own detailed 3D avatars as well as rooms.

You start out with a basic apartment but you can soon fully customize it as you earn in-game credits to unlock new stuff. Once you earn that cash, the options become endless. You can meet and chat with new players in various locations such as lounges, theme parks, and clubs, as well as play games that cover a wide variety of genres.

You can even create your own content then sell it via the catalog, as well as participate in user groups or forums to showcase your work. Just bear in mind that some of the game isn't appropriate for kids, so this is very much a virtual world meant only for adults.

ESRB: N/A | Install Size: 2GB

Final Verdict

Minecraft (view at Amazon) is a great form of escapism to a virtual world while still feeling like you're playing a game. It's hugely satisfying building new areas and letting your imagination run riot. However, if you're looking for a more traditional virtual world, then Second Life (view at Secondlife.com) is where you should go. Being able to live out an entirely different life if you so choose is liberating, and its extensive history means there's always something else to do.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jennifer Allen has been writing about technology since 2010. She specializes in video games, iOS and Apple technology, wearable technology, and smart home devices. She's been a regular tech columnist for Paste Magazine, written for Wareable, TechRadar, Mashable, and PC World, as well as more diverse outlets including Playboy and ​Eurogamer.

Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering technology and video games since 2006. His areas of expertise include smartphones, wearable gadgets, smart home devices, video games, and esports. 

Kelsey Simon is an Atlanta-based writer and librarian. She specializes in console games and gaming.

FAQs

Do these games work with all systems?

No. While we've focused on games that are available for a variety of devices including PC, Mac, and mobile, not all work across every platform. Some work only on PC or Mac, meaning if you play games via your phone or a console, your options may be more limited.

Are these games appropriate for kids?

Some virtual world games such as Minecraft are designed with kids in mind, but others such as Second Life are more mature in nature. In particular, because you're playing with other real people, it's hard to know what to expect due to the unpredictability of the people you may encounter. It's a good idea to allow children to play these games only while supervised.

Can virtual world games be addictive?

No more so than any other form of video game. Moderation and ensuring you don't avoid real-life tasks in favor of joining a virtual world are keys to enjoying this genre without losing all your free time to it.

What to Look For in a Virtual World Game

Genre

Not all virtual world games are the same. It's important to know what kind of virtual world you're looking for. Do you want to build constructions like a giant Lego set or would you rather live a whole new persona in a world that's more like real life? Knowing whether you want to build things or socialize is key.

Price

Many virtual world games are free to play, but not all. Some supplement that via a series of micro transactions, so it's important to know if you're looking for a truly free experience or if you're happy to spend a little to gain more from the virtual world. 

Longevity

All virtual world games by their very nature offer a lot of content, but not all virtual world games last. It's important to immerse yourself in one that isn't going to suddenly close for no reason. Seek out virtual world games with established communities and a long history of reliability.

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