Make-believe world, virtual gold, real money. World of Warcraft is not just a game. By Justin Worthy.

Videogames may only have been around in the home for just over 25 years but, in that time, they’ve experienced a metamorphosis that may surprise you. If your only contact with videogames is elbowing your young nephew off the couch as he sits transfixed on his Nintendo DS, and your idea of gaming is shifting a little gun left or right along the bottom of a screen to shoot a bunch of moving dots that look more like squid than aliens, then you’re in need of a bit of updating.

As a worldwide business, videogaming accounts for revenues in excess of A$35 billion — A$1billion in Australia alone. A really good game will frequently sell well over a million copies — big franchises like Madden NFL, Pokemon and GTA can sell in excess of two million units in the first 24 hours of the games going on sale. That’s a pretty good first day.

Some videogames have become so realistic that the army, in several countries, use them to train their troops. So do some terrorists. F1 racing drivers admit to using their PS2 or Xbox 360 to learn the tracks, finding them an accurate substitute for the real thing. Other videogames are so good looking that major corporations use them to showcase their flat panel technologies. And there are videogames that create such a credible, immersive gaming ‘universe’, that people lose themselves in them, often with extraordinary consequences. One game in that last category is Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, often abbreviated to ‘WoW’ and, as the most successful example in gaming history, breeds a whole folklore of its own.

World of Warcraft box