So let me get at what I think is the core of the problem:
Human beings, like many if not all creatures, seem to have a natural compulsion to intoxicate themselves in striving to escape the un-pleasurable aspects of real life and instead flee (albeit temporarily) to a seemingly 'better' alternative. We cling to what feels good, and we push away what feels bad...not realizing, as we do so, that this grasping and aversion is at the root of our suffering...but I digress. Yes, I'm taking you down a blue pill/red pill Matrix scenario here.
People are already fleeing to virtual worlds, even in their imperfect states, and in spite of the fact that, as is the case with chat rooms, USENET groups, and other artifacts of cyberspace, most if not all cyber-worlds seem to rapidly degrade to anarchistic real world look-alikes. Heck, some scholars hypothesize that there's a statistically significant possibility that we already exist in a virtual world (yep, Matrix again). Why wouldn't people flee to them more often, and more people flee to them, as they become more compelling over time and technology evolution?
The first problem is that I don't think anyone could make a strong case about "all creatures." Maybe some creatures are capable of creating imaginary spaces that are compelling enough to retreat into, and many intelligent creatures play and dream. But all? Hmmm. Not last I checked animal psychology. Androids may dream of electric sheep, but fish just swim and eat.
Now, about fleeing into a "better" alternative. I'm not sure that this holds water. If we have the capability to construct a virtuality, then there must be reasons for that capability. Perhaps not the uses we have put it to, but we have it because the sum and total of the interactions with the world, left behind... us. So the argument that we are "fleeing" a real world for an inferior one is lacking. Now it could be argued, and later the author does argue, that the virtual worlds we are making fall short of utility, and criticism, even harsh criticism, is definitely in order. But the project of creating virtual selves, has been going on as long as people could carve bits of rock and bone into forms, and in words since people created prose. The first time a king erected a rock to his own name, and described events as he thinks they should have gone... well, he created a virtual self.
So while people may "flee" to virtual selves, the reason for fleeing isn't necessarily merely escapism. In fact, I'd argue that second life is largely not created by escapism, even if many people populating it are there for escape. Nor would evolution permit such a large drain on energy as mere escapism.
I could spin out several stories about how this happened by evolutionary means, but the most compelling is the simplest one, and it involves the nature of play. Many creatures play and dream. Mammals, in fact, are great players and dreamers. Playful is almost a characteristic of mammals. Why is this? The real world is dangerous. Not everything that can be tried out, is a good idea to try out in real time with limbs on the line. Also, the real world moves quickly, which means that it can take time to learn the lessons of a particular encounter. Playing and dreaming fit together. A dream puts the world in some kind of order, and play goes through it without so much risk.
This means that the value of Second Life, as a dream and play scape, is not in solving some specific problem, but in the nature as a dream and play space to work through problems that are too dangerous to be allowed to run in the real world in real time. As if designed, second life has managed in a few years to prove the necessity of banking laws and escrow accounts....
But what I'm focusing on here is the wholesale disconnection-from-reality of a society that's already well along that path. Believe me, this is not a future prediction that I'm particularly fond of. But nonetheless, I can't deny its high likelihood of coming to pass. Shades of Huxley's soma...
Yes, the 'real world" that place where people are burning more fossil fuels than we can dig up, and putting more carbon into the air than can be soaked up by the bio-system, and fighting a war over Weapons of Mass Destruction which were a figment of some White House PR flack's imagination. Ummm that real world? I'm going to argue that quit the contrary, that people who are seeking happiness in virtuality, rather than in driving to McDonald's to eat a grease bomb that will increase their chances of a real heat attack that will take up real people's time and real medical technology... You get where I am going with this.
Happiness is always virtual. If we are going to survive this period of time we are going to need to learn how to be happy using much less in the way of resources, and creating much less of an impact. If that means crating projects, this is no different than writing novels, or painting deities on ceilings, or writing tragedies to be performed at religious festivals. There's no such thing as "the real world," because we aren't given the omniscient perception that would enable us to experience it an sich in an unmediated manner.
So this prediction of doom, as people go to virtual worlds rings as false to me as hand wringing over Wikipedia not being written by a small gorup of people who get paychecks. The Great Encyclopedia Britannica lent itself to A fraud by a man who ought to have known better. But it is to Charles Van Doren that the last line belongs to:
Some of you read with me 40 years ago a portion of Aristotle's Ethics, a selection of passages that describe his idea of happiness. You may not remember too well. I remember better, because, despite the abrupt caesura in my academic career that occurred in 1959, I have gone on teaching the humanities almost continually to students of all kinds and ages. In case you don't remember, then, I remind you that according to Aristotle happiness is not a feeling or sensation but instead is the quality of a whole life. The emphasis is on "whole," a life from beginning to end. Especially the end. The last part, the part you're now approaching, was for Aristotle the most important for happiness. It makes sense, doesn't it?
The question is life taken as a whole. People have retreated into chess, alcohol, religion, sex. But out of these retreats have come many great works of art and ideas, which are later able to order the world. We are here, not because out there will someday be here, but as much because here will one day be out there.