With life satisfaction expert Gert G. Wagner of Berlin I've co-authored a study that's just come out in the economics journal Kyklos (Edit: Free version). We find that people have higher life satisfaction in Second Life than in real life. That's not such a big deal by itself, but the effect size is large and leads to some startling comparisons. Such as: For an unemployed person, the happiness boost for going to Second Life is bigger than that for getting a job. An East German gets more of a life satisfaction increase by being in Second Life than by moving to West Germany. Generally, Second Life provides as large a happiness boost as a number of major life changes. Choosing Second Life is a lot easier to do as well. The data thus suggest that choosing Second Life over major life change would be "rational" because VR provides more of a happiness boost at less cost.
These are all regression results with other relevant factors such as age, sex, and income accounted for. We are not finding any causal effects here, just correlations. What's noteworthy is the magnitude of the correlations. Second Life is providing a big chunk of life satisfaction, just as big as the factors that previous researchers on life satisfaction have found were the "biggies," like health, employment, and family relationships. (By the way, in case you didn't know, money does not make you happy.)
This evidence is consistent with the concept of a "toxic immersion dilemma" that I brought up in my first book. When someone freely chooses VR but then is leading a "bad" life (according to our standards), what do we do?