An article in this months Innovate. Partly sponsored by Microsoft. Quite an interesting read. (As one who is NOT greatly into this field) Unfortunately you need to create an account. 😦
Virtual Worlds, Simulations, and Games for Education: A Unifying View by Clark Aldrich.
Many practitioners have been struck by a paradox. They sense an overlap between virtual worlds, games, and simulations, and yet they know that one is not synonymous with the other. The three often look similar; they all typically take place in three-dimensional worlds that are populated by three-dimensional avatars. Yet as I have argued elsewhere (Aldrich 2009), the differences are profound. Games are fun, engaging activities usually used purely for entertainment, but they may also allow people to gain exposure to a particular set of tools, motions, or ideas. In contrast, simulations use rigorously structured scenarios carefully designed to develop specific competencies that can be directly transferred into the real world. Finally, virtual worlds are multiplayer (and often massively multiplayer), three-dimensional, persistent social environments with easy-to-access building capabilities. They share with games and simulations the three-dimensional environment, but they do not have the focus on a particular goal, such as advancing to the next level or successfully navigating the scenario.
Aldrich, C. 2009. The complete guide to serious games and simulations. Somerset, NJ: Wiley.