28/03/2012 18:47 BST | Updated 28/05/2012 06:12 BST

Final Fantasy XI: The Beginning of Reality

My mum always told me not to talk to strangers but at the age of 33 I decided to throw caution to the wind and go somewhere to do just that - a land the majority of the Earth doesn't know exists.

It's often been thought that somewhere beyond the rainbow there could be another world running parallel to ours.

Well I go to one of those places regularly. It's not much different to our world. It has its own economy, its own laws and of course, its own population who speak a variety of languages.

But this isn't just a fantasy land, this is a reality to the hundreds of thousands of people globally who, like myself, frequent Vana'diel - just one out of hundreds of on-line worlds in the universe as we know it. Vana'diel was the fictional world created by the makers of Final Fantasy XI but now that world is much more real than I think the developers ever thought it would be.

I went there because I decided to write a never-to-materialise article on life in MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) and found the place teeming with life of all shapes and sizes. Soon I became good in-game friends with an extreme variety of this world's population from soldiers serving in Afghanistan, single mums from Dalston and unemployed school leavers from Sheffield to convicted bank robbers, professional live-cam gay "models," and croupiers from Vegas. I've witnessed people get married in that reality and then in this one and congratulated them on their real-life babies.

These friends don't have normal names though. Some will show off their full Earth based name, or incorporate it into their title like, for example, DanLovesRugby , Butterflydeb or TimAlexander. Others will be more romantic in their approach with epic statements like Everlastingflame, Rainbowdreamer or Destroyerofstars. And then there are the others who couldn't think up anything better, like myself Wickywahwah - named after the Bo Selecta sketch.

Some "players" invest their entire existence in this world, some pop in for short spates, and then there's the other sort. These are the RMTs - Real Money Traders - who purposely pick names that look like alphabet soup so they can try and go by unnoticed while they convert the in-game money (gil) into real-life cash, which, by the amount of them, must be a very lucrative business in reality.

As you can tell, this is more than just a game. In fact, many of the players don't even see it as that. They see it as a way of life. In my own opinion, I agree it's not a game as there isn't an ultimate goal to aim for and there is no finite ending until you quit or, like some unfortunate players, die (and by that I mean die "die" in this world).

Just like in real life, there are numerous achievements and choices to be made, skills to be developed and jobs to be perfected, but however much you get better there's still more you can do and you soon discover you've become the sum of your parts and that's what makes you special. And you'll never get anywhere without help from your friends.

These friends are what make the experience so rich and enjoyable so I'd like to say thank you Mister Convicted Armed Robber for all your help. You have made my world a better place.