Today, online virtual games are more popular than ever, but often, they can cost you real money and have real world consequences. According to ABC News, an estimated 100 million people play virtual games. They include games like Farmville, which lets you build and harvest your own farming empire; Mafia World, which lets you run a “Godfather”-style criminal empire or Second Life, which lets you explore an entire virtual world filled with other virtual players. Virtual games are certainly fun, but what’s alarming to some people is how much they cost – in real money!

For example: In Farmville, you have the option of paying $5 to upgrade to a new barn. In Second Life, you can pay up to $200 a month to build and maintain your own region of virtual “land.” There’s even a game called Entropia Universe, where one player recently bought a virtual space resort – for $100,000 in real cash! That kind of spending is a big reason why virtual gaming has become a billion-dollar-a-year industry! Spending a lot of time playing virtual games can have real consequences that effect more than your wallet.

Consider the Tokyo man who recently paid real money to marry a virtual avatar named Nene! The man said his virtual wife is better than any human relationship he could have. However, recent studies have found that people who experience that kind of disengagement from reality often suffer higher rates of real depression, and are more at risk for online gaming addiction. That’s because some people have trouble achieving normal, real-life human connections. So, they feel like they need to substitute real relationships with virtual ones through a game.

How can do you know if you’ve crossed the line from virtual gaming fun to online gaming addiction? Common symptoms include an inability to stop playing a game, neglect of family and friends, lying to employers or your family about your online gaming activities or feeling empty and depressed whenever you’re not at the computer. If you think you have a problem with online gaming addiction, you can find help by contacting Online Gamers Anonymous, at