Having spent more time in Real Life (RL) today than normally wish to, I was glad that I had a couple virtual worlds to immerse myself but neither was Second Life. I spent my time with my Koi Pond and on Distant Shores. Both fit on my iPod Touch and provide a peaceful, relaxing way to ignore RL.
Like nearly everyone that has a net-connected Apple handheld, I bought Koi Pond from The Blimp Pilots (Web; iTunes) and became hooked (no pun intended). It is less a game than just something to do because one can simply watch the fishies frolic. As much fun as that is, though, interacting with the critters is more fun. A quick shake of the device drops some food with a satisfying plunk and soon a fish gobbles it up. Touch the screen to create ripples that "scare" the fish or run your finger around to the same effect. If you hold your finger steady in one place the fishies eventually come up and nibble on you. The pond stones, water color, number of fish or plants, and more can be customized. Put on some headphones and the experience is much richer.
Like Second Life, there is no stress in having to reach a goal, death only comes when the power is dead, and you don't have to worry about drowning.
Pond Life is just plain fun and well-worth the 99¢ I spent, but the holiday extra edition I thought I bought didn't show up so I don't have a Christmas lights option.
Recently I added Distant Shores to my iPod Touch (Web; iTunes) and have become intermittently obsessed with it. Like Koi Pond, you can simply watch but it's not much for passive fun. Interaction is the point here (for which you need a WiFi connection for your iPod Touch or you need an iPhone) ... tap somewhere on the screen and an invisible you walks there, leaving prints of your bare feet in the sand. Waves gently lap at the shore, seagulls with inactive colons flit overhead, and things like beach chairs, umbrellas, and other signs of life dot the beach. Tap near the edge of the screen and the view scrolls (I found that if you keep up a rhythmic tapping the scrolling just keeps going as if you are continually walking). If you did nothing other than this it would still be worth 99¢. If you see a bottle, though, walk up to it and tap it for an anonymous (or not) message from someone else with the game on their device. Reply to the message and the invisible you tosses the bottle back to the sea for the original author to read. Clever bottles. If you pick up five seashells, an empty message bottle appears and you can write your own message from scratch to be tossed out to a random recipient. If you receive a reply, a little turtle outside your personal hut wags her head with an envelope in her mouth. Walk up to her and tap for your message.
This is not rocket surgery. You are limited to storing eight messages and eight empty bottles. The shoreline is infinite in length (as far as I know) with objects laid out randomly. Despite obvious signs of habitation you are eerily alone, no other invisible people to be found (at least I see no other footie prints ... they could be having virtual nookie in a cabana). Depending on how bored you are you might spend very little time or a lot of time on the beach before finding something else to do. But you'll head back to the beach several times a day.
Maybe after you feed your koi.