Massively MuliPlayer Online Role Playing Games, MMORPGs have been around for an eternity. In education, there are some that have actually used this type of technology as the basis for complete college courses, here and here are just two examples.
In addition Modesto City Schools has been using a virtual environment in their Japanese student exchange program titled the PacificRimX project. Modesto City Schools uses SecondLife and private, students only, virtual islands (environments) to transition and prepare students for face to face meetings.
New technologies are now available to provide this same virtual environments directly through a web browser. A plug-in web browser component is required to be installed at this time as the technology being used is part of the game development platform, Unity3D. By the way, you, or your students, can download the Unity3D development software and beginning designing your own game, if you’re so inclined. Unity3d runs on most computers and many mobile phone platforms.
On such company deeply rooted in the education market that is beginning to develop and deploy virtual environments to schools is ReactionGrid. ReactionGrid provides both OpenSim environments (OpenSource version of SecondLife) and now they have begun to offer virtual environments based on Unity3D and their tool Jibe.
You can get an idea of what accessing a virtual environment through your web browser is like by going to their web site, downloading the Unity3D plug-in and entering their two example environments, http://www.reactiongrid.com .