Many players of games such as FarmVille play and spend in a way that shows they have totally separated the act of spending from the act of earning, says Sharon O'Day, money expert and author of the upcoming book "Money after Menopause." Those who play the most often have the most to lose, she says.
"The (further) we get away from paper money, the less that money has meaning," O'Day says. "When you were younger, you may have handed over your pennies or dollar bills to a shop owner, and there was a real and tactile relationship between pleasure and money."
But checks, credit cards, and Web and smartphone payment apps have eroded that tactile relationship.
We're more removed than ever from what O'Day calls "the reality of money," and using virtual money can be attractive to people who are lonely, financially strapped and/or prone to addictive behavior.
"For someone in a tough economic situation, going in and spending make-believe money in an online game feels really good," O'Day says. "Except it's not make-believe."