Ubisoft has announced that Shadowbane a MMO that has been running since 2003 is to be closed. Alas the shadow has won and another virtual world is destroyed.
Instead of books, the rise of the internet has allowed us to created virtual worlds. I believe that virtual world have become an important cultural marker of our society. One only has to look at the effect Ultima Online, Everquest and Second Life have all impacted our lives.
In the same way that we preserve books and old films; from an academic point of view, I can't bear the thought of a beautifully crafted virtual world simply locked away and hidden. The code, graphical assets, music and social interactions should be preserved for future studies if possible. No doubt, the data we see will disappear into the Ubisoft vaults and remain locked away, probably forgotten for another fifty years. I think that is a shame.
It is heartening to know that there has been some momentum in the US academic world. Check out Museum Virtual Worlds, Preserving virtual worlds and The US library of Congress Digital Preservation.
Currently, they are mostly concerned with preserving screenshots of these virtual worlds, however they are currently also looking at preserving the code and assets which can only be a good thing for us!