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With little fanfare, Disney began testing an online version of its venerable theme parks this week, as a prelude to a larger launch scheduled for summer. The game, dubbed the Virtual Magic Kingdom, is at least half advertisement for the company's offline parks, but the company appears to be creating the foundation for a new online gaming community for children.

Indeed, the world's three-dimensional blend of jungle elephants and pirates, rocket ships and the old West is being taken by some as part of a resurgence for online virtual worlds and "massively multiplayer" gaming, after a string of letdowns that clouded the genre's future.

"It's a great sign that we're starting to see more diversity in the kind of virtual worlds being launched," said Betsy Book, manager of the Virtual World Review, a site dedicated to online gaming, and one of Disney's early beta testers.
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