theodp writes "Newsweek's Daniel Lyons confesses to being mystified by all the people tending to their virtual farms and virtual pets on Facebook. Even stranger, he says, is their willingness to spend real money to buy virtual products, like pretend guns and fertilizer, to gain advantage in these Web-based games. Pretend products are a serious business, estimated to grow to $1.6B next year, and have captured the attention of economists and academics who view the virtual economy as a lab for modeling behavior in the real world. Still, Lyons can't help but question whether the kind of people who spend hours online taking care of imaginary pets are representative of the rest of the population. 'The data might be "perfect" and "complete,"' says Lyons, 'but the world from which it's gathered is anything but that.'"