We’ve looked earlier at the top-level overview of online virtual worlds, and how they’re essentially social networks but with a greater focus on graphics. We’ve also previously examined a few of the common concerns parents have about their kids taking part in these. So to make sure all modern parents and interested parties have a solid understanding of what’s at play here, here’s a look at the most common characteristics of virtual worlds via a handy MMOs and online gaming dictionary, which provides a guide to popular in-game terms.
AVATARS: This is the virtual representation of your character onscreen, and is something that players can highly customize. Usually, when you first play a virtual world, you can tweak many of the basics of your appearance, but as you play more, you’ll earn special items and upgrades that can be used to enhance or change your avatar’s appearance.
BETA: This is a term used by video game developers to indicate that a product is not quite final yet and is still in the testing phases. This doesn’t mean it’s not accessible to the public though. The beta phase of a virtual world usually means that they are still doing lots of tinkering with how things will work, and they may make drastic changes still based on how everything is being used.
CHAT: This is a key feature in online virtual worlds, as it’s one of the more obvious ways that users who are habituating the same online space can communicate one another. Any reputable online virtual world will have chat safeguards in place such as pre-scripted chat, safe chat, whitelisted users, blacklisted words as well as restrictions on just who others can chat with.
CURRENCY: Most online virtual worlds contain some sort of in-game currency which allow users to buy items or upgrades for their dwelling or avatar. Whether it’s called Rox in Moshi Monsters, Taro in FusionFall or simply Coins as found in a number of destinations, this currency is earned not only by playing games and collecting items in world, but often is given as a reward for logging in daily in the form of bonus mini-games.
EMOTE: Emotes are ways that players can communicate with others in the game world without chatting. In essence, they’re short animations for characters. So it could be a happy dance, a laugh, a cheer, and they’re all prompted by a simple button press. Emotes let players either act silly or do some basic virtual body-language without needing to chat.
FRIENDS: Friends in the game world are generally different than friends in real-life, although for younger kids it’s good to keep friend relationships restricted to those that are already known to them, and older kids may actually derive more enjoyment from online experiences if doing them with online friends. Friends in virtual worlds are usually defined by mutual acceptance, although characters can friend any other avatar they come across in hopes to expand their list. Again, just because your friends in a virtual world doesn’t mean you’ve ever met in real life.
MEMBERSHIP: Although most virtual worlds offer at least some basic, enjoyable free-to-play experiences, nearly all offer premium memberships which provide, for an additional monthly or yearly subscription fee, access to extra areas, games, items and more within the game. If your kids dabble in virtual worlds, be prepared for the inevitable please for membership, which can run anywhere from around $5 per month to more than $75 per year.
MODERATORS: Moderators are humans that participate and monitor virtual worlds and their chat functionality to not only assist users who need help, but also to deal with any players that are exhibiting negative or troubling behavior. Moderators may be secretly roaming the world as a player character, or be on the ready should inappropriate chat get flagged by the system or by other users.
REPORTING: Although moderators are on hand, it’s important for players to realize the power they have to report negative behavior or other game issues to the game’s developers. Although it’s easy to block other users and then report their behavior, players are also encouraged to report any problems or bugs they see so the developers can fix them. This is especially true of games that are in beta versions.
SERVERS: Each server represents a separate instance of a game world, so for some of the more popular online games that have multiple server options available, essentially each server represents a parallel universe. It’s important to note the name of the server you’re playing on, especially if you are trying to meet any of your friends online. If you choose to play on different servers, you won’t be able to play together in the virtual world.
With a basic understanding of the concepts, concerns and key terms for virtual worlds under your belt, you’re likely ready for some specific recommendations. Next up is our look at some of our favorite online virtual worlds for kids.