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.
Oh, boy. Moving. Some people love pulling up their roots and starting anew in a strange new world. Others detest the act and need plenty of good reasons to shift themselves out of their comfortable groove. Love it or hate it, moving can prove to be a major source of stress for one reason in particular: the packing and moving of electronic devices. Though some tech is sturdier than we give it credit for, stuff gets jostled in transit and becomes scratched, broken, or (horrors!) lost. But if you take precautions, moving technology and networks can be done safely and easily.
From talking to your provider to storing up those all-important monitor/television boxes, here are five tips to help you move your tech easily and without hassle.
Deal with ISPs ahead of time – Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much our day-to-day lives rely on a sturdy Internet connection, but you’ll remember in a hurry if that Internet connection vanishes for days at a time. Before you move, make sure you tell your providers what they need to know at least two weeks before the actual move date (a month is ideal). Also, make sure service is turned off at the old homestead.
Shut down everything – Turn everything utterly off before you move it. Seems like an obvious piece of advice, but with so many of our electronics running off batteries these days, sometimes we forget that “Hibernation Mode” is not the same as a full-fledged shutdown. You don’t know how long your gadgets are going to be in a box, so make sure they’ve been completely put to bed before you hit the road.
Label cables – Here’s a guarantee: When the last box has been shoved into the living room and you’re ready to set up your computer in its new home, you’re not going to feel like digging through a ratty wad of cables in order to sort out what belongs to what. Make sure you label each cable before packing it away—you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle when you reach Point B.
Backup data first, if possible – It’s never a bad idea to make regular backups of your most important files, but it’s especially important when you’re moving. For some unexplained reason, computers, etc, get temperamental when you move. The worst probably won’t happen, but if your data goes kaput, you’re definitely going to want a backup on hand.
Store monitors, TVs in boxes – When you bought that new HDTV, you kept the box, right? Right? Ideally, easily-scratched electronics like TVs and monitors should be moved in their original packaging. If you disposed of your boxes because space is at a premium in your house (or if the cats claimed it as their personal fort), give yourself time to ask computer/electronics shops if they can spare any extras. Make sure you remember the exact measurements!
For more tips on moving your electronics with as few tears as possible, visit
Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.
While online virtual worlds are an incredibly popular way to have fun with friends on the Internet in a seemingly trustworthy environment, the truth is that there are a number of potential concerns and dangers that parents and users of all ages should be aware of.
The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) reports that the biggest concerns for parents about virtual worlds for both kids (7 an under) and tweens (8 to 12) is online safety and exposure to online predators.
This is made possible due to the very social nature of these virtual worlds, which are essentially forms of social networks for kids with more of an emphasis on graphics than words.
Going beyond general online safety fears, key concerns parents have about virtual worlds from the ENISA report include:
– Exposure to harmful or illegal content, such as pornography or gambling
– Interaction with ill-intentioned adults masquerading as children
– Identity theft
– Health issues related to spending too much time on computer and not enough time outside
– Unauthorized spending
While these are all legitimate concerns, all reputable virtual world sites take steps to prevent misuse or abuse by users which parents should be aware of.
For starters, any service aimed at kids age 13 and under must be compliant with the U.S.’s stringent COPPA regulations, designed to protect the online privacy of minors.
The creators of these sites that are used by kids also offer many parental control options via a parental control panel, which also can generate usage reports and monitoring about not only how long kids are playing, but what types of activities they are participating in.
And because gamers in these virtual worlds are always connected online, the game’s developers can track and record every movement, interaction and purchase that gamers do while online. Companies do this not necessarily with the player’s best interest in mind, but rather to be able to better tune and enhance their worlds based on how players are using them. But for parents concerned about online safety, this practice is a nice consequence.
It is definitely worth noting though that for those parents more concerned about online privacy that are lax to share ANY information about their children, obviously you’re giving up some anonymity by participating in virtual worlds, even if the data collected can’t be connected to your specific children.
A Bit More About Chat in Virtual Worlds
A key part of these online virtual worlds is also the chat function. There are many solutions available to help prevent unwanted and undesired contact from others.
There are two ways that chat can be moderated in virtual worlds. The first is by controlling which other users players can interact with, and the second involves the types of communication they can engage in.
As a basic option, many virtual worlds offer “restricted chat.” This means that not only are users restricted to talking with others on their dual-approved friend list, but there are also limited, pre-written chat options for them to use.
Older kids may be allowed more chat freedom, but most virtual worlds still have a list of words they will not allow, as well as restrict interactions with others.
And nearly all have live, human moderators that are on hand roaming the world to watch out for any bad or questionable behavior, or who can immediately respond should you click the handy and usually prominent “report” button.
Other Tips for Keeping Kids Safe in Virtual Worlds
The US government has a website at OnGuardOnline.gov that offers many online safety tips, including those specific to virtual worlds. Among the recommendations are for parents to check out online destinations themselves and engage in specific conversations about how and when they’ll be visiting these virtual worlds.
Parents can also look for third-party certifications on sites such as the TrustE online privacy Trustmark, the kidSAFE Seal or the FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com Seal of Approval. All of these indicate that the site has been checked out by a third-party for safety, privacy and other concerns.