Virtual Bug

Ajibike is a 17-year-old from Monroe, Louisiana. She enjoys watching Novak Djokovic play tennis, playing tennis and golf in imitation of the pros, devouring books, starting her own novels, and dreaming about medical school.Stella Costello speaking at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference by Bettina Tizzy.

Can’t understand why your kid would rather spend countless hours on the internet chatting with virtual friends? There’s a good chance that your child has been bitten by the virtual bug—harmless with a good dose of common sense.

Trends happen. That’s a fact. Kids used to be fascinated by Pokemon, Digimon, Barbie, and Polly Pocket. As the world has shifted to become more digital and technologically savvy (as seen through twitter, facebook, and etcetera) the children of today have become involved in activities stretching past a tangible reality. The newest fad, or even fixation, of the young culture of the twenty first century is the virtual reality.

Teenagers are attracted to these virtual worlds because they can become individuals that they can’t see themselves being in real life. The loner at school can become flamboyant through her avatar (internet identity). Teenagers with body-issues create slimmer, or more stereotypical “perfect” avatars to fulfill their own needs; Sigmund Freud would have a field day. These avatars, once created, are set free in the virtual world. The fun doesn’t end there.

These avatars, or characters, are without boundaries. They can become successful physicians, doctors, or simply anything without much trouble. Popularity is easy to garner and many virtual words have a “chat” facility. Using “chat,” individuals in control of the avatars can speak to other individuals. Often times, this isn’t safe. Many teenagers (caught up in the moment of virtual play) are not aware of the risk they put themselves in as they exchange small details. For the purpose of research, and curiosity, I joined There (there.com), a popular virtual reality (generally thought to be a teenager haven) that is affiliated with Cosmo Magazine.

Through my short activity on There, I managed to catch sight of a few conversations. While my avatar would walk by another set, I could read their conversations (regardless of my lack of involvement in the discussion). One conversation went like this (names of avatars have been changed):

Butterflylover: Hi

Dude: Hi. How old are you?

Butterflylover: 14.

Butterflylover: Are you single?

Dude: No.

Butterflylover: In RL?

Dude: I’m married.

Butterflylover: How old are you?

Dude: 40. I actually have to go pick my kids up from school. I’ve been online   all day.

Butterflylover: ….

Dude: Why are you leaving? I’m going to follow you wherever you teleport

Dude: Butterfly? Did I scare you?

[End of Conversation]

Sadly enough, that is an excerpt of a mild conversation in comparison with conversations that involve an exchange of actual names, locations, and cell phone numbers. Teenagers of course are not the only ones to fall into the trap of giving too much information away. Children’s games, such as ToonTown and Club Penguin allow for individuals to use the same “chat” facility. In the case of ToonTown, a fee must be made, but Club Penguin allows for free chat, which young children often take advantage of.

Very few children and teenagers realize that their online “playmates” may be far beyond their age group, like the 40 year old Dude.

Virtual Games are not bad, that is not the point of the article. In fact, they can certainly be entertaining and a reprieve from school stress. However, individuals should mind that the virtual bug doesn’t hit too hard, so that they can use their common sense in gnarly situations.

Popular Virtual Worlds

IMVU: http://www.imvu.com/

There: http://www.there.com/

GirlSense: http://www.girlsense.com/premium/

Neopets: http://ww.neopets.com/

Webkinz: http://www.webkinz.com/

Club Penguin: http://www.clubpenguin.com/

Gaia Online: http://www.gaiaonline.com/

Meez: http://www.meez.com/

Brit Chicks: http://www.britchicks.com/

Whyville: http://www.whyville.net/smmk/nice

Secret Builders: http://www.secretbuilders.com/

Buildabearville: http://www.buildabearville.com/

Super Secret: http://supersecret.com/signup

Teen Second Life: http://teen.secondlife.com/

Onverse: http://www.onverse.com/signup/

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