There are many types of games that are currently popular with kids, but many of the biggest hits are online games where you can with or against other players. But there is a specific type of online game that has been popular for quite a while, and despite facing heavy competition, they are.
One specific type of game that has been popular some time are “virtual worlds,” multiplayer games that act as simulated online “places” where people use avatars to represent themselves rather than controlling a character like most other games.
Virtual worlds can be fun and immersive, but like any type of online experience for kids, it is important to be aware of the potential safety risks involved to ensure that they are protected.
What Are Virtual Worlds?
A virtual world is a computer-simulated environment that can be accessed through the internet. Though they can vary in terms of how you play, most virtual worlds involve creating a personal avatar and exploring a digital environment where you can communicate with other users and participate in activities. Most virtual worlds are also considered massively multiplayer online games (or MMOs), meaning that many players can all freely communicate and explore at the same time.
While many of the biggest virtual world games have declined in popularity compared to their heyday, many still have massive audiences: as of Q2 2021, Roblox has roughly 43 million daily active users. Plus many of these virtual worlds have gained in popularity in the last few years, as many have adopted VR support, with some of them like Facebook’s Horizon Worlds being built with it in mind.
Technically speaking, not all virtual worlds are games: they are used in several industries to provide unique ways to communicate and teach. They can be used for a variety of purposes, from medical training to complex scenario planning. There are also many virtual worlds that are centered around educating kids, including modified versions of popular games like Minecraft: Education Edition (which is advertised as being used by educators in more than 150 countries).
Are Virtual Worlds Appropriate For Kids?
Some of them are. There are plenty of virtual world games that are either specifically designed for kids or have no objectionable content, but there are also virtual worlds that are intended for older players. For instance, Second Life (which is still surprisingly popular considering its’ nearly 20 years old) has different “grids” that are meant for certain age groups: 13-15, 16-18, and 18+ (referred to as General, Moderate, and Adult). There are also virtual worlds that are exclusively for adults, so it is important to know which ones they are interested in.
However, there have been many concerns regarding children and virtual worlds, even when they are designed with them in mind. The anonymity of a username and an avatar provide can encourage people to “act out” behaviors that may be considered inappropriate, particularly for tweens and teens. This can range from bullying and harassment to simulated sexual activity. Plus, as with any online game for kids, there is always the possibility that sexual predators will attempt to use the platform as a way to reach children.
Thankfully, there are ways to keep kids safe while exploring these virtual worlds. For one, many virtual worlds have parental settings that limit who can interact with players, while other games allow you to block or report players who are behaving inappropriately. Other games like Roblox and Minecraft allow players to create servers where only people they invite are allowed to join them, which avoids the issue of the strangers reaching out to them.
But of course, the best way to protect your children is to teach and encourage online safety Talk to them about how to be safe and responsible while socializing online, reminding them not to reveal private information about themselves, family members, and friends. Explain to them that not everyone they meet online is necessarily who they claim to be and that it’s usually safer to stick with people they know in real life.
Virtual worlds can be a fun time for kids, yet like many types of online experiences, it comes with certain risks. But by making your children aware of these risks and promoting safe online habits, you can rest a little easier with the knowledge that they are safe.