Club Penguin is the hot new virtual world for 9 year olds - check out this NY Times article, in which a mother describes her daughter’s virtual entrepeneurial skills. I especially like these comments:
Professor Taylor commiserated. “These are new territories we’re exploring here with this generation of children, with technology moving as quickly as it is,” she said. “We tend to think they can’t understand the difference between fantasy and the real world, and that’s just not true. Here’s a way we can see them moving back and forth.”
“Kids say it’s fun because they get to be a bit more in control than maybe 9-year-olds are in the real world,” Ms. McVeigh said. “What we tried to do is appeal to just about every range of interest. Some kids like to work, or look after pets, or decorate. Just like in life, you can follow your fancy.”
Or, as Karen Mason, the spokeswoman for Club Penguin, put it, “We offer children the training wheels for the kinds of activities they might pursue as they get older.”
I like those points a lot - kids can distinguish between fantasy and reality, and these sorts of worlds are apprenticing them into the types of digital literacies which they will need for successful social futures, where online networking and communication is sure to be more pervasive than it is today.
It’s a fun article too - the descriptions of the daughter’s activities remind me of how I first felt when I saw my friend’s teenage daughter playing Gaia Online, the popular manga-style world which also allows kids the opportunity to make money - and to do so by writing and participating.
Incidentally, I just saw the stats for Gaia Online - users online right now: 56,109!!!! This contrasts with users on Second Life right now as I write this: 30,595. That’s pretty extraordinary - a kid’s online world being more active than an adult’s world. Or perhaps it isn’t extraordinary at all. But its not something I’ve seen anybody notice before.