Thursday, June 07, 2007

Childhood Games of Pretend Get Even More Virtual

Childhood Games of Pretend Get Even More Virtual

Zwinky avatars for you to dress

A number of sites have popped up to virtually recreate the childhood pastime of playing with dolls, reports The New York Times.

Sites like Club Penguin, Webkinz and others enable children to connect with each other an the form of avatars that they can dress or otherwise modify. Some sites charge a fee for membership or access to premium features, like more outfit choices. Others are free via ad-support.

According to Hitwise, the number of visits to a set of seven of such worlds grew 68 percent in the 12 months ending April 28th. Gartner estimates kid-friendly virtual world sites have thus far attracted 20 million users. It also reports that the sites with the most appeal for the youngest kids are among the fastest-growing.

As with all media targeted at the young and impressionable, some worry about the users' exposure to marketing messages they may not recognize. There's also the worry about the site's ability to maintain a "safe" environment in a digital space where children are interacting with one another.

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