Virtual Worlds to Explore & Play With Your Kids

Posted by Lisa Galarneau on September 17, 2013 in Editorial -- Share:

My kid is a ten year old girl gamer who readily keeps me up to date on the most appealing games and virtual worlds, as I regularly shell out my credit card for the latest must-have membership or bit of digital bling. In this article I interview her about her favorite games and what she thinks about great games and total duds. Some of these are great options for parent/kid collaboration or a bit of exciting competition.

Some highlights:

L: What types of games do you like to play?
S: I like to play adventure type games, games that involve fighting with magical powers, life simulations (career, restaurants, etc.), and games that let me build stuff: characters, houses, etc.

L: How do you find new games?
S: I just look for things I like, for instance, sites associated with certain shows or channels I like (e.g. Nick Jr., PBS Kids) or I just do Google searches.

L: What elements must a game have in order to appeal to you?
S: I like to be able to make and customize my own characters, but if I can’t there at least has to be some option for me to have a girl character.

L: What are the most fun games you’ve played in the last year?
S: Poptropica, Jumpstart, Fable 3, Pet Society, Disney City Girl, Wizard 101, Dungeon Defenders. The Cave. Edna and Harvey.

L: What do you find most frustrating about games?
S: When they’re too hard, or just boring, or when there is too much fighting.

Kid Picks 2013

Poptropica
Poptropica is an island-based virtual world that allows kids to play in a variety of different realms that combine virtual world with mini-games and adventure style play. The island themes run the gamut from mythology to space travel to virus hunting and wrangling. Each of the several dozen islands is its own unique game experience, and players can jump from one to another for maximum variety. The format also allows the player to leave part of the game if it becomes too difficult or boring for them – they can always come back to it later. A full access membership is $3.95 per month, with some islands available for free play. It’s a really smart model, and a repeatedly fun experience with lots of dynamic content and gameplay options appealing to a wide range of kid interests.

 

The islands are self-contained virtual worlds with adventure and mini-game components.
Kids also love the wide range of content available via YouTube, allowing the lean back (relaxing) experience when the little darlings are tired of playing.

 

Jumpstart and Math Blasters
Jumpstart and its sister Math Blasters are educational virtual worlds that kids seem to love despite the ‘educational’ leanings. This is no ‘chocolate covered broccoli’, but instead, a kid-friendly and diverse virtual world with mini-game components that serve up maximum fun with a little dish of learning on the side. When my kid was big into Math Blasters, for instance, she began spouting random math and science facts (that she clearly understood fluently) on a regular basis. ‘Where did you learn that?’, I would ask. ‘Math Blasters’ was the regular reply.
Jumpstart has an island model similar to Poptropica.

Gameplay includes a multi-player virtual space for congregating and chatting, as well as individual player instances exploring the islands and associated mini-games. MathBlasters makes skill and drill math a bit more fun, and helps quite a lot with providing fun examples of the concepts themselves in action. My kid isn’t a big math lover, but she spend several weeks obsessed with MathBlasters anyway.

 

Wizard 101
She hasn’t played Wizard 101 in a while, but it was a big obsession of hers a year or two ago. The format is interesting: a virtual world, similar to an adult online game, that uses a clever card-like combat system. It also has multiple options for chatting, including a system that allows the barely literate kid to send and receive basic messages. Parents have a lot of control over the chat options, keeping the little ones that little bit safer, as there are plenty of adults also playing. Wizard 101 is one of the more expensive worlds, with an initial $29.95 fee to play.

 

Facebook Games
Zynga-type games (FarmVille, etc.) are slightly on the wane but there is a new crop of options, including Sims Social and other sim games like Playfish’s Pet Society and Disney’s City Girl (free to play, but cash required for the really fun stuff). This is a favorite genre for my kid: she loves anything involving creative construction, where she can build and decorate, etc. The Facebook social layer is fun for her, too, as she loves inviting people to enjoy her creations, and thinks it’s Christmas when people send her gifts. Do beware, though… my credit card got charged about $50 in $2 and $5 increments, to the point that I had to cancel one of the cards. Sometimes the kids are not very savvy about what costs what, so as a parent, I am much more interested in all-you-can-eat membership/subscription plans. PetSociety also has a machinima culture surrounding it, like this version of the Titanic movie, starring adorable virtual pets:

 

 

Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin
These are two of the most popular virtual worlds for kids, and my kid has of course tried them out. Moshi Monsters left her relatively unimpressed, though it seemed to me like something she would really like: cute monsters in a virtual world. She responded a bit better to Club Penguin, but it’s not one of those games that really stuck, although I did pay at least one monthly membership fee of $5.95.

Club Penguin Puffle Party 2013 (cheats):

Fable 3

This game is rated Mature, but when played in ‘good’ mode, it’s actually a great interactive adventure that is sophisticated in its responsiveness to player choice. The player progresses from rags to riches, and can get married and raise a whole crop of their own kids. Along with the ubiquitous dog companion, which kids seems to love. Fable 3 retails for around $50 but I found it in the used bin a GameStop for less than $30.

Minecraft
Not my kid’s favorite (graphics are rather basic for her tastes) but this game is like a digital goldmine plus Nirvana for most of her male counterparts. One friend is obsessed with EVERYTHING Minecraft, including endless modding videos and physical Lego toys that mimic Minecraft construction techniques. Minescraft requires an upfront fee of about $30. Educational value is high, with one elementary teacher using it for tasks such as building virtual dioramas around curriculum topics.

Modding, machinima and other creative endeavors are very popular, and run the gamut from the adorable to the extreme:

Big Fish
She’s just getting started on Big Fish and hasn’t yet found her perfect match, but as we know, that could come along any day! For now she’s enjoying various adventure and puzzle games. More on that later! One that we are both enjoying at the moment is the super cute My Singing Monsters!

Check back for other editions, including the most popular-with-kids games on Big Fish, and for devices like the Nintendo DS, Wii/WiiU and Xbox 360′s Kinect, and another interview, this time with a ten year old gamer boy.

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Dr. Lisa Galarneau is a socio-cultural anthropologist, futurist and games researcher. She's been playing video games since 1981 (Pong!) and loves adventure-style games, RPGs, online games, simulations and anything novel. Her love for games has been passed onto her gamer kid, and she spends a lot of time observing and pondering the future of games.

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