Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Childhood in the digital age

2.2.1 What is a virtual world?

It is important to agree on what is meant by a ‘virtual world’. Would you agree that it would include the following elements?

  • often an online computer-mediated 3D or 2D environment
  • a shared and persistent experience
  • interactions occurring in real time
  • ‘rules’ determining how individuals effect changes
  • individuals using an ‘avatar’: an icon or figure that represents that individual within the virtual world.

In that case, virtual worlds are platforms that might involve the user solving problems, exploring, role-playing or similar.

It’s likely that if you live in the UK you will have heard of the popular CBeebies site produced by the BBC for pre-schoolers, children under the age of six. Music World is another example – a music platform used in primary schools for seven to 12-year-olds where children can create their own avatar to explore music and virtual musical instruments.

Figure 4 Characters from the video game Moshi Monsters

Critics of virtual play put forward similar arguments to those used against digital communication more generally. They are concerned about the risks of exposure to a wider community and worried that children have less time to spend on real-world play and more ‘meaningful’, face-to-face relationships.

However, by 2014 there were over 158 virtual worlds designed for children, with the top three for primary-age children being Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters and Habbo Hotel. In fact, an AVG Digital Diaries survey (2014) found that of the 6–9-year-olds surveyed, 46 per cent spent their online time playing in virtual worlds.

Many parents or teachers feel that allowing children access to social networking sites is dangerous and unsafe. But the creation of ‘safe, child-friendly’ social networking sites, like Moshi Monsters, is changing the way we see online play.

Moshi Monsters is a social networking site designed specifically for young children. It has gained enormous popularity, despite media concerns about security and safety. Children can choose from one of six virtual pet monsters (Diavlo, Luvli, Katsuma, Poppet, Zommer and Furi) that they can create and care for. Once their pet has been customised, players can navigate their way around their virtual world and complete ‘Super Moshi’ missions. They can also personalise their own virtual room, play games and and communicate with other users in a safe environment.

There are many additional educational advantages of allowing children access to this online environment. By solving a wide range of fun, daily puzzles they gain new skills, including logic, spatial awareness, problem solving, numeracy and verbal communication.

But how safe is the online world? Many parents feel comfortable with the relatively safe environment and the additional security features that the website offers, which has been the subject of newspaper articles.

A couple of quotes from parents:

With educational puzzles and a closely monitored forum for children worldwide to talk safely to each other, it’s like a Facebook for kids and has the backing of many parents.

It’s a very safe environment for the kids.

Activity 2.2

Considering what you’ve read in this section, and your own experience of virtual worlds:

  • Is there a difference between a child’s and an adult’s perceptions of using virtual worlds?
  • To what extent can children’s activity in a virtual world be described as play?

Write a paragraph explaining your views.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371