Virtual worlds are a form of online gaming, in which players are represented by a customisable character called an avatar, and explore a fantasy setting, interacting with other users, playing games and collecting items. Not all virtual worlds are suitable for 9-year-old children; some worlds depict violent or adult situations, while others are often filled with players using profane or otherwise offensive language.
"Tootsville" styles itself as a virtual community which focuses on developing friendships between kids and is intended for children between the ages of 6 and 14. Players explore areas such as Toots Square, with its virtual stores, and earn peanuts by playing games; these peanuts act as a currency and allow kids to buy virtual items in the TootsMall. "Tootsville" is free to join, but some activities on the site require a paid membership to participate.
Designed for kids aged between 9 and 13, an unusual feature in the "SuperSecret" virtual world is that a player's avatar grows up through play via a levelling system. Players can gain access to progressively more features as their avatar ages; for example, when they get to age 12, they'll be able to kit out their own in-game dorm room. "SuperSecret" also contains a range of features, such as games and a chat service with filtering technology in place to prevent abuse.
On Neopets, players adopt and raise virtual animals. The player must feed her animals regularly and can battle her pets against another player's creatures. To help her pet grow stronger and keep it healthy, the player must earn Neopoints, the world's virtual currency, by playing Neopets' on-site games. Neopets users can also contribute artwork to the site and get involved in plots created by the world's designers. According to "Red Herring" magazine, roughly 40 per cent of Neopets users are between the age of 7 and 13.
ToonsTunes' twist is that it's a virtual world centred on music. Kids can create music by utilising the pre-recorded samples and instruments on offer. Users then send their creations to friends or use them as background music within the virtual world. Also on offer are games, and all users get a personal space within the game world called a pod. ToonsTunes is intended for an audience aged 6- to 14-years-old.
The Disney-owned Club Penguin is another virtual world designed for kids aged between ages 6 and 14. The site is free to sign up to, but accessing everything on offer requires users to pay each month. Users of Club Penguin each control a personal penguin avatar and have an igloo home which they can improve using furniture bought with the worlds' virtual coins. A chat feature is available; this function contains an Ultimate Safe mode which thoroughly restricts what users can say during chat sessions.
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