Courses/Computer Science/CPSC 203/CPSC 203 2007Fall L04/CPSC 203 2007Fall L04 TermProjects/We're living in a virtual world, and I'm a virtual girl
- 1 Team Name: Madonna
- 2 Project Statement
- 3 Webkinz
- 4 Online Interaction
- 5 Parenting Concerns
- 6 A Look at the Negative
- 7 Current Events/Issues
- 8 Prevention Methods
- 9 Relevant websites
Team Name: Madonna
- Chelsea Lunan
- Ahmed Nur
- Bryce Pyle
- Robb Myroon
- Meera Padamsey
The rapid increase in technological advances in the past few years has allowed the Internet to pervade many aspects of everyday life. In addition to Internet usage being an integral component of business, household and personal tasks are increasingly going online. Furthermore, as the Internet evolves, the user demographic has broadened, encompassing younger users. These younger users will spend a considerable amount of time online and as such, social networking through the use of the Internet has become more prevalent. A recent toy innovation, Webkinz has capitalized these trends, by introducing a plush toy that children can register online and interact with in a virtual environment. The following report aims to evaluate the positive and negative attributes of the product, address parental concerns with childrens Internet access and evaluate how Webkinz has managed to benefit from these emerging trends in virtual communities and social networking.
What Are Webkinz?
Webkinz is an uprising children’s toy that incorporates a tangible stuffed animal with an online world for it to live in. An individual purchases a stuffed animal and with it comes a little tag with a code which they enter into the Webkinz website. After entering this code, the stuffed animal you purchased is replicated on this website where you can virtually interact with it. On the website, you can care for your virtual pet, play games, earn virtual money, purchase virtual items, and interact with other Webkinz users. Users can interact by playing games together and also through chat rooms. The website has also been made accessable to parents in order for them to track their childrens activity. Parents are able to log on with the same access code as that of the one on their childs toy in a different area of the website.
A Brief History
Webkinz World, created April 28, 2005, has today grown to be one of the most demanded toys among kids ages 4 to 14. Who were the creators of this craze? Ganz, incorporated over fifty years ago, took full advantage of the online gaming trend and brought stuffed animals to life online. The company specializes in a wide range of giftware, ranging from accessories to home decorations. Webkinz is in fact their most popular product, and they have recently expanded their product line and created ‘Lil’ Kinz’, a line of miniature Webkinz. There are currently 68 different types of Webkinz, and 26 styles of Lil’ Kinz. Following the trend of the popular toy of the 90’s, Beanie Babies, Ganz slowly retires Webkinz in order to increase their value and volume of sales.
Ganz Products Regarding Webkinz
In addition to selling the stuffed animals, Ganz also sells many accessories regarding Webkinz. They have created a line of trading cards, cloths to dress Webkinz, lip glosses, body fragrances, all of which are advertised to children on their website and available for purchase online. How much are these products selling for? A canadian price of a Webkinz is $14.95. Lil Kinz are priced at $11.95. A product such as a webkinz purse is $12.95. The accessories generally range from around $10.95 too $24.95. These products are advertised both in stores and on the actual Webkinz website. Children are exposed to these products as they are playing online.
Internet interaction is one of the biggest concerns regarding a concept such as Webkinz. It has proved to be potentially very dangerous. Webkinz has implemented the following features to increase security of users and the comfort of parents.
Webkinz Clubhouse: “An area for kids to chat with old friends and make new ones”
The Clubhouse is the area of the website where members chat and interact with one another. It is separated into two different areas, the KinzChat Area and the KinzChat Area Plus.
- Kids an cannot create their own messages, they can only send messages that are pre-set. Anyone using the website can access this form of chat.
- A safer way of chat for younger members especially, kids are unable to type personal messages.
KinzChat Area Plus
- Members are able to type their own messages, however the words allowed to be typed are restricted to the chat room dictionary.
- Words such as “call” and “live” are restricted. It also picks up on addresses and numbers.
- Parents can accept or decline this function
The explosion of social networking sites aimed at children, esspecially Webkinz, has produced mixed reactions from parents. On the one hand, the webkinz can be seen as helping develop the child, while on the other hand parents believe the game is addictive to their children and feel out of control of the situation.
The main concerns of parents about Webkinz include:
- The observation that the child has become addicted to the game. One mother says the only way to get her child off the virtual world is to threaten to take away computer access until the child's homework is completed.
- The number of hours children sit in front of the computer screen is far too high compared to what the parents would want, and as a result this removes them from the 'real world' for hours at a time.
- The ability to actually network with other children in the 'clubhouse' perhaps raises the biggest alarm. Parents are worried their children will develop social skill entirely through the computer, not the 'old-fashioned way' with actual human contact.
- The security of the website is also a concern, but Webkinz has gone to great lengths to calm this concern.
While all of these claims are legitamite and hold some sort of truth to them, but there are also many counter-arguments from parents in support of the website:
- The use of 'KinzCash", a form of currency on the site, teaches the children early lessons about the value of money. The child must earn the KinzCash in order to buy items for their Webkinz. This engrains the idea that in order to earn money, one has to work for it (even though the KinzCash is earned though games, the earning process still takes time and skill). In addition, once the KinzCash is spent, more must be earned again, the cash is not an unlimited supply.
- The virtual responsibility of taking care of their webkinz promote good habits for the children themselves. They must care for the Webkinz and feed them healthy food, somewhat pararrelling what the child themselves should be doing. This game of nurturing has been compared to the old craze of Tamagotchis.
Both sides of the argument have strong points and good cases. However, many of the main concerns of parents are said to be easily solved by the simple process of parenting. If the parent is concerned about how much time the child is spending on the computer, simply set a limit about how long the child can be on the computer. This would easily reduce the 'addiction factor' as there is a set time spent each day with the Webkinz, causing the child to come to expect this and accept it. As for the lack of 'real-world' contact the child has, the limitiation of the computer use would push to solve this issue too, as the child would want to play, even if it's not with their Webkinz on the computer.
Put simply, many of the parents' concerns revolve around the excessive use of the computer, an issue easily solved by a good parent.
A Look at the Negative
There are a few negative issues that relate to children and the internet. It is very easy for children to get absorbed into online activities such as web browsing and instant messaging, so is it fair to make a time limit for a child’s time spent on the computer? The computer can be a very useful tool when used in the right way but is having children absorbed into artificial worlds a productive use of their time? There are two concerns that come along with overuse of the internet, the first is the obvious health risks. Slouching over a computer for hours not only causes back strain but can also lead to stunted growth. The second is the opportunity cost. This refers to the time lost to online time that could have been directed to other activities.
A big problem that we see with online sites such as webkins is the artificial reality that it creates. We are not saying that this artificial reality is a bad thing, we are saying that if a child’s social life is being affected by an artificial reality online then there should be some changes. If a child spends most of the day at school looking forward to getting home to their virtual world instead of thinking about socializing and making friends then there is an obvious problem. It is important that a child has more real "physical" friends than online "artificial" friends.
Another issue is the theory behind that you can’t see the person you are interacting with online. They may claim to be an 8 year old but in reality they could be a much older person. Are young kids smart enough not to be led into situations where they could be hurt? Although the computer, more specifically the internet, is a very useful tool it can be used in ways which may affect the development of a younger audience. The development of computer skills is becoming essential if an individual wants to succeed in the work force, however so are social skills. If a child’s development of these social skills are hindered by overuse of the internet changes must be made.
Children spending too much time on the internet is also an on going parenting concern in contemporary society. According to a study done by Harvard Medical School, children are most susceptible to becoming addicted to online gaming. It is advertised to children on the Webkinz website that in order for their pet to have an optimal life, it is best that they "play, feed and excersise" with your pet daily. Excessive time spent on the internet by children can lead to negative effects such as; isolation from the 'real world',decrease in social skills, problems with school or work and negative physical impacts.
David Verdick explains in his research project "Child Development and the Internet" that physical manipulation coordinated with observation and social interaction is vital to Early Childhood Development. “Hands on” experiences children should have will lead to better developing concepts such as conversation and cause-and-effect relations. Internet usage draws children's attention away from important daily activities such as homework, chores, and interactions with family members and friends. With society becoming more and more dependent on computers, if this internet usage trend in children continues, it will follow them into the corporate world, effecting their social interactions with bosses and coworkers on a daily basis.
Another important issue surrounding social development and the internet, is the problem of loneliness and depression. In a study called the "HomeNet Project", it was found that that first year of internet access with teens led to a statistically significant decline in social development specifically with feelings of loneliness, misery and an increase in depression. While virtual worlds, such as Webkins, may seem like harmless fun for kids right now, the negative effects of such online social networking could be for the long term.
On a recent episode of the talk show "Dr. Phil", a mother was seeking help for her daughter, who had become incredibly addicted and dependent on the virtual world website There.com. There.com is a virtual life, where a person can create a character, and emerge that character into a virtual world where they meet friends, go shopping, create opportunities, build homes, design and sell things, travel, play games, visit spas and nightclubs, buy new vehicles...basically live out lives that parallel our very own. Upon visiting the website only for a brief period of time, I did realize how easy it would be to become emerged into this virtual world, where everything you could ever dream is available at a simple click of a button. Children (and adults) who use the site, can purchase virtual dollars using their credit cards. 5 real dollars, equals roughly 9000 virtual bucks. The young lady interviewed on the show had said that this virtual world is one she enjoys living in, because she has friends, and feels free of harsh judgment from her real life peers. She even has a boyfriend whom she met through There.com, but has never met in real life. The young lady's mom had mentioned since her daughter had found There.com, she's brushed off all her homework and chores, doesn't walk her dog, doesn't hang out with friends or family, and literally sits in front of a computer screen from the time she wakes up, until the time she goes to bed. This is a great example of the negative effects these kind of online social networking sites have on young children, who are so easily impressionable. This young girl had found a virtual world she substituted her own for, which is a scary reality.
As the website progresses, new issues arise constantly. Some of these include:
- The "Webkinz Wishing Well" was parralled against a slot machine. A level would be pulled and certain symbols would pop up indicating how much KinzCash was won. It is easy to see how this appears exactly like slot machine, with symbols rather than fruit to represent the payout. This was abandoned for a newer version of the wishing well, quieting the concerns.
- The Webkinz website used to be ad-free, but recently ads have been added to the site. While some of them are 'happy advertisments' such as "Each veggies and fruit" and "Get exercise!", the majority of the ads are not of this nature and are of the selling nature. The ads are limited to Ganz products, the makers of Webkinz, but the possibility of outside advertising is a large concern in the near future.
- Confidentiality, as it also is on the internet, is an ongoing concern. While the website brags of anonymity, only a username and password are needed, nothing else is asked for, therein lies the major issue. Anyone can become a cute 10-year-old boy, and they need not be cute, 10-years-old, or even a boy. While the 'clubhouse' is considered relatively safe, the idea of internet stalking is also in the back of the mind.
The internet has become such a large part of daily life, furthermore, when mixing a cute stuffed animal with an online world; it is almost inevitable that it result in large amounts of time spent on the computer. Parents need to remain aware about how much time their children are spending on the internet. Something like a Webkinz toy has the potential to harm a child’s social skills or even their physical health. In order to avoid something like a small stuffed animal turning into a big problem, parents can:
- Create rules as too how much time their child can spend on the internet, research has shown that children who do not have rules as too how much time they are allowed to spend on the computer spend up to 95% longer online.
- Avoid putting a computer in a child’s room. Keep it in an open area of the house.
- As a parent, act as a role model. Monitor the time you yourself spend online so that you can set a good example.
- Take an active interest in what your child is doing online. For a site such as Webkinz, they have a parent’s area to allow parents full access to the website. Parents log on with the same code as their child’s pet in a different area of the website. Parents can see how much time their kids of been online for, who they have been interacting with, etc.
- Possibly the most obvious suggestion is to encourage kids to get off the computer and participate in outdoor group activities. Statistically, the amount children have been interacting in outdoor physical activity has rapidly declined over the decades.
- Pay attention to see whether a child’s time spent on the internet has any correlation with depression, drop in grades, anger and lower self esteem. The internet has proven to be an escape for those who are more introverted, and can result in the lack of developing social skills and avoidance of the real world.
All in all, Webkinz are an innovative toy and along with the possible negative effects, they too have positive components. The familiarize children with the internet, teaching children how to earn fake money, budget fake money, and so on. They are not bad so long as parents take an active role in monitoring their child’s use with the toy, or any other internet activity for that matter.