By Aldric Chang
Whyville is a virtual world and networking site for kids aged 8 to 15. It is one of the oldest virtual worlds on the internet, created in 1999 by Numedeon. Unlike many other virtual worlds for children, Whyville does not have any membership fees. Whyville’s online currency is known as ‘clams’ which are used to pay for accessories for a user’s avatar and their home. ‘Clams’ can be earned by playing games or by purchasing them with real money. Whyville operates by receiving sponsorship money from major corporations and grants from educational institutions.
When players first join Whyville, they create an avatar which they can customize with different facial features. As they move through the website, players will be able to play games that test their knowledge. They will earn ‘clams’ for successfully completing games and use their ‘clams’ to upgrade their home, add accessories for their avatar, purchase clothing, a car and pets. Members also can start their own virtual business by designing accessories that other members can buy. The Whyville Times is the world’s virtual newspaper – written by members who submit content that is chosen by the editor.
Whyville is an initially innocuous social networking, educational game that will appeal mainly to tweens. When the game was created in 1999, the developers had a great idea to incorporate the power of the internet and integrate it with a child’s learning. Over 10 years later, the game still has elements that are to be praised. By providing a creative outlet for art, writing and design, children take the first steps in learning about career choices. There is no drinking, smoking or drug use.
The graphics on Whyville are quite bland and boring. Avatars move slowly and their appearance is two-dimensional. Whyville has an identity problem: the graphics may be okay for younger players, but the themes that are explored on Whyville are best left to older teens. Although it is good that there are no membership fees, the way Whyville operates by relying on corporate donations and grants leaves the website open to consumerism by having multi-national corporations’ logos splattered on the website (Toyota, Subway).
If children 13 years of age and under need parental consent to participate in online chat and if the parents are paying for any child’s monetary ‘clams’, the parents should take more of an interest in what is being said in online chat – because Whyville isn’t. Even though chat is filtered through their software, teenagers are smart enough to get around any such system. By creating a chat feature on an educational website, Whyville instantly loses credibility. Parents need to take a greater interest in their child’s Whyville experience, especially if their child is at the young end of the demographic and is able to read the sexual innuendos and inappropriate comments made by older members.