April 07 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Metaverse Year: General Rating: 7
Virtual worlds for kids are an exploding market. But what do they mean for our youth and for the future of our society?
I just had the pleasure to sit through a Virtual Worlds 2008 session titled Kids and Tweens: Why Virtual Worlds Are The New Saturday Morning TV during which a panel of experts shared their thoughts on the rise of virtual worlds as the primary form of entertainment for our youth, exhibiting what moderator Richard Gottlieb labeled as a “sense of overwhelming optimism” about the growing industry.
The following are my favorite bytes and take-aways:
Jason Root, Senior Vice President, Digital, Nick.Com And Nick At Nite.Com asserted that “gaming is the new programming that kids gravitate to”, adding that Nickelodeon views it and virtual worlds “as a logical extension to the web space” and not a replacement for narrative television programming. “That leads kids into a new open-ended experience,” said Root, noting that what’s emerging is an audience “that hungers for both linear and non-linear content.”
Kenneth Locker, Senior Vice President, Digital Media, Cookie Jar Entertainment explained that virtual world experience producers “don’t create content, they create context”, meaning that the goal is to facilitate a variety of sticky open-ended experiences rather than passive consumption. “TV is a top-down medium,” he concluded, “The internet has no beginning, middle or end.”
Deborah M. Manchester, Ph.D., Pres. & CEO, Executive Producer, Zula USA, LLC, and a big proponent of virtual worlds for educational purposes, voiced her concern that “Kids are screaming out that they are bored with passive entertainment.” She linked this lack of engagement with alarmingly high drop-out rates (40%) for US high-schoolers. She said she’s “hoping there will be reasons beyond just gameplay that kids go use these worlds.”
Maria T. Bailey, CEO, BSM Media, author of Mom 3.0 pointed out that “these virtual worlds allow a mom to empower her kids to learn to manage technology.” She explained that she sees such “play with a purpose” as a powerful emerging trend.
Of course, this all got me thinking about the long-term effect on children that interact with virtual worlds during their critical periods, so I asked the panel how differently children using VWs would turn out as adults. The most interesting responses included:
Jason Root: “We’re already seeing kids growing up with a greater aptitude for multi-tasking. This is an extension of that trend.” He also noted that virtual worlds “can have a real-world impact” acting as an “extension” of reality.
Deborah Manchester: “There is a real concern that kids in virtual worlds won’t get to interact with the real world. There should be an onus on companies building these sites to integrate real-world experiences to go along with what kids experience in virtual worlds.”
“Maria Bailey: “What’s going to happen when Gen Y moms Z [who are increasingly into transparency] and kids [interested in fictional experiences] collide? I don;t have the answer but think it’s an important question.”
Obviously, the biased panel believes (as do I) that virtual worlds are here to stay and that they’ll have far-reaching social implications. As we move forward I am optimistic that their projections for the future of virtual worlds will get more complex and root themselves in a growing body of empirical research. Such educated speculation is the cherry on top that I would like to see added to these already compelling presentations.