Virtual worlds are useful after all

If you visit Second Life you will find me propped up against a grass bank, close to a river, watching the “world” around me. I’ve been there for several weeks now.

The virtual world of Second Life is fascinating and many people spend part of each day “flying” around and engaging with the virtual people in there. Indeed, several organisations are making money inside Second Life, selling, for instance, virtual clothes to the “avatars” – human representations. So popular is Second Life that there are already over 100 books about it including several “travel guides”.

So virtual worlds are here to stay – especially as you can make money from them. But what about children? Should they be exposed to virtual worlds? Well the BBC thinks so. They launched a virtual world for children as young as six years old and have just published the results of research on how children were using the web-based world of “Adventure Rock”.

It appears that it’s mostly good news. The children were using the web-based system to role-play and test out things. Much like fantasy play of small children, it seems that the online virtual world is a place where children can safely try out things they may then later use – or ignore – in the real world. The virtual world helps the natural experimentation of youngsters to take place.

The study also showed that children can produce plenty of good ideas on how to improve online technology. Which makes me think…if you have children and you run an online business why not get them to test it for you? The natural curiosity of children and their lack of technological inhibition will mean that you will find out things about your web site that adults wouldn’t discover during a testing phase for fear of “breaking” things or for their desire to only tell you good things and minor problems. Children will be less inhibited and will tell you exactly what’s wrong with your web site and how to improve it.

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