With the success of Nicktropolis and even more so WebKinz, Club Penguin, and things like GoPets and more (Animal Crossing, anyone?), virtual worlds for kids have become the hot ticket this summer. Two new ones are on their way: one an educational 3D theme park, the other a cool 2D “world” designed in part by Aardman Animations, the outfit behind the excellent Wallace & Gromit cartoons.
The Aardman offering is known as WebbliWorld, and is populated by all kinds of avatars and features beginning for the most part with W- or Webbli-. That’s WebbliWallace above, the avatar I created by sticking together the bits and pieces on offer. Not really an immersive multiuser world, as far as I can tell, WebbliWorld instead offers a range of Flash games and activities designed to educate young ‘uns and inspire them to take on real-world activities like sports or mucking about in the garden. You can view other Webblis profiles, but communication seems limited.
One cool thing about WebbliWorld is that it functions as a junior social network, letting kids build out their WebbliStaks with links to bands, books, and movies that they like. “All content that is added to WebbliWorld by users is moderated by an external, specialist moderation company and by the staff of WebbliWorld,” according to the WebbliWorld parents’ page.
Designed for kids in kindergarten to second grade, JumpStartWorld also seems to lack a multiuser component, but does feature a “3D theme park” that’s also meant to be educational, and that includes a “curriculum based on national and state standards.” Kids’ experiences can be personalized by parents, and kids are drawn through the world via a “mission-based reward system” designed to teach “core math, reading and critical thinking skills.” In addition, “a cutting-edge adaptive learning system responds, offering new adventures based on [kids’] individual achievements.”
While neither of these really qualify as “worlds,” it’s interesting to see more educational tools and gameplay mechanics start to get layered on top of the usual model of colorful spaces filled with shiny objects. It seems only a matter of time before the kinds of underlying systems found in WebbliWorld and JumpStartWorld pop out into real multiuser spaces, whether in 2D or 3D. All this action also bodes well for the future of the metaverse. From the looks of things, kids’ earliest online experiences have a lot more to do with 3D or 2.5D spaces than they have to do with flat Web pages loaded up with videos and blink tags. That means they’ll be able to slide comfortably into whatever multiuser 3D worlds or tools are available to them once they get a bit older. It also means they’ll be creating their own worlds and tools, in a fashion we can only guess at now. Can’t wait.