Webkinz is a great example of a company trying to create a virtual world for kids. This is a hard task to tackle, as we all know that virtual worlds do not come without their dangers. This becomes more obvious when we read an article such as "A Rape in Cyberspace," by Julian Dibbel in which she discusses sexual assaults that occurred within a virtual world. It is natural for parents to have fears in regards to their children exploring the internet and in particular participating in virtual worlds.
Webkinz does a great job or trying to tackle these fears while still allowing kids to express themselves within this world. Children who participate in Webkinz must first create their own account. A webkinz account asks for such information as first name (used when the virtual world addresses the user), gender, birthday, and the country and state in which the child lives. In addition, the child gets to choose a screen name (used to represent the child as they interact with other users) and will have a Webkinz animal (likely also of their choice) to represent themselves. (Though it is not required that a child specify a gender) As Curtis states in “Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities," players can express themselves through a choice of name, gender, and self-description. Webkinz is clearly trying to allow children to express themselves despite having to interact in what needs to be a very closed and monitored virtual system, as children are able to reach two of these three objectives. Each child is able to use his or her own name and his or her character to represent themselves in this virtual world. In addition, the child gets to use a screen name which they can use to express themselves (ex. soccergrl8 baseballboy12), and the world sends the users 'gifts' on their birthdays.
All in all the world seems very personal to the children while maintaining, but must also stay secure. It does this by severely restricting what children can do in the virtual world. Children are able to interact with each other in three ways: your friends can come in your 'room' and each or your pets can play, you can play games with your friends, and you can 'chat.' The only way in which the kids are allowed to chose the content is in 'chat,' which is severely restricted. Webkinz allows young children to chose only pre-set questions and answers in chat. Older kids are able to choose what they say, but there are extreme filters placed on their input.
Over-all Webkinz is able to provide children with their own identity, their own virtual space, and the ability to interact in a safe and effective manor. It tackles the difficult task of creating a webspace for young children in a very effective manor.