Highrise - Virtual World

App review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Highrise - Virtual World App Poster Image
Risk-filled community focuses on appearances, sex talk.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Created for entertainment and not intended for learning.

Ease of Play

Ambiguous, inconsistent interface makes room building, other customizations confusing to learn. 

Violence
Sex

Explicit sex talk and sexual references in chat rooms and newsfeeds. 

Language

None in the app, but a good number of users use profanity like "f--k" and "s--t" as well as crude sexual terms. 

Consumerism

Users are encouraged to watch ads, refer friends, buy memberships, and spend money on vanity items. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

None in the app, but some users talk about drugs and alcohol. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Highrise – Virtual World is a free social networking app where users make Facebook-style posts and communicate through cartoon avatars. Though the terms of use says users under 13 aren't allowed, there's no method for checking a user's age. And though Community Guidelines dictate that users cannot post suggestive content or engage in sexually-explicit dialog, both often occurs. Searching obvious hashtags like #porn and #sex turns up explicit content inappropriate for minor users, but plenty of visually and verbally explicit content is available without a search. The app contains limited security tools, including the ability to make posts private and block users, but users can contact each other through chat and messaging, follow anyone, and see anyone's profile. The app contains ads that users can remove by paying for a VIP membership. A huge range of tempting vanity items in the in-app shop creates tons of temptation to spend, and users get coins for getting "likes," which could lead to teens posting things they wouldn't otherwise. Read the developer's privacy policy for details on how your (or your kids') information is collected, used, and shared and any choices you may have in the matter, and note that privacy policies and terms of service frequently change.

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What's it about?

HIGHRISE – VIRTUAL WORLD is a freemium social networking app that lets users create and customize cartoon avatars of themselves and interact with other users online. Users can also create and customize their own “rooms” for other users to visit and are rewarded with in-app currency for gathering “likes.” The app offers a wide range of room furnishings, clothing, and accessories for sale in its in-app store, and lets players make Facebook-style posts and designate them as public or private. A searchable news feed lets users search for content by keyword and hashtag, and users are encouraged to complete reward-giving missions by socializing and visiting other users' rooms. Users can also join or create “Crews” (essentially, online cliques) and can “prevent the peasant masses from ever entering” their rooms with various access settings.

Is it any good?

This app's childlike take on Sims-like gameplay has the potential to create an unsafe online environment for your teen and is doing so in spades. To start, there are plenty of possibilities for kids to feel left out and bullied. The app rewards you for being “liked” and being part of a Crew. The former's more likely to happen the more attention-getting your avatar is (i.e., the more gear you buy), and joining a Crew means asking for invites. Rooms can be made invite-only, which can be a good safety mechanism, but can also be used to exclude people out of spite. Of course, these grade school politics are the least of your worries. Far more concerning is the prevalence of sexually explicit talk. Users create nightclub rooms and “dirty” rooms where people discuss things that would make a truck driver blush. Even outside these designated places, profanity (words like “f—k,” “pu—y,” and “s—t”) is rampant. News feeds also contain lots of commentary about drugs, drinking, and other users' physical attractiveness. The result is a near-constant barrage of judgment, negativity, and sexual expectation. On a purely technical note, the app's inconsistent, obscure interface makes it hard to figure out how to do things like build and customize rooms, but this is really beside the point. In a controlled environment, Highrise – Virtual World might be a fun, inclusive place for kids and teens to socialize; as it is, it's a sure bet for raising their anxiety and lowering their self-esteem.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how to handle uncomfortable online situations, including ones on Highrise - Virtual World. Do your teens know what to do if an online conversation turns to sex? What's okay and not okay to post in forums like this?

  • Talk about how online communities affect self-esteem. Do you know how to process rejection or exclusion from online cliques? 

  • Discuss online peer pressure. Can you resist pressure to do and say things you know aren't right? 

App details

  • Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
  • Price: Free
  • Pricing structure: Free (optional paid monthly membership and optional in-app purchases)
  • Release date: July 26, 2015
  • Category: Social Networking
  • Size: 132.50 MB
  • Publisher: PocketzWorld Inc.
  • Version: 2.3.3
  • Minimum software requirements: iOS 8.0 or later

For kids who love socializing and virtual worlds

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