What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that OurWorld is a virtual world where kids can play chat and play games; a few of the games have violent content. For kids to chat, they need to first send a parent verification email through the site. If they're under 13, parents are told kids' communications will be filtered to ensure they're only using approved words and phrases. However, parents can change their child's settings to let them chat openly with other users; so if kids enter their email address for the verification, they can easily unlock any restrictions.
What's it about?
Teens have yet another place to wander and interact, play games, and shop for items to beautify their avatars with OURWORLD.COM -- a virtual world with better-than-average graphics. Avatars can zip between a coffeehouse, dance club, and theater (among other locations), and wave, dance, and chat with each other via thought bubbles. For the more action-oriented, the site offers dozens of games which range from those based on logic (Jewel Quest involves lining up symbols) to old-fashioned, arcade-like ones (Condor Cowboys knocks bandits off giant birds). Kids can pick their difficulty level; playing any of the games earns you \"flow,\" which is OurWorld.com's \"energy.\" Flow can be used to buy hairstyles and clothes -- and can be used to spin a prize wheel that can generate \"coins,\" the site's currency, which is also used to buy things. Paid memberships ($6 a month or $50 a year) get you access to even more stuff.
Is it any good?
Parents have some control over what their kids can do on the OURWORLD site: They can decide whether kids can talk with strangers, friends, or not chat at all when they sign up, and can restrict kids from making any changes to their account settings. A language filter also helps prevent swears from being used in chats. However, the site is definitely geared toward kids who are tweens or older; it can be a little tricky to navigate around, and although many of the 40 or so puzzle, matching, and other games are tame, some action games involve shooting and killing that could be too violent for younger users.
OurWorld should provide some generally safeguarded fun as you make your avatar dance and travel around the virtual world. However, it's unclear if kids will log on for long without wanting to buy one of the paid subscriptions ($5.99-$10 per month or $49.99 a year) to help them rise through the site levels faster and access exclusive areas. There's also a push to purchase gems, one of the two forms of site currency, to get special virtual accessories -- but many kids will still find fun things to do on the site for free.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about why it can be risky to chat openly online with strangers. Why is it safer to have pre-scripted responses, or to have some words blocked?
Families can also talk about what type of information is safe to share with others online. Why should you never give out any information that's considered personal, like the town that you live in?
How should you handle an unwelcome invite to chat or an inappropriate comment from another user?