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The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although you have to be at least 13 to sign up on this popular social networking site, it's not appropriate for young teens. As they roam around the virtual world of Zwinktopia, kids can pick a place to go and chat with other avatars (or Zwinkies). Filters automatically replace bad words with "(bleep)," but there are ways around it -- typing "fu" instead of "f--k you" or "ssseeexy" instead of "sexy," for example. People can be harsh and say mean things or just simply walk away. They can also divulge personal information (age, location, MySpace page, e-mail address) in a matter of minutes. Teens are encouraged to earn ZBucks -- or use real-world cash -- to go shopping for their avatars. When they're not chatting, kids can also play harmless games that actually require a bit of concentration and hand-eye coordination in order to earn ZBucks -- a form of currency needed to buy your avatar new things.
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What's it about?
ZWINKTOPIA.COM enables social networking in a virtual world. Once you download the free program, head on over to your Zwinky's (avatar) dressing room to outfit him/her with an emotion, personalized hair, makeup, outfit, body type, and accessories. Some things such as background scenes or cool haircuts are locked and can be accessed by earning ZBucks, Zwinktopia's online currency -- or by using real-world cash. Games are the easiest way to rack up ZBucks; each place you visit has a corresponding themed game. The main attraction of Zwinktopia is the chat feature. Just because you're online, though, it doesn't mean that talking to folks gets any easier; social interactions can be just as awkward in Zwinktopia as they sometimes are in the real world. Online chatting can also get very personal very quickly, with avatars asking other avatars for information or to come visit them in person. If you do trust another avatar, you can invite him/her to be your friend. But if you want to have a friend that isn't in your age group, you need to know the person's email address to send an invitation. Once the invitation is accepted, you can correspond via ZNotes -- online emails that are posted on your Profile Page and may be viewed by the public.
Is it any good?
If you're looking for a simple place to chat with newly found best friends, this site might just be the place for you -- as long as you know that this virtual world does come with some problems. It's too bad that there aren't more games and that most of the ones that do exist are quite silly and boring. And, you can go through your hard-earned cash in no time at the mall where you pop into stores that sell everything from surf wear to punk gear. The best part of the shopping experience is that you can try things on before buying them.