Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: Woogi World

I have gone from the mom who won't let her children play video games to the mom who allows certain games and online worlds into her household. However (and is it a big however), these games and activities must have educational value. I know I sound like a crazed mother, but, well, there are so many hours in the day and if some of them are on the internet then those hours are going to be worthwhile. The kids can waste their time when they are teenagers, thank you very much.

Woogi World is an online world for children with the expressed goal of training children to use the internet safely and to balance that with service and family time. Here it is in their words:
Through our safe, and engaging virtual world, www.woogiworld.com, elementary age children worldwide are becoming responsible Internet users and goodwill ambassadors, learning and implementing the character traits that are helping them be good influences in their homes, schools, and communities—ultimately leading out in the global "Woogi phenomenon" of kids driving good works.

To read more, visit the "About Us" section of the Woogi World website.

My eldest, 6, and I have navigated the beginning stages of the world. Life, school, and family have intruded on the time we normally would spend together on the computer to review a game/online world. My review is limited but, as you'll read below, very informative for normal worries of a parent about a child online. The quick review: I like it. My daughter likes it. A worry I had was quickly addressed by the designer (helped by staff at Mom Central). The lessons of the site have stuck with my child.

The premise of the world is that the Woogis have discovered the Internet and need to be trained to use it. Who better than Earth children? The animated introduction is nicely done and entertained even my youngest (not quite 3). The child can choose their Woogi, designing the character with a simple online tool. The tutorial is easy to follow and we had no problems beginning the game. As in other online worlds, the kids earn dollars for tasks completed and can use those dollars to upscale their home and clothes.

I had allowed my child to engage in the chat mode (something that parents can limit, along with the days and amount of time the child can play. A parent can even see the chat history. Remember, these are young children. We, as parents, do need to have more understanding of what they are saying to each other. I certainly don't want to raise a beast.). Instantly, we saw a chat window from a Woogi state, "I'm single. Want to meet?"

After picking my jaw off the floor, I shot an email to Mom Central. She shared my shock stating that the founder of Woogi World had an extensive chat dictionary for the children using the world. She promised she'd get me an answer, and she did. Here's just a bit of it that addressed my freak out over that chat window.
In order to prepare the Woogi World kids now for this eventuality while we still have some influence on them, we have made a conscious decision to make this site 100% safe, but not 100% sterile. We view Woogi World as being very similiar to that kids school playground - very safe but not sterile. It is this type of environment that enables the kids to experience and practice in real life and really learn those things we're trying to teach them. One of the ways we do this is thru our restricted chat dictionary - where the kids have 9000 words they can use to form their own conversations and communicate with other woogies. There are no numbers, proper names or bad words and we are constantly monitoring it to find those words or phrases that are being used improperly. To help us monitor the environment as well as teach the kids the rules and how to enforce the rules in "their" community, we have implemented the reporting system where any kid can report another for breaking the rules. These reports then go to our Kid Coaches who review the chat logs and determine the appropriate response. If the kid really did attempt to break the rules, they will be banned until they write an apology and it is accepted by the Kid Coach. This is a revolutionary system that is unequalled in kids virtual worlds - not only are we teaching them the rules, but we allow them to practice those rules, watch over others in their community to make sure they are obeying the rules and when necessary a Kid Coach steps in to help teach those kids that need more attention.

OK. OK. I'm calm. I headed to the parent center, turned off the chat function for my daughter to make things easier, and continued to play the game with her. She got the lessons. They sunk in. That day and a few days afterwards, she decided to help me out with some chores without being asked--one of the messages of service. The lesson transferred to my middle kid, who watched her sister play over the shoulder.

This is a world that I wish I had known about during the summer, when time was a luxury we could afford to waste. With school and after school activities, we have less time to spend with each other on the computer. At this age, I don't let the kids play at the computer without me being there. So, maybe on rainy weekend days, we'll have more time to explore and enjoy Woogi World.

My kids aren't learing ABCs and 123s from Woogi World, but they are learning valuable skills to dealing with the inherent dangers of the internet--the time sink and the predators we all wish didn't exist.

1 comment:

Kara said...

Amazing post! I feel as though one of the key lessons from Woogi World is self responsibility and learning to beware that there are people who will misuse the internet. I really enjoyed you honest post.