Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do virtual worlds lead to real world stress?

Do kids take events in their online worlds too seriously? Journalist Anastasia Goodstein references several parents that called into a radio show because their kids were stressed out over events in online worlds, specifically sick virtual pets and getting scammed in an online game.

She mentions the difference between a sick stuffed animal that “poof” gets better, versus a sick Neopet, that requires you to log in daily and “work” at getting the pet better. Is this really a problem, or are we reaching here? We don’t want to rob kids of the magic of pretend play, but maybe understanding that animals (and people) don’t “poof” get better is a good thing? Would it better if the kid was stressed over the family dog being sick? I’m asking here, not suggesting that I have the answers. We are the first generation of parents that have to deal with immersive online worlds. Certainly there will be kids that obsess beyond reason about these things, but aren’t those the same kids that 20 years ago would have been obsessing over a stuffed tiger that only they saw as alive?

I’m not convinced that there are really any new problems here. Playground bullies used to corner you at recess and take your lunch money. Now they take your virtual goods instead. Does the fact that it all happens in a pretend world change how we need to deal with it?