Moderating Children’s Virtual Worlds, Part 2: It’s a Jolly Holiday

A few months ago I wrote about the difficulties I had in trying to describe what I do as an online community moderator, and particularly what it means to moderate children’s live action virtual worlds. Now, after working at Metaverse Mod Squad for almost six months, I can describe what I do pretty well. However, it is still met with mixed reactions. “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard!” is one, another is, “They actually pay you to do that?” And one response that I’ve gotten more than once is “Who would ever let their child spend time in a virtual world? Why don’t they just send their kids outside to play?”

For many people, their experiences on the internet are more of a one-way street – buying items, for instance, or looking up directions or other useful information. Therefore, it can be difficult to fathom the back and forth, the conversations, the “community” aspect of Community Management. To be fair, news coverage of social media doesn’t give a very clear picture either, between stories of undercover officers arresting adults in kids’ chat rooms to the recent story of Facebook users posting their bra colors to raise awareness of breast cancer. So frankly, I can see why, if you haven’t visited a virtual community, you might be asking what all the fuss is about.

My 4-yr. old isn’t old enough to play in virtual worlds, but she is old enough for, and LOVES, the movie “Mary Poppins”. It occurred to me, while watching that movie for about the 74th time, that Bert’s chalk drawings, which Mary Poppins brings to life, are very much like a modern virtual world. Bert imagined and drew a country fair, and imagination (and a little bit of magic) made it a place they could all inhabit. There the carousel horses could leave the carousel, the animals could talk and sing, the penguins do a swanky little dance, and the fox actually escapes during the English hunt (pretty sure that never happens in real life).

I imagine that for a lot of people, and perhaps especially for children, visiting a virtual world is a lot like that scene in “Mary Poppins”. You walk into a world that looks nothing like your own, and there are amazing places to visit, games to play, friends to meet, and fantastic virtual items you can buy and move around. Avatars are the equivalent of paper dolls, and virtual pets do not have to be walked before school or mysteriously disappear, like my pet gerbil did when I was a kid.

So while I am still a huge proponent of kids going outside and getting lots of exercise, I appreciate virtual worlds even more now than I did before. Children from all over the world, from all economic stations, can appreciate the escapism factor of virtual worlds, and the ability to reinvent themselves, and the world around them, even if it’s just for a little while.

– Sara Henry, MMS Community Moderator

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