Many virtual worlds use chat as a key feature to increase community between members, and consequently, the time and money spent in the world. In fact over 83% (n=151) of the active virtual worlds surveyed by Avatar Generation used chat as a feature in their design arsenal. Kids enjoy using the chat feature, as it allows them to interact real time with other players.
Chat in virtual worlds works by using a chat box to type text. This text is then put into the virtual world or into a private chat window. Chatting in a virtual world can be a good way of teaching kids how to interact with others and to improve their keyboard ability, but it is also a major part of the virtual world experience that some parents can be wary of.
It is true that allowing your kid to chat online can potentially bring them under the radar of unscrupulous or even dangerous adults (check out our section on Online Predators). Although the likelihood of this happening is slim, it is good to be aware of the types of chat options in each virtual world.
Safe Chat: “Safe Chat” is the term used by virtual worlds to describe restricted or monitored inworld chatting, and there are many different types and levels of safe chat. The most restrictive are chat options in which kids are limited to using predefined greetings, words and phrases. They could be phrases like “Will you be my friend?”, “I’ll be right back” and “Tell me a joke”. Other safe chat options are more flexible, and allow kids to write open text, but the text is specially filtered for bad language and sexual content. If the content breaks any of the rules, the member is automatically banned from the world.
Open Chat: Alternatively, many virtual worlds do not use chat filters and allow members to write whatever text they like. This is known as “Open Chat”.
AvatarGeneration surveyed 181 active kids virtual worlds in our database and found that 38% (n= 69) gave the ability to select some form of safe chat. This is an important tool for parents to ensure that younger kids are safe from offensive chat content.
AvatarGeneration Analysis of Chat Options in Kids Virtual Worlds
On the other end of the scale, over half (52%) of the virtual worlds (n=94) had open chat only. This means that no option was given in the chat feature for safe chatting, and members can write whatever text they chose.
Of these 94 worlds with open chat only, 76% (n=72) had a recommended age of less than 13 years. This finding from our research shows that many virtual worlds do not put safe chatting at the head of their safety strategy. However, looking into these 72 worlds in more detail, 18 of them did have some form of parental controls in place aside from safe chat.
For very young kids, or for parents / guardians who don’t want their kid to have any communication in virtual worlds, there were 18 (10%) virtual worlds that had no chat options, and one world that allowed parents / guardians to choose from safe chat or no chat.
Our analysis of chat options in active kids virtual worlds has shown that there is a huge range of different choices and decisions for parents when they are choosing a virtual world for their kid. We would always recommend reading the FAQ section in the virtual world to see what options are available, and decide with your kid what is the best option for them.