Top 7 Best Online Virtual Worlds for Kids

We’ve put together a list of the best online virtual worlds for kids to play, which are fun and interactive at the same time

There's an online home for nearly everyone these days, whether you're into battling foes as an elf, managing your farm, or simply having a conversation with a random person elsewhere on the planet. However, as many parents have learned the hard way, not all online communities or virtual worlds are guaranteed to be appropriate for children all the time. Rather than ban non-family friendly sites entirely, why not simply restrict your child's access to more age appropriate venues, and gradually loosen the controls to allow a transition from kid-oriented sites to ones designed more for teenagers as time passes? While there's no guarantee that this will solve all parent-child conflicts, here are some options for kids, tweens and teens which have been shown to be quite popular.

#1 Club Penguin

Club penguin virtual world kids

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The first site on our list, Club Penguin is run by Disney, and is geared for younger children, starting at around age 6. Players create a cartoon penguin, customizable in different colors and with a variety of outfits, and from there decorate the penguin's igloo with in-game items. There are paid and free options, with some items and outfits exclusively available to paying members. Club Penguin also has live chat with other players, which employs both filtering mechanisms and live moderators who monitor interactions to ensure age-appropriateness, and to make sure no identifying personal information is shared. Though the game has been criticized by some for encouraging consumerism among younger children due to in-game advertising, it doesn't seem to be much worse than most social gaming sites. In an attempt to counteract such claims, Disney introduced an in-game charity called "Coins for Change", which has occurred during the holiday season regularly since 2007. Paid memberships are $5.95 to $57.95, depending on the duration of the membership.

2. SecretBuilders

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This community, geared for kids age 6-14 markets itself as "The Cheerio™" in a world where most other online communities are "Chocolate Fudge". One can take the meaning to be that this particular community's games and quests are focused on actual academic knowledge, particularly various fields in science, and many of the NPCs are recognizable historical figures with whom kids can interact and ask questions. There are free and paid options, which range from $5.95 to $34.95, based on the duration of the membership. Paid members have access to special quests, pets, and an option for parents to dole out a monthly allowance of SuperShills, the game's virtual currency, in return for real-world good behavior. On the whole, this concept seems as though, if applied properly, it could not only provide a good online outlet for younger internet users, but also enhance learning and school performance, which is always a plus.

3. Whyville

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Whyville, launched in 1999, is one of the oldest online communities for younger internet users, and may seem unglamorous by some kids at first glance, but to take a deeper look, it is easy to see why this community is still going strong. Whyville works directly with NASA, Getty, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and several others to provide cutting edge resources and access to scientific developments aimed at keeping kids, and in particular girls, interested in math and science. In addition to more educational pursuits, Whyville offers standard online community stuff, such as customizable avatars, chat rooms, and eye-catching environments. Whyville is one of the few communities where membership is 100% free and includes access to all areas of the site.

4. Pet Society

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Pet Society, which is a social game playable through Facebook, is a favorite among adults and younger users alike. Due to Facebook's age policy, players must be at least 13 and in school, or 18 and over, which is appealing for teenagers who are bored of interacting with much younger players on sites exclusive to the under 14 set. In Pet Society, players create their ultimate pet from the ground up, and are given a basic house in which their pet lives. When the pet goes outside, he or she will see the houses of other pets created by friends of the player, which all appear to be in the same neighborhood. In-game currency, simply referred to as "coins", can be earned by grooming, feeding, and visiting friends and interacting with their pets. Some of these tasks also earn points towards a leveling system, the rewards for which can include additional rooms in the house, new accessories and extra coins. Coins can be used to purchase clothing, decor and snacks from the town merchants, as well as options for actual cash payments. Pet Society does not employ a free/paid membership as many other sites listed here do. Instead, it is always free to play, but there are many luxury and premium items that are only available in shops via direct pay.

5. Habbo (Formerly "Habbo Hotel")

habbo virtual world kids

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Habbo is one of the oldest and more famous online communities geared towards teenagers, and like most of the others listed here, includes a highly customizable avatar, but in order to customize a dedicated space, decorative elements (known in the game as furni) must be purchased with either Pixels or Credits. Pixels are in-game currency earned from satisfying various requirements and achievements, such as logging in and greeting other players in a friendly manner. Credits, on the other hand, are obtained via a direct pay system, commonly credit card or SMS. Because this particular online community does cater exclusively to teenagers, there are filters in place, but the site also relies heavily on paid in-game moderators, who have the authority to mute players, eject them from rooms (referred to as kicking) or ban them, all for varying lengths of time. Previously, moderation duties were often assigned to experienced volunteers, known as Hobbas, but this program was discontinued in the interest of what developers consider providing the most secure environment possible.

6. Teen Second Life

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Due to the overwhelming popularity of Second Life, an online community with an emphasis on environment customization through modeling and scripting. This is by far the most immersive of the online communities listed here, as it is often used as a meeting place for art festivals, interviews, classes, religious ceremonies and nearly anything else one could imagine. In fact, Sweden, Serbia, Estonia, Albania, Colombia, Macedonia, the Philippines and the Maldives all have official virtual embassies in Second Life, which is also home to many cultures which do not exist in the physical world (or exist only in subculture form). However, quite a few of these subcultures and many of the virtual events associated with them have been deemed not suitable for minors under the age of 18, so a separate grid was created as a safe space for this crowd, which is more heavily moderated, but has all the other scripting features in tact. When a player turns 18, he or she is automatically moved to the 18+ grid, but retains any virtual possessions acquired during time spent in the teen grid. Like many other online communities, membership is free with enhanced features such as land ownership available to premium members.

7. Runescape

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Unlike most of the other options presented here, RuneScape is an actual MMORPG with a real-time fight system, fantasy-themed quests, leveling, and PvP combat. It is additionally unique within the world of RPGs in that players do not have to choose a character class, and are free to combine ranged, magic, and melee attacks according to preference. In addition to these features, RuneScape also allows players to join in mini-games and trade with one another, though some mini-games are restricted to paying members only. In-game chat is also available to players, and there are forums accessible either to paying members, or those who have achieved a combined level of 350.