Online gaming provides visitors with a vast number of worlds to explore, interact with and socialize in. With the vast number of online adventures awaiting you, finding the right fit is a potentially mind-boggling experience. No choice is going to be ideal for everyone, as some games are a better fit than others depending on your age, personality or needs. Before deciding on a virtual world, it's important to know the different kinds out there and how to operate safely within them.
There are several online world games designed as safe, fun places for kids and teens, such as Club Penguin, Meez and Neopets. These games feature friendly, cartoonish graphics and have a focus on safety features, like profanity filters for chatting and strict moderation for interactive areas. Suggestive or questionable content is very rare, if existent at all. Some of these games, like "Wizard101," cross-over into the massively multiplayer online game category, offering an MMO experience with a kid-friendly atmosphere.
Massively Multiplayer Online Games
Massively mulitplayer online games, or MMOs, offer a diverse lineup of experiences and play styles with one common thread: There are many other players sharing the world with you. "World of Warcraft" is one of the best-known examples of an MMO, along with "The Elder Scrolls Online," "Star Wars: The Old Republic" and "Guild Wars 2." In most of these games, players engage in cooperative or competitive play, often to achieve a common goal or beat the other player in a match of skill. Communication is common and often integral, with players able to speak one-on-one or as part of a group. In some cases, players can even communicate server-wide or through an entire area of the game world.
"Second Life" is a difficult game to classify, because it covers many facets of the online experience. Players create virtual avatars and purchase clothes, skins, accessories and buildings, all made by players within the game. Players can also explore player-created worlds, role-play, engage in competitive and cooperative games and even run a business -- a business that can make real money, as the in-game currency is exchangeable for real currency. "Second Life" social groups center around common interests or facets of the game, such as groups for builders or explorers. Private messages and group chats are common, especially in areas where lots of avatars congregate, such as clubs or businesses. "Second Life" has a lot of adult content, including nudity and sexuality, making it a poor choice for younger audiences.
No matter your age, getting involved in online gaming has some risks. Never share personal information online, and keep your anti-virus software up-to-date -- some free online games come with nasty surprises folded in. Never share account details with anyone else, even if they claim to be a staff member for the game -- most games explicitly state that their employees will never ask for your username and password. Always make sure you know who your children are talking to online: you never know who's on the other side of the screen. Most online worlds feature options to ignore other players or report them for harassment or other abusive behavior, which you should always use when needed.
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