My children have each been given a Webkinz. If you aren't familiar with these little critters think of a combination of Beanie Babies and Second Life. You buy (or receive) a little stuffed animal, and it comes with a "secret code" the secret code unlocks a virtual pet and gets you into Webkinz World for a year. So you have a brand new stuffed animal and its Psuedo-Second Life replica on Webkinz World.
Our family are the proud owners of a Cheeky Monkey and a Google. What is a Google you ask? Its kind of a cross between a bowling pin and a platypus, bowling pin shaped with a bill and webbed feet. ( I have to admit its a cute little creature.. but then I was always into stuffed animals as well as real ones)
I have mixed emotions on this set up. Starting with our initial panic over whether or not we could even access the World, as the tags all say High-speed internet required (and we are on dial-up) I have to admit initially I was annoyed with there being yet another thing that wasn't dial-up friendly. (that could be a whole rant in and of its self., no contrary to popular belief there are still dial-up users.) Right away the Adoption window opened for us, and the kids opened their accounts and adopted their pets. And then, The World would not load. We could not get onto Webkinz World to play with , visit , or feed our pets. Yes, you have to feed them or they get sick. Right away I figured our virtualkinz would die while we waited for the page to load.. and how fair is that to a 7 or 4 year old? I couldn't hide the World from them a cousin had already told them ALL about it. (You can send letters to each other though KinzPost!!! I'll send you a note!!!)
After an entire evening of "Mom I want to play in Webkinz world" mixed with "I'm sorry honey, it wont load and I cant fix it, why dont you go play with the real Zelda, she has never seen a movie, lets watch finding Nemo" (Oh yeah, the Google is named Zelda) We did finally get the World to load the next day. And we came up on our next road block, we could buy the escential to there health bed for the pet to sleep in, but we could not put it in our room. So we called PeerTech Support (otherwise known as the cousins with webkinz and cable internet) We had them log in as us and but our bed in the room, over the phone the first thing I heard as they logged in was the 9 year old girl wail, "They aren't feeding her!! she is going to get sick!!!)
The kids can play with their pet or take it to the arcade to play games there. there are some learning games and some standard game fair, all of which loads for us. The kids get to play for about 1/2 hour a day. And I'll admit it I like to play the bejeweled knock off game. (someone has to earn enough Kinzcash to feed the pets)
But I do have a few misgivings still. Our pets are happy with daily attention, so I don't know for sure, but you can "buy" you pet things, and I think you could be gone all week sweep in and play enough games to win Kinzcash and buy your pets happiness once a week... I'm wondering what precedent that sets? We did buy our pets bath tubs and back yards.. The pets get a bath and put in bed when we log out. I think that should mirror life, you get ready for bed then "logout" of the day.
I'm keeping a close eye the kids virtual experience. but I'm still wondering just how healthy the whole adventure is. I guess its all in how you spin it.