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OKBabyCupid
February 20, 2013 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Come into my igloo: online dating as eight year old. Virtual worlds like Fantage are fun, innocent, bright-colored versions of the massively-multiplayer online games that teenagers and adults play. They also unintentionally function as online dating sites for the elementary and middle school set.

Fantage is one of many free and paid virtual worlds that have attracted 66.4 million active users from age seven to 13....

...

Estroff has dived into popular virtual communities including Club Penguin, Poptropica, and Star Doll, uncovering things like cyberbullying, classism, and over-aggressive advertising. But of all the things that parents might disapprove of, she found the crude dating life to be the most unsettling. The worst was Barbie Girls, which "was really, really filled with it, and it seemed like there were a lot of creepy characters there," she told The Verge. Hence the ongoing censorship war between the kids and the sites' moderators. Kids can be pretty creative when it comes to "dictionary dancing" to get around word filters. This is how "valentine" becomes "val," then "vuv," then "buv," as each new term gets banned, a rapid maneuvering reminiscent of Chinese netizens circumventing the Great Firewall.
posted by modernnomad (31 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's only creepy if you think that dating users from age seven to 13 is creepy.
posted by sour cream at 2:50 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Animal Jam sex tape is not something I should have clicked on.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:52 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


My tropical tween MMO is set to periodically spray every underage user with 8 litres of pressurised sewerage.
posted by Nomyte at 3:03 PM on February 20, 2013


Great, now even 8-year-olds are better at dating than I am.
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:03 PM on February 20, 2013 [20 favorites]


Have you tried fixing up your igloo?
posted by InfidelZombie at 3:19 PM on February 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


Crisp Thinking even gets "grooming scripts" from the UK police in order to stay up on pedophile slang.

I can't help but think Chris Morris has a hand in this.
posted by anagrama at 3:25 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


From the "How to get a boyfriend on Club Penguin" YT video they embedded:

-if your a prep... find a jock
-if your a cool one.....fine the same interest...lolz


If that Youtuber was my daughter, she would be in so much trouble. Using "your" for "you're"! I swear!

I hope, though, that most of the kids there do get to have a safe, age-appropriate time. As a young teenager, I was propositioned and harassed with the most vile language imaginable on the internet, and I didn't dare tell a parent because grownups were all terrified of the internet back then, and their solution would have been to take the modem away. These days, that seems much less likely to be the case.

Also, I thought this comment beneath the article was amazing:

I used to play Disney’s Toontown, an quest-based MMO for kids. They had an entirely different solution to this problem. By default, you couldn’t chat with strangers by typing. They had this context-sensitive cascading menu of canned phrases you could use called speedchat. It sounds extremely limiting but once you use it, it is surprising how well you can collaborate and how much about the game you can express this way. I thought it was brilliant.

Even more brilliant is how people got around it. You were allowed to type-chat with anyone you were a real-world friend with, which you confirmed by passing a generate one-time-use friend code outside of the game. When you spoke out loud by typing, anyone who wasn’t your real-world friend would see you speaking animal noise gibberish. So, if you wanted to be able to type-chat with someone you met in the game, there was a ritual for passing one of those friend codes in the game referred to the speedchat dance. You’d start by typing and showing gibberish to your would-be friend until they’d say (in speedchat) “I can’t understand you” and you’d say “let’s work on that”, “follow me”. Then you’d repeat over and over a pattern of speedchat phrases whose first letters matched a friend-code you’d generated. Not everyone who had never heard of this practice would figure out what you were doing, but some would.

I guess the point being, whatever you do, kids will find a way around it.

posted by Countess Elena at 3:27 PM on February 20, 2013 [34 favorites]


I 'dated' boys starting in Kindergarten and ending, for various reasons, in 6th grade. If I had the internet back then, I'm sure I'd have 'dated' boys online as well. One way that kids grow and learn is by modelling the behavior they see in their siblings, their parents, and on TV. 'Dating' is just one aspect of that play-acting.

I put dating in scare quotes because mostly it was just "I label X my boyfriend and he has to be nice to me and mean to all the other girls." It's not like we were going to the movies.
posted by muddgirl at 3:35 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Animal Jam sex tape is not something I should have clicked on.

Right there with you.
posted by Diablevert at 3:36 PM on February 20, 2013


Thank god my kids never got into Club Penguin. It gives me the creeps.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:51 PM on February 20, 2013


Great, kids are learning how to communicate with each other in a thought-censored digital dystopia. Skills for life!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:00 PM on February 20, 2013 [21 favorites]


Here's a classic story from 2007 about making online communities for kids (emphasis theirs):
The response was one I will never forget: "Disney’s standard is quite clear:

No kid will be harassed, even if they don’t know they are being harassed."

[...]

"We spent several weeks building a UI that used pop-downs to construct sentences, and only had completely harmless words – the standard parts of grammar and safe nouns like cars, animals, and objects in the world."

"We thought it was the perfect solution, until we set our first 14-year old boy down in front of it. Within minutes he’d created the following sentence:

I want to stick my long-necked Giraffe up your fluffy white bunny.
posted by mhum at 4:03 PM on February 20, 2013 [41 favorites]


I've been casually watching my preteen son go through the motions of this in the roblox game. In his case it's mostly watching (well, or mostly listening actually, as he seems to like to narrate these interactions to anyone/everyone within earshot) as he makes comically misguided, albeit sweetly naive attempts at being funny or charming. I fear trolls/creeps/horny-and-or-obnoxious older kids in game far less however, than the youtube videos he seems to discover constantly (mostly looking for Mario and Luigi related videos) that often range from annoying to disturbing. Fortunately I blocked out the youtube comments on all our computers a long time ago.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:28 PM on February 20, 2013


My kid has had a declared "girlfriend" since he was 4. He meets them at the water fountain at school and says "you're pretty." Why would he need a virtual space for that? I went into Club Penguin and looked around..you can't do anything fun for free. You gotta shell out to do activities and are constantly being harassed to buy more shit. Eff that.
posted by emjaybee at 4:41 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was thinking OKBabycupid was for those single people that wanted couple up and have babies.
posted by i_wear_boots at 5:03 PM on February 20, 2013


... uncovering things like cyberbullying, classism, and over-aggressive advertising. But of all the things that parents might disapprove of, she found the crude dating life to be the most unsettling.

While obviously the thought or threat of actual sexual predators on such sites is a different matter altogether, this statement really depressed me. Crude (I'm assuming the author means more "rudimentary" than "vulgar") dating life is more disturbing to parents than cyberbullying, classism, and aggressive advertising?

That's kind of trucked up.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:14 PM on February 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Club Penguin isn't anywhere near as creepy as Imvu. Some of the library kids like that one and, Jesus fuck, it looks like the fake Second Life from a Law & Order: SVU episode.
posted by box at 5:34 PM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was online "engaged" when I was 12 to a 14 year old boy I met in a RhyDin "inn" on AOL. Which meant that, for two weeks in 6th grade, we would cyber for the hour between the time when I got home and my mom did, until he decided he wanted to get back together with his fairy exgirlfriend. Even though the interaction was explicitly sexual, it was still pretty safe and chaste in the scheme of things. I know sex is scary scary scary to parents, but really, freaking out over chaste online dating? Meh.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:52 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


DingoMutt: "While obviously the thought or threat of actual sexual predators on such sites is a different matter altogether, this statement really depressed me. Crude (I'm assuming the author means more "rudimentary" than "vulgar") dating life is more disturbing to parents than cyberbullying, classism, and aggressive advertising?

That's kind of trucked up.
"

I interpreted that to be more like "parents expect some degree of cyberbullying, classism, and aggressive advertising, so they have are prepared for them, but the crude dating life takes them by surprise."
posted by Bugbread at 6:02 PM on February 20, 2013


))<>((
posted by homunculus at 6:30 PM on February 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I once wandered onto Club Penguin. Saw a bunch of penguins standing around with text bubbles appearing over them: "'999' for a strong man", "'444' for a hot girl". Club Penguin wasn't the club for me.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 6:51 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back when I was programming at a startup in Kelowna, we were a building over from the Club Penguin folks. Consensus of my coworkers who'd lived in the city for a long time and worked with a lot of them was that they were good people - Disney bought them about 2 months after I moved there, which was exciting.

I remember drawing a mental parallel between them and Mefi, actually, because both rely (or at least relied, I dunno how CP does it these days) on actual mods who are around, rather than a technical solution, although of course CP does a hybrid model. At the time I was working on recommendation engine-based stuff, and seeing the benefits of non-programmatic solutions really hit me hard.

Kids'll get around blocking systems in order to talk, it's what they do. On the other hand, funnelling them into these methods delays it a bit and can require some buy-in from both parties, which cuts down on harassment, gives mods a way of noticing a situation worth monitoring and gives them time to monitor it.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:52 PM on February 20, 2013


))<>((
:( Come on, homunculus, I don't need another excuse to start crying today.

(( <3 ))
posted by byanyothername at 7:27 PM on February 20, 2013


I dunno how CP does it these days

Man, that's an unfortunate acronym for a kids website.
posted by empath at 8:05 PM on February 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well, that Animal Jam sex tape was exactly what I expected. Organism and all.
I was not expecting the bleeding, however. And I should have as a veteran of Fan Fic Friday.
posted by Mezentian at 10:17 PM on February 20, 2013


Having chat turned on at all in WoW, Roblox, TF2, and Minecraft is an instant week-long ban-hammer for my kids. They can talk to their friends through Skype. Trying to manage the chat any other way is just a major headache.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:24 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh. They're really not allowed to say "Valentine"?

I kind of find this heartening because it appears to me as though NewSpeak would never actually work.
posted by XMLicious at 11:38 PM on February 20, 2013


When you spoke out loud by typing, anyone who wasn’t your real-world friend would see you speaking animal noise gibberish. So, if you wanted to be able to type-chat with someone you met in the game, there was a ritual for passing one of those friend codes in the game referred to the speedchat dance. You’d start by typing and showing gibberish to your would-be friend until they’d say (in speedchat) “I can’t understand you” and you’d say “let’s work on that”, “follow me”. Then you’d repeat over and over a pattern of speedchat phrases whose first letters matched a friend-code you’d generated. Not everyone who had never heard of this practice would figure out what you were doing, but some would.

This is something brilliant and reminds me of that cooperative game posted to mefi a while back where you had no obvious way to communicate with your 'partner' but you had clues letting them know what they needed to do and both of you had to stick it out. It was called 'Way'. At the end you could draw to celebrate your accomplishment and most times my partners and I swapped twitter handles so we could chat later and generally be happy about 'meeting' each other.

Generally less about dating, though.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 3:00 AM on February 21, 2013


Gee, when I was a kid, we just had this game called "doctor".

Shameful how bad things are today, really.
posted by orme at 5:46 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, a girl in my neighborhood and I attempted things we found in her older brother's Penthouses. Sitting in an e-igloo playing with e-pets seems far, far more innocent by comparison.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:57 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't have the internet (or at least access to it) until I was 16, so our equivalent was writing to boys via the teletext Penpal pages in the teen section. Every single ad listed their interests as 'GOING OUT and HAVING A LAUGH'. I preferred to STAY IN and THINK A LOT so there weren't many people I wanted to write to - but it was essentially an unofficial dating service as every ad wanted opposite sex responses and pictures.

I ended up writing to a boy nearby who claimed to like Blur and Oasis, because being the only kid where I lived who didn't like boybands or chart dance music was pretty lonely, also I was 15. It turned out that his version of GOING OUT and HAVING A LAUGH consisted of sitting in his room grinding his teeth to the beat of happy hardcore and hanging around with his friends at their village railway station calling each other 'gay' a lot. He was not a bright kid, or at least not well-educated, and the closest to romance we got was him asking me 'would your mum kick off if I gave you a chewie?' - a sentence which made absolutely no sense whatsoever to me. (Translation: would your mother be upset if I gave you a lovebite?' The answer being possibly, and we will be unlikely to find out.). He eventually ended our correspondence by deciding I was 'morbid', or in other words, not easily impressed by calling everythign gay and rating all music purely on how many BPM it had.

Teletext was turned off a few years ago, but when I last looked at the Penpal page (nostalgia, alright?) every page made clear that letters would not be passed on from box number to recipient without a letter from the correspondent's headmaster or parent. I get the caution - there has been a paedophile hysteria of sorts in this country since the start of the Millennium - and I think were I a parent I would worry about the kind of attachments kids form online - not just because there might be Evil Predators out there, but because kids are emotionally vulnerable and those things feel incredibly real and often head fast into heartbreak. I had internet access via a boyfriend, so my experience with it as a teen is limited, but I did have a lot of online friends who had 'internet girlfriends' over ICQ from a continent away.

On the other hand, it made me sad that our worries about online safety mean kids don't get to have privacy in what they say to their friends or in experimenting with talking to the opposite (or same?) sex. The thing that would upset me most about Club Penguin, by the sounds of it, would be the text speak.
posted by mippy at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2013


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