When her 10-year-old daughter announced that she had gone on a date to the park with a boy and he’d asked her to the prom, Rebecca Levey was astounded.
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.
Online dating for middle schoolers is pretty primitive. " Kids pair off by asking "say 123 if u want me" and break up just as abruptly — like, five minutes later — by dropping a quick "brb" and then disappearing to another server.
"First, you find a good looking one," one user explained in a You Tube video entitled "How to get a girlfriend on Fantage." "Then you ask her to be ur girlfriend. Boyfriends and girlfriends can do little besides chat, go to the virtual pizza parlor, play games against each other, and send heart emoticons back and forth.
Fantage is one of many free and paid virtual worlds that have attracted 66.4 million active users from age seven to 13, according to virtual world research firm KZero.
There’s Webkinz, a world based around the virtual alter egos of the plush toys found in stores.There’s Poptropica, a fantasy archipelago where kids ages six to 15 roleplay and complete quests.There’s the Finnish Habbo Hotel, the National Geographic-owned Animal Jam, the Disney-owned Club Penguin, and more.Collin Wisniewski, a 15-year-old who lives in New York, was a very active Club Penguin user when he was 10.He and his friends liked it for the games, but he remembers there was quite a bit of flirting going on."People would say 'oh, are you a boy or a girl,’ and ‘oh, do you want to come to my igloo,'" he recalled.