Interactive Gaming, Safety, And Privacy

There are sites that are fun and safe for kids to

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

December 17, 2003

6 Min Read

Interactive Gaming Options
There also are safe and fun interactive options to live-voice gaming. Recognizing how much kids and teens enjoy interactive gaming, but aware of the privacy and safety issues, Disney designed its new ToonTown interactive game. The TeenAngels and I were consulted in its design and our suggestions and its safety features were built-in from the beginning, not just overlaid. With safety ensured, the ToonTown designers could focus entirely on fun. ToonTown uses the robot Cogs as the bad guys and fights them using flowers that squirt water and cream pies. The points earned during the game can be used to buy more similarly-styled weapons of Cog-destruction and to decorate your own house.

At first blush, it appears that ToonTown is only for younger kids. But 14-year-old Andrew will argue with you on that point. An avid Xbox Live gamer, he enjoys ToonTown just as much. He sees strategy as the most challenging part of the game--knowing when to use which weapons and how to get others to assist in Cog-attacks is key to playing ToonTown. Zach, a 10-year-old ToonTown subscriber, loves that he feels safe and doesn't have to deal with foul language and bullying while playing the game. Andrew's younger sister likes that she doesn't have to type and play games at the same time. Instead, she can click on pre-formulated phrases from a drop-down menu and communicate with the others playing the game. And a special feature that let's parents add one real-life friend to real-time interactivity avoids Andrew's having to get his friend on speaker phone. Now parents can let their children communicate directly with their friend down the street, or their cousin across the country, when they are playing ToonTown. That let's them play as a team and use strategic combinations to best the Cogs. Now kids and teens can meet up in the ToonTown town square and join forces in keeping ToonTown safe from evil Cogs.

Another game site has passed the strict scrutiny of WiredSafety and WiredKids reviewers as well. NeoPets has somehow managed to slip under most adults' radar, unless they have children. Be assured that it hasn't skipped your kids' attention. Kids, preteens, teens, and college students love it. They drop by the site, adopting their favorite NeoPets. The NeoPets come from various worlds that exist within NeoPet's imagination and on their site. Without banner ads or direct in-your-face-marketing, NeoPets gathers together the leading brands we trust and uses them to sponsor these worlds. Better yet, the Web site is free!

By playing games the NeoPet "parents" can earn points which can be redeemed for NeoPet food, medicine when their NeoPets are sick, and to spend at auctions for fun rewards. They and their NeoPets interact with others using message boards and messaging. With more than 60 million registered users and more stickiness than the leading E-commerce and auction sites, NeoPets doesn't have to be safe, too. But safety is important to them, almost as important as creating a fun and challenging world online.

When the designers of NeoPets found that often the kids would post personal information, they developed a special filtering application that scrubs out the personal information and catches most online abuses. They're also adamant about stopping inappropriate activities on their site and promptly report any abuses to the authorities.

Kid-Friendly Web Gaming Sites
In addition to our Safe Gaming Award recipients--Xbox, NeoPets and ToonTown--there are several safe gaming sites that and its parent group endorse. Every year Wired Kids names a select group of sites as its "Best of the Web." The review process is extensive and unique. The sites are selected by the kids and must pass parental and cyberlawyer scrutiny. While approximately 375 sites are nominated by the kids and teens each year, the parents cut that down to about 45 sites, and only a quarter of those sites make it through the rigorous cyberlawyer privacy and safety review. And out of the 12 select Wired Kids Best of the Web award winners this year, seven have fun and safe online games.

AOLKidsOnly -- For AOL members, a kids'-size AOL with fun, games, and educational content. It's one of the biggest reasons for joining AOL. Their new AOLKidsOnly is even better (if that's possible). If you have AOL 9, you have Kids Only, now known as KOL, for no additional charge. -- Tons of creative games and learning activities, a longtime favorite! Before any other site understood the power of online games and letting kids help create a place they can call their own, Bonus had grabbed the hearts (and mouses) of our preteens. When compared to the giant entertainment companies and sites on the Best of the Web list, it still remains "the little site that would" (and does it better than most). -- Games and activities for all ages; You can even visit ToonTown, its new safe-gaming site, and Surf Swell Island, its online safety guide for parents, teachers, and kids. (This award is for several of the Disney family sites, including the ABC Kids, Toon Disney, and the Disney Channel sites. To find them all, ask your kids--or visit and click on search.) -- A wonderful site where kids and their parents can raise a virtual pet, and find safe fun and gaming for hours. You can trust your children to the people at NeoPets. They put their money where their mouth is when it comes to protecting kids at the site. And it's so entertaining that we dare anyone to try it and not return over and over to build their own NeoPet virtual world. -- A fourth-time winner. Where else can you find kid favorites like Jimmy Neutron, SpongeBob SquarePants, and safe gaming? is a great site for the younger children, too--lots of preschool activities and games with Blues Clues. They have a great section for parents, too. (This award is for both and -- From the people you trust when it comes to kid-size media that parents enjoy, too! Everyone finds something funny, entertaining, and valuable at this site. The fun comes in all sizes. (The award includes both and -- Kids love its kids-size games and multimedia resources. They consider it a favorite site, not a kid-safe search engine (where looking for "sex" brings up the sex lives of Galapagos endangered turtles).

For more information about online safety and privacy, and a report line for cybercrime and abuse, visit For children's Internet safety information and help, visit, the children's online safety division of WiredSafety is the world's largest online safety and help group, operating entirely though thousands of unpaid volunteers worldwide. Its law-enforcement division, which uses law-enforcement volunteers to help train law-enforcement agencies to combat cybercrime and abuse, can be found at Continue to the sidebar Online Auctions: Going...Going...Uh-Oh!

Return to main story Here's To Happy, Safe Holidays

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