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Friday, June 19, 2009

Undercover Mom in, Part 1: Romance in the air

By Sharon Duke Estroff

As with every children’s virtual world I’ve visited undercover, I found to have both its crown jewels and its skeletons in the closet.

Crown jewel: Socially acceptable doll play for tweens
When I was growing up, girls played with Barbies well past their 12th birthdays. Today, in contrast, publicly admitting to owning a Barbie Dream House at the age of 12 would equate to middle school social suicide. Not so, however, for her virtual counterpart. is one of the most popular websites in the burgeoning children’s virtual world market. K-Zero virtual world consultancy places it at 15 million unique accounts and skip counting. The vast majority of those accounts belonging to tween girls. This is welcome news considering the widespread concern among child development experts that the KGOY phenomenon (Kids Getting Older Younger) may be cheating millennial kids out of their one and only go round at childhood. has allowed a generation of cool-conscious tweens to stay on the pink bandwagon for just a little longer.

Skeleton in the closet: Questionable conversation
But just because the’s is the classic high-ponytailed pink silhouette doesn’t mean that the play is the same as in yesteryear. The chat and virtual interaction factors have added a completely different dimension to this Barbie world. Because pictures speak a thousand words – and I am frankly speechless after some of the conversations I witnessed – I am going to use screenshots to out this skeleton.

Surprising Barbie Girl Scene #1: I took this screenshot in the Extreme Dreamland palace, where ambience is kitschy Arabian Nights with matching background music. I’d just plopped myself down by the crystal ball when the avatar sitting next to me announced “I am a guys” (the filter disallows “guy” in the singular). Hmm, she/he sure doesn’t look like a guy….

Surprising Barbie Girl Scene #2: Once we’d established that he was of the male species and I of the female, our conversation progressed to the next level. Here is my new guy friend asking me if I’d like to make out. Note that his proposal is presented in separate bubbles to bypass filters that block certain strands of words.

Coming next week: more crown jewels and skeletons oat For an index of the complete Undercover Mom series to date, please click here.

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