Intro to New Media Studies, Spring 2008

Finally, a last reflection on Webkinz

May 1st, 2008 by · No Comments

So, I wanted to post up the link to the youtube video that we couldn’t quite get to work last Thursday for our presentation.  But before I do so, I wanted to blog about our presentation.

Once someone buys a Webkinz stuffed animal, they are linked to the virtual Webkinz World.  Webkinz appeals to the younger generation, with the average user being age twelve.  While it is designed for a younger target audience, it gets the attention of people of all ages.  Located only at select retail stores, Webkinz stuffed animals can be purchased for anywhere from eight to fifteen dollars.  With the stuffed animal, the customer gets a “secret code” that is unique to their pet.  This code can only be used once to activate their Webkinz account online.  Through the activation, you can officially “adopt” their pet and begin the virtual process.
After purchasing a Webkinz, individuals create a username and password and log into Webkinz World.  Users are directed to the Adoption Center where, with the help of a penguin named Mrs. Birdie, they bring their new virtual pet to life.  Each Webkinz comes attached to its own unique code that corresponds to its “species” and personality.  After adopting their pet, users get a “bio” that discusses the pet’s characteristics, favorite food, best friend, and often their most wanted toy.  Once they have completed the adoption process, users are sent to their pet’s new room.  Owners are given a medium sized room and 2000 KinzCash, the virtual money used throughout Webkinz World, each time they adopt a new pet.  This 2000 KinzCash can be used to decorate the new room or to buy food for your Webkinz.
KinzCash, the currency of Webkinz World, is the main way that Webkinz motivates users to log on daily.  KinzCash is most frequently earned by playing games in the arcade: the longer you make it through the games, the more money you earn.  The game of the day is an arcade game that gets a bonus 10, 15, 20 or 25 percent KinzCash for playing.  The Wheel of Wow and Wishing Well 2 are two arcade games that people can play once a day to gain KinzCash just by luck.  The daily activities are the most addicting way to make money.  Hourly events are listed on the events page, telling the user when they can log in to get “free” KinzCash.  In addition, every eight hours Webkinz users can go to the employment office to do a job.  Selling items in the W or Curio Shops that you have purchased is yet another way that Webkinz owners can collect more KinzCash.  Mining in the Curio Shop allows users to gain a gem collection, but if they already own the gem they have most recently found they have the option of selling it back to Arte, the shop owner, for KinzCash.  Lastly, a Webkinz pet can have a garden that they have to tend to everyday.  About once a week the garden will produce crops that can either be eaten by the pet or sold back to the W Shop for KinzCash.  All of these activities are ways to gain additional KinzCash while in Webkinz World.
Most of the purchases made in Webkinz World are done through the W Shop.  Users can buy clothing, food, toys, and games for their Webkinz.  In addition, they are able to decorate their room through purchases made in the W Shop:  appliances, electronics, decorations (such as paintings or clocks), lighting, paint, carpet, couches, chairs, and tables may be acquired here.  The W Shop offers multiple themes of room decoration.  These themes range from a country antique look to a baseball or football field image.  Each theme has unique pieces to help fill out any room.  Rare items can be purchased from the Curio Shop at higher prices.  The items available in this location change every hour.  Before making a purchase in the W Shop it is best to check the Curio Shop because some items are available at a lower price here.
Items may be purchased at the W Shop to send to friends within Webkinz World via the KinzPost.  Users may send a friend one gift per day, ranging from one to three items. Sending gifts does cost KinzCash; the more you send, the more you have to pay.  Each gift is sent with a prescribed message attached.  These messages range from “Thanks for being such a great friend!” to “For you on your special day!”  Furthermore, users can send notes (without attached gifts) to their friends for a much smaller fee.  These messages are also prescribed but can be personalized by purchasing unique stationary or stickers to attach to your note.
In addition to sending notes and gifts, users can communicate with other Webkinz World inhabitants by visiting the Clubhouse.  There are many different rooms with varying themes within this Clubhouse.  Each room has a unique purpose and a different visitor capacity. Users can meet, “talk” using prescribed messages, and play games with the other visiting individuals while they spend time here.
While Webkinz bridge the gap between really life cuddly stuffed animals and the virtual world, this is not what has given these stuffed animals the most attention.  Article headlines talk about how “Kids [are] hooked on Webkinz World”, “Toy Causes Classroom Distraction” and ask “Is the Webkinz Craze Bad for Kids?”  One article describes Webkinz as being “Beanie Babies on Steroids.”  Webkinz has several things that cause this sensation that the articles talk about.  For example, the Webkinz World has several activities that influence its users to constantly log in during the day to check and see what else they can get for “free.”  While KinzCash does not correlate directly to the dollar, there is a factor that makes its users want to keep building up the money on the account:  they can improve their niche in Webkinz World.  When users log on everyday there are certain things that they can do to make money.  The arcade is the main place where games like “The Wheel of Wow” allow people to once a day spin a wheel and get free KinzCash or goods for their room.  Every hour, there are bonus activities going on that allow users to get additional money.  These daily responsibilities and activities make kids want to log on throughout the day to avoiding missing anything.  This addictive quality is what makes Webkinz so appealing to its users, but also can be frustrating to other people.
While there are many people that find the addictive qualities of Webkinz a problem for children, there are also aspects of Webkinz that are good influences on preteens.  One article entitled, “Webkinz: Big Money Lessons for Little Kids” describes how the KinzCash in Webkinz World is a good influence on children.  The KinzCash teaches children the responsibilities of ownership.  Webkinz furthers these qualities by having an employment office where children can do jobs every eight hours to gain more KinzCash.  The employment office teaches principles based on math and English in a fast paced environment.  The Webkinz World even has a garden that needs tending everyday and produces fruit that the Webkinz can actually eat.  This not only teaches children a sense of responsibility, but also teaches them to tend and nurture something other than themselves and their pet.  These aspects help in the development of children and certainly are a vital part of the Webkinz World.
The activities performed by the inhabitants of Webkinz World relate to many of the essays discussed within our New Media Studies class.  First of all, the article written by Sherry Turkle entitled “Video Games and Computer Holding Power” relates to this virtual world.  She argues that the “most important element behind the games’ seduction [is that] video games are interactive computer microworlds” (Turkle 501).  Webkinz is, in fact, a microworld that is navigated in many ways.  The user’s Webkinz walks through their rooms.  All of the other locations can be reached through a “Things to Do” menu that is always at the lower right corner of the screen.  As Turkle argues, the individual must follow the rules governing Webkinz World, but the user is the ultimate judge of what he or she does within the World.
Secondly, Webkinz helps create the intrinsic motivation that Nelson discusses in his article “No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks.”  He writes that “education ought to be clear, inviting and enjoyable, without booby-traps, humiliations, condescension or boredom.  It ought to teach and reward initiative curiosity, the habit of self-motivation, intellectual involvement.  Students should develop, through practice, abilities to think, argue and disagree intelligently” (Nelson 310).  Webkinz achieves all of these goals.  Not only is it inviting and positive, but it insights curiosity (users are always discovering new nooks of Webkinz World) and allows for intrinsic motivation:  if users would like to purchase something in Webkinz World, they need to simply play these educational games to earn KinzCash.
Lastly, the images of Webkinz World relate very clearly to McLuhan’s argument that the “medium is the message” (203).  The ads throughout Webkinz World often relate to recommended ways of living: “Brush Your Teeth,” “Drink Milk,” “Stay Active,” and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” for example.  Instead of parents telling children what to do, the colorful characters that they interact with on a daily basis are promoting these ideas.  It is much less daunting and, probably, more effective.  A child is more likely to follow the directions of a cartoon character of which they are fond than those of a parent screaming at them.  Thus, McLuhan is entirely correct: the medium through which we receive directions has a profound impact on how we take those instructions. In short, Webkinz creates a positive environment for children to explore and learn.  They are taught many valuable lessons such as responsibility, patience, and skills for school.  The inhabitants of Webkinz World are enriched by their time spent there.

To further understand the world of the Webkinz, watch our video: here.

Original post by mere

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