Growing up virtual

From my column in today’s Guardian:

Compared to Club Penguin, Second Life, the much-hyped virtual world aimed at adults, is something of a ghost town. It’s managed to attract only about 95,000 paid subscribers so far, a fraction of Club Penguin’s 700,000. In fact, all of the most popular virtual worlds are geared to kids and teenagers. The venerable Habbo Hotel, originally launched in Finland in 2000, attracts 7 million visitors a month, Sweden’s Stardoll attracts 5 million, Webkinz and Neopets attract 4 million each, and Gaia Online reports nearly 3 million monthly visitors … Clearly, there are big commercial rewards to be had by enticing children to spend a lot of time exploring virtual worlds. What’s less clear, though, is the long-term effect on the kids themselves.