Friday, August 29, 2008

A Break from the Virtual

Myself and the family unit took a few days and visited the real-world hotel and waterpark, Great Wolf Lodge, just south of Olympia, WA.

The hotel was of the standard of come to expect from themed destination lodgings, pretty high. The staff was extremely well trained. Eye contact with any member of the staff resulted in a friendly greeting, but it never came off as canned. If I hadn't been for three days and two nights, I may not have noticed. Towards the end of the second day, I had decided it wasn't coincidence. Needed toilet paper, got it in minutes (my son dropped our last roll in the 'drink'.) Good test, and they passed, all with a smile.

The waterpark was pretty good too. All indoors, which is nice for the dodgy northwest weather. That does limit the size, but not too much. You can go on all the slides and attractions in a couple of hours, but the slides are fun over and over, so we kept busy. Two small slides, two medium sized (utilizing inflatable tubes), and one big one. The big one was pretty sweet, I must admit. A wave pool, and 'play' pool, and plenty of water features for kids and adults alike.

One of the hotel features I did not expect, but ended up really enjoying was called MagiQuest. It's essentially an electronic scavenger hunt played throught floors 1-5 of the hotel. The players have wands that electronically keep track of the player's progress. Tons of fun for hours and hours. I saw hundreds of kids playing, all at $25+ a pop. Great idea!

The biggest knock against the park was the food. It wasn't bad, but for an "all in one" experience like Great Wolf Lodge is, there wasn't much variety.
  • A buffet open for Breakfast and Dinner. About $14 a plate for breakfast and $18 for dinner. To pricey for me. I didn't try it.
  • A bar and grill. Very small, but decent. About 20 entrees to choose from. Good number of choices on the kids menue.
  • Starbucks
  • Pizza Hut. In addition to my least favorite Pizza in the world, they also sold breakfast sandwiches. I didn't try them.
  • A donut/coffee/bakery/candy counter. Yum, but not filling.
  • In the water park, there was a burger/hotdog/sandwich stand. Nice, but very out of the way unless actually using the park.
Pepsi is everywhere in GWL, so I'm wouldn't be surprised to see a KFC, Taco Bell, or other Pepsi franchise opened in the future. Anything would help. It's very, very kid friendly, so I'm not too surprised that no 'fine dining' option was available. I would have welcomed it, though.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Teen Challenge

Most Virtual Worlds are for kids (6-8) and tweens (9-12). ourWorld is, for the most part, for teens (13+).

From a community standpoint, that provides a lot of challenges. Teens are notoriously difficult to please. The content teens want is basically juvenile adult content. They want to swear. They want to talk about sex. Some want to talk about booze and drugs and everything else any sane site admin would want to avoid entirely.

So, what do we do? We monitor. We have clear expectations. We remove the worst offenders. The most important thing I do is treat everyone with respect. I say "There are kids here, we don't know how old anyone is, and we can't have this sort of thing." Either they get it, and the problem is solved, or I shut them down, and the problem is solved. Some of the people I chat with most frequently are people I've sent Code of Conduct warnings to. Good kids (with dirty mouths, like that's something new!)

I'd say 90% of the kids on ourWorld are saying and reading things their parents wouldn't completely approve of. I'd say less than 5% are saying things that are really out of line. I review chat logs, but that doesn't give a good sense of the conversation, as it happens. I wander around the site using in an assortment of guises, making conversation or just reading. Most of the time, these teens are talking like teens, which is tough for a grown up like me (and their parents) to handle, but there is nothing wrong with it.

In the words of a generation older than even mine, The Kids are All Right.