When I picked my fourth-grade son up after school last week, he had news for his little sisters. They hurried along to keep up with their long-legged brother – his words came as fast as his stride. Webkinz World was under attack, he said. A virus was spreading through the website that could kill their Webkinz. Forever. Yes, he was sure. No, they wouldn’t be able to reactivate the pets. Everyone was talking about it. Kids who really knew what they were talking about when it comes to Webkinz, he said.
Naturally, my daughters (ages 4 and 6) were visibly traumatized to think that something could happen to their special “pets.” In just a few months, they have gotten attached to their Webkinz. Having that link with the virtual pets on Webkinz World – feeding them, taking them to the vet, setting up rooms for them – has increased their attachment to the Webkinz stuffed animals they carry around with them. Taking care of the pets in the virtual world makes them seem just a little more real than the other stuffies that fill their room. (www.webkinz.com)
So hearing that something was out to destroy their pets was upsetting, to say the least.
They cornered my husband as soon as he walked in the door that night. They knew he’d get to the bottom of it quickly, and it didn’t take much digging on his part. Right there on the Webkinz World homepage, there is a corner called “Webkinz Bulletinz.” Apparently, the tall tale didn’t start in our small town’s elementary schools after all.
The website assures users that Webkinz World is “a safe, happy and fun place to play” and that the stories are just rumors.
“Many people have been writing in, asking about a rumor that is going around,” the message states. “The rumor is about something in Webkinz World hurting Webkinz pets. The most important thing to know is that this rumor is not true at all. Nothing in Webkinz World would ever hurt your Webkinz pets.”
My husband was the hero of the day when he gave them the straight story.
But it’s hard for young children to truly understand the difference between the virtual world and the real one. They know their Webkinz will get sick if they don’t feed them every few days and put them to bed before they log off the site. That’s part of the system. The kids play games to earn money to take care of their pets. If they don’t take care of them, they don’t stay healthy and happy. If they get sick, according to the logic of my daughters, then why can’t they die? The fact that it’s all make-believe doesn’t factor into their thought process. They needed it explained. A couple of times.
The part that was hard for them to understand? Why anyone would want to scare them like that.
And that’s one question I had no good answer for.