Scandal in virtual world sites comes with the territory. Not even educational ones for kids can avoid them.
Hundreds of Roblox users were accused of buying fake in-game items with in-game currency, according to a recent settlement filed in San Francisco.
Committing such a serious criminal act on a student-friendly platform sounded ridiculous to me. Roblox is dominated by kids who log on to program games and become creators.
Not to sound naive, but who would think of money laundering in such a wholesome community?
Bullying, abuse, and scams are tricky to control in virtual worlds.
The Roblox news takes me back to the ultimate shutdown of my favorite virtual learning world. There are some lessons on what happens when company's aren't mindful of their platform's community.
Education means different things in virtual worlds
Here's my list of the top virtual worlds for kids to play in—see how many you know or remember playing:
I had fun playing on all these platforms. But BarbieGirls.com topped them all.
I could spend what felt like hours at a time styling my avatar, chatting with other users, and playing games to earn B-bucks, the in-app currency.
The site ran from 2007 to 2011 and hit 3 million users after 2 months. Mattel, the creator company of Barbie, claimed it was the fastest-growing virtual world in history at the time.
I use the term "educational" very loosely to describe BarbieGirls.com.
The games did have some educational elements that were a mix of logic, speed, and memorization. And the chat function brought on lessons in digital etiquette and online safety.
When it comes to offering a true educational experience in a virtual world, the offerings on Roblox are exceptional.
Kids can use the platform to show their knowledge of K-12 science content standards with
Both Roblox and BarbieGirls sound like immersive places to learn and develop social skills.
Enter the scandals.
Kids' virtual world scandals aren't exposed the same ways
When the court starts to question the legality and ethics of a platform, it becomes simpler to label crimes, like money laundering, for what they are.
In Roblox, 300+ users used in-game currency to buy fake, in-game accessories and clothing.
Common Sense Media, an organization that rates and reviews the appropriateness of tech platforms for kids, responded to the allegations.
Senior game's editor Jeff Haynes commented,
"Roblox failed to meet our recommendations for privacy and security practices and until they have the necessary guardrails in place, it will not be a safe platform for kids."
What comes next for the platform is to be decided. The worst-case scenario would be a shutdown.
When BarbieGirls went offline, the company issued a goodbye message that didn't leave behind a trace of scandal.
But media outlets and fans of the game have made speculations about the truth behind the shutdown that aren't hard so hard to believe.
Here's a compiled list of likely reasons for the shutdown that were likely covered up:
Not enough people were buying into the membership tier
Predator concerns since there was no guarantee all users fit the desired demographic of young girls
Bullying and abuse from the chat function
Classism between free-to-play users and "VIPS"
As a former users, these issues aren't hard to believe. And I'm sure they were much more difficult to manage in the 00s, without the tech knowledge we have about regulation.
I wondered what it would be like if BarbieGirls got a reboot. I unexpectedly came across an answer.
How these scandals changed the state of play
After shutting down over a decade ago, BarbieGirls is planning a comeback.
A nonprofit archival team is redeveloping the game and targeting a new group of users: the now young adults who grew up with the game.
The nonprofit hasn't addressed the speculations surrounding the 2011 shutdown. It's also unclear how regulating issues of predation and bullying will change.
Repercussions for Roblox users are to be determined. The platform caught and removed some in-game items after they were illegally sold, but this was done inconsistently.
Money laundering is a growing concern in the gaming industry, but there are few regulations to prevent crime. Here's what can be created:
Stricter controls on virtual currencies and in-game items
More limits on the amount of virtual currency that can be purchased and traded
Systems to detect and prevent fraud
For years, games have been a gateway to money laundering, which continues on popular games like Fortnite.
Do crimes like this undermine the educational value virtual worlds can bring?
But is it serious enough for platform creators to take a step back and plan to reconstruct the incentives?
Channel your edtech kid in the real world
It's nice to know that we have the choice to hit "exit" or "delete account" to escape the flaws within our virtual worlds.
If only we had the same buttons to release feeling overwhelmed at work, especially in jobs where we're indirectly impacting kids' lives.
Brainstorm some go-to actions you can take when you feel beaten up by the industry.
Maybe that means googling success stories with edtech to remind yourself of the potential goodness you're working toward. Or opening up to a colleague or two. You may realize you have the same thoughts.
For more posts comparing edtech from the past with today, subscribe to the Channel Your Edtech Kid blog here!