With MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and a hundred other social networking sites helping teens and adults from across the world stay connected, you might think kids are being left out of the loop. But that's just not true. A number of social Web sites have popped up over the last several years that cater to the younger set, though the sites offer an experience far different from their grown-up counterparts. Instead of profiles and status updates, these sites provide entire virtual worlds to explore and let kids chat and interact with newfound friends from all over. In fact, the sites work more like a children's version of Second Life rather than an aged-down version of Facebook or MySpace.
Fantastic Age, or "Fantage" for short, is one of the newer social networking sites for kids, though it has already been gaining a tremendous following. Every month, more than half a million kids visit the site to play games, go on adventures and meet other "Fantagians" [source: quantcast]. While nearly 90 percent of the site's members are in the United States, anyone with a computer, a Web browser and an Internet connection can sign up and start exploring. The world seems to be a little more popular among girls than among boys, though it's designed to appeal to everyone. To keep members coming back, the developers at Fantage frequently add new environments and activities. Fantage even has a blog where the site keeps Fantagians up on the newest developments. While they may cater to kids, sites like Fantage clearly aren't child's play. In fact, a competitor of Fantage, Club Penguin, was recently purchased by Disney in a deal worth approximately $700 million dollars.
Keep reading to learn how to become a Fantagian.
Before you can start exploring the world of Fantage, you need to register. Fantage, like other Web sites of its type, avoids having its users post profile pictures by allowing them to create cartoon avatars that they control once they enter the Fantage world. Accordingly, the first step in registering at Fantage is for users to customize their avatar. After choosing between a boy and a girl character, users can choose their avatar's hairstyle, skin color, facial features and clothing. The basic options are pretty limited, but Fantagians have the chance to customize their characters more as they go along. Next, users are required to submit a valid e-mail address and agree to Fantage.com's Terms and Conditions (more on that later). Lastly, members choose a username and, just like that, they're ready to get started.
While the basic membership is free, members also have the option to upgrade to a premium membership level ($5.99 a month on up to $54.99 for yearly membership). Premium members have access to a number of items and features that basic members don't, though basic membership still provides access to all of the different environments in the Fantage world. And since revenue for Fantage comes from membership fees, Fantagians won't find any ads when they visit the Web site.
Once a member has created an avatar, he or she is ready to start exploring. The world of Fantage is divided into a number of different areas, and members can navigate through the world simply by clicking where they want to go. The different environments are brightly colored and varied, and each of them provides Fantagians a different set of activities to participate in. For instance, members might start out by clicking on the downtown area to go shopping for clothes. They could make their way to the Star Cafe to play games or chat with other members. All of the activities in Fantage are easy to navigate, and even the most complicated games require just a minute or so to learn. Fantagians can also click on icons at the bottom of the screen to view their inventory, chat with buddies, read their messages and change their settings. Like Facebook, if a friend writes you a message while you are off line, the message will be waiting for you upon your return. Fantage is clearly designed for a younger audience, and the designers made sure users wouldn't need to read through a lot of instructions before they could start using the Web site.
Now that you know how to start using Fantage, let's look at why you might want to do so.
Benefits of Using Fantage
Once members have customized their characters and jumped into the Fantage universe, they have tons of different ways to spend their time. Most of Fantage's features don't require members to interact with other Fantagians, though members will often see other Fantagians exploring the different environments and interacting with one another. Typically, each environment will have four or five different places to explore or things to do. For instance, in the Forest area, you can play four different puzzle games. By doing well in those games, players can earn special gems that they can take to the Wizard's Domain, where they can turn the gems into rare items like special clothing or hairstyles. More commonly, clothes, furniture and other items cost money, even in Fantage. Stars are the local currency, and members receive a certain number of stars just for signing up. If members want more (and they definitely will), they'll have to play games to earn them.
Fantage offers more than 20 different games for members to play, so earning stars is hardly a chore. Some of the games are knock-offs of classic children's games (Snack Tack Toe is, you guessed it, tic tac toe with pastries). Other games will have Fantagians riding go-karts, shooting basketballs and catching fish. While some of the games are fast paced, others are slower, puzzle-based games. One game even tests Fantagians' typing skills, having them type words to zap ghosts. Depending on how well they do, players receive different amounts of stars for their performance. Additionally, some of the games allow members to play against one another, and all of them keep track of high scores, giving Fantagians a number of reasons to test their skills.
Playing games is only one way to spend your time in Fantage. If members are feeling social, they can request to be buddies with one another, send their buddies messages and even compete against one another in a fashion show (though they'd better work on their wardrobe first if they want to win). If they'd rather go it alone, members can submit stories or artwork to "The Comet" (Fantage's very own magazine), go on special quests and adventures, or even take their pets to the "Creature Arena," where their animals can bounce around and chow down on snacks straight out of "Alice in Wonderland."
By adding new content every month, the developers at Fantage put a lot of effort into making sure Fantagians stay busy. No matter how much there is to do in Fantage, however, parents won't want their children spending time there unless they know it's safe. Read on to learn what measures Fantage has in place to make sure the site is truly kid-friendly.
Is Fantage safe?
Between shows like "To Catch a Predator" and the daily stories on cyberbullying, parents have every reason to be concerned about letting their children interact with other people over the Internet. While Fantage has a number of precautions in place to put parents at ease, the Web site stresses that responsibility ultimately falls on the parents to monitor their children's behavior.
Before individuals can join the Fantage community, they must agree not to share personal information about themselves. For instance, members can tell one another that they are from Los Angeles, but they aren't allowed to say exactly what street they live on. Additionally, parents can set different restrictions on the type of chat that their child is allowed to engage in. One option is for parents to eliminate the chat option altogether, which removes nearly any chance that their child would be exposed to inappropriate conversations while exploring Fantage. Another option is to enact "safe chat" mode, where users are only allowed to select from a predetermined list of phrases when chatting with one another. Even users with unrestricted chat capabilities are warned that their conversations are monitored for inappropriate material. Members caught using foul language are subject to suspension or expulsion from the game, which could make them think twice before saying something offensive.
Fantagians also have their own defense against would-be troublemakers. Members can choose to ignore other users who annoy them, and they can even report users to administrators if they feel it's necessary. Moderators constantly monitor the Fantage community as well, adding one more level of security to the Fantage world. Parents should understand, however, that the community is open to a wide range of ages. While some conversations may not violate the rules, parents might not want their 7-year-old reading the conversations of a group of 13-year-olds. And while Fantage has a lot of features designed to provide a safe environment for children, other sites have gone even further. Whyville.net, for instance, requires members to pass a test on appropriate behavior before they are given their "chat license." Even so, Fantage is a far cry from the Wild West of most social networking sites.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Federation of American Scientists. "Fantage."http://vworld.fas.org/wiki/Fantage
- Kopytoff, Verne. "Kids gain valuable skills from time online." The San Francisco Chronicle. Nov. 20, 2008. (6/10/2009) http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/11/19/BUKE147TA1.DTL
- News.Com.Au. "Facebook, MySpace 'harming kids' brains'." Feb. 24, 2009. (6/10/2009)http://www.news.com.au/technology/story/0,28348,25100716-5014239,00.html
- Quantcast.com. "Fantage Network." http://www.quantcast.com/fantage.com#summary
- "What is Fantage?" Fantage.comhttp://www.fantage.com/parents.html
- Yudt, Susan. "Fantage - Web site Review." Common Sense Media.http://www.commonsensemedia.org/website-reviews/fantage.html