Throughout the entire development process of creating the little Space Heroes online virtual world for kids we have involved parents and teachers. We have asked them for and received invaluable feedback through one-on-one discussions, focus groups and via surveys. We wanted to understand their interest in virtual worlds as a means to teach children different skills and to see what they thought of the subtle educational aspects of our game. We have been very careful with our positioning – inherently the Little Space Heroes’ virtual world is an entertainment product and there has not been a significant focus on direct education.
That’s said however, by nature of the virtual community and audience age group, the team have worked hard to design a social playground that allows kids the opportunity for role play, and to socialise and test social boundaries in a safe, fun environment. And although not hard and fast educational content, these are important “soft skills” for kids and definitely something that was a key focus in the social and community design space for the Little Space Heroes virtual world. Just like in a real playground kids learn through social interaction and observing how others behave.
In addition to the social orientated soft skills, the Little Space Heroes virtual economy where kids are able to earn coins for buying items like clothes and space suits to personalise their player character, furniture and other items for their house, and paint jobs for their Starjets provides for a fun way to learn the basics of financial literacy. This includes for example how to save money, working out how much money is required for a purchase and of course having the fun of working hard and saving up to buy a brand new Starjet Kids can even buy pets and visit the hair salon to get a cool new hairdo.
On another level both the community games and multi-player mini games provide kids with the opportunity for team based play, and organised strategic play as they work together to solve puzzles and piece together clues to the whereabouts of Shadowbot and the missing Glows. Certain tasks are designed to be very difficult or downright impossible to complete on ones own so having to work as a team is hardwired into the experience.
Although the Little Space Heroes virtual world is not an educational product but rather an entertainment experience, by nature of its design the community aspects, the virtual world does provide some discrete educational opportunities for kids to test and develop soft skills, as well as other skills related to basic financial literacy and teamwork.
As we continue to develop the online virtual world for kids there will no doubt be more opportunities for discrete educational content, which we’ll fold into the world, for example books in the Academy library, crossword puzzles and other challenges in the monthly newspaper etc. We’ll also be giving kids the opportunity to be creative with fun papercraft downloads and other activities from the Little Space Heroes website, and competitions like the up and coming “Design a Planet” activity. Stay tuned for this one – it’ll be out of this world!