Neopets.com doesn’t claim to be a children’s learning website, but it actually has a range of educational benefits that are even stronger because it is, in essence, a game. As a huge text-based world, the basic premise is raising and customising a family of virtual pets and earning in-game currency to buy different items. There is a huge range of different goals and challenges that can be determined by the user for themselves, and these are where the true learning opportunities for children arise. Since there is so much reading required, it’s better suited for kids 11-14 or so, and this age group will also be able to fully appreciate the larger concepts involved.
One of the main features of the site is providing a huge range of high quality flash games. These can be played for in-game currency as well as other rewards, and while there are plenty of action-adventure games available, there is a large stock of puzzle and mind-based games. These test a range of different mental functions ranging from memory to logic, and come wrapped up in the brightly coloured art and characters of the world, making them more inviting for children to play.
One of the side effects of having an in-game currency is the creation of an in-game economy. Determined by the users, it has many of the features of a real economy, and is influenced by factors such as supply and demand and inflation. By looking at it in the context of the items they want to buy and the money they can earn from different activities, it prepares young players with a basic understanding of being part of a wider financial world, and the fact that everything is connected and prices aren’t just randomly generated. It also teaches the value of saving and investment, as well as how money can grow money.
The site also encourages a range of creative pursuits, rewarding art, writing, poetry and more. Children are surrounded by more experienced peers who they can look up to and learn from, and who often make tutorials and guides to help with creative skills.
Although on the surface Neopets.com seems just like any other online game site, it actually has a lot of depth that is the result of a huge and diverse user base. Although its usage should be monitored for children, it has potential as a learning tool that is genuinely fun.