I Think I Have A Problem

We’ve all heard about 12-step programs.  We’ve all seen, either directly or on TV, individuals dealing with some form of addiction.  As such, we’ve all heard the first step to dealing with a struggle is to admit you have a problem.  Well, I come to you here today to say, “Hi.  My name is Gil and I’m a Webkinz-aholic.”

It all started when a friend gave each of my kids one of those adorable, plush toys called Webkinz.  It’s not only a stuffed animal, it’s also the key to an online world that has not only captivated my 7 year-old daughter and her 6 year-old brother, but also me.  This is taken from an article about Webkinz on MSNBC.com:

Each stuffed animal comes with an identification number that gives children access to the Webkinz site. There, owners discover their pets’ online personas (“I’ll let you in on a secret,” reads the profile of a cocker spaniel. “I love fish sticks, and I’ve always wanted a bunny clown.”) Children can buy clothes for their pets using virtual money, outfitting them in baggy jeans or pink tutus. They can also decorate their pets’ virtual rooms with such items as a stove, a boy-band poster or a bed shaped like a pirate ship.

Not only does Webkinz World satisfy a young child’s innate desire to have a pet (Netizens of the Webkinz World must feed their virtual pet, pay it attention and take it to the vet if they become sick), it also introduces them to the concept of social networking with chat capabilities and online interaction.  Don’t freak out, however, if you’re a parent.  The creators of Webkinz World have thought ahead and allow for parents to not only restrict their child’s access to chat rooms, but also limit the total amount of time their kid can stay logged in.

Apparently, my ex-wife has not taken the time to visit the parent’s area of this virtual playground because I have spent ….. or should I say, wasted …… countless hours over the last several days taking care of my kids’ pets and playing tons of video games in order to earn them each more Kinzcash, the virtual currency they can use in the Webkinz World to buy goodies for their pet.  It started out innocently enough; me checking in on their pets while they’re on vacation.  Then I thought I’d play a game or two, some quite challenging and all very entertaining, to help them earn a couple more ‘bucks’.  It was fun. It was cute.  But then, it got serious.  I found that I just could not stop playing!

Any self-respecting, thirty-something, product of the Eighties guy will admit to spending countless hours and buckets of quarters as a kid in the arcade.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many dollars I wasted on Dragon’s Lair alone! These are the same guys who now spend countless hours playing their PlayStations and Xboxes both online and in the privacy of their own homes.  I can’t explain what draws me to play and play and play, many times hours on end, other than to say it’s a nice escape from actual reality.

As for the Webkinz World, it’s not so much an escape for kids as it is an opportunity for them to be in complete and total control of this virtual world they created.  They are expanding their minds and developing new skills like hand-eye coordination, strategizing and quick thinking.  They have to make decisions for themselves, take on new responsibilities, and use their creativity and dexterity to get what they want.  In many ways, they are sampling some of the aspects of being a grown up.  As a parent, that’s perfectly fine with me, unless, of course, I eventually end up having to check either one of my kids into the Betty Boop clinic.

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