The Polite Way To Pee

During one of her daily classes, a teacher trying to teach good manners, asked her students
the following question:
‘Michael, if you were on a date having dinner with a nice young lady, how would you
tell her that you have to go to the bathroom?’
Michael said: ‘Just a minute I have to go pee.’
The teacher responded by saying:
‘That would be rude and impolite.
What about you Sherman, how would you say it?’
Sherman said:
‘I am sorry, but I really need to go to the bathroom.
I’ll be right back.’
‘That’s better, but it’s still not very nice to say the
word bathroom at the dinner table.

And you, little Johnny, can you use your brain for once & show us your good manners?’
Johnny said:
‘I would say: Darling, may I please be excused for a moment?
I have to shake hands with a very dear friend of mine, whom I hope to introduce you to after dinner.’

The teacher fainted.

Review: Fantage

fantage front page

Fantage” is a contraction of the words “Fantastic Age”, with dual meanings: that the target audience is 7 – 14 year olds, which is presumably a pretty neat age to be, and that the virtual environment itself is fantastic.

I was not overly impressed by Fantage, having previously encountered “Super Secret“, though a good friend of mine, who is within the age range for which the environment is intended, found Fantage to be fun and interesting. Fantage has been around since 2007, and their 40+ servers are often packed to capacity; it would seem that despite my personal misgivings, it is a very popular place to go.


The registration process is quick and simple, getting you into the virtual environment with a minimum of fuss. You get to choose the gender of your avatar, and do a little customisation of hair and outfit. Choosing a user name with a number in it is typical – when I was online, every avatar except mine had a number in the user name.

Premium Membership

The Premium Membership price compares favourably with that of Club Penguin. A membership confers some advantages: you have much greater choice in what you can buy, you get access to luxury rooms to entertain guests in, and you are given 1000 stars when you first join. At USD$5.99 per month (less for more months paid for at a time), memberships cost little more than a pocket money allowance for that age.

Overall Look and Feel

“Eye candy” is the term that comes to mind in describing the overall look of Fantage. Eye-wateringly bright colours and pretty pastels coat the surface of all buildings, and exterior and interior landscapes. Everything that can be shiny has been made shiny. Everything is smoothed and simplified in shape, like a baby’s stuffed cube. It’s all a bit reminiscent of a child’s TV program, more than of a child’s painting or drawing. It all seems much more geared towards the tastes of girls rather than boys, though there were no shortage of male avatars present online each time I was there: everything is super cutesy.

Avatars are tiny; in anime or manga terms, super-deformed, with overly large heads, huge eyes, and tiny bodies. It makes for a very cute, though entirely unrealistic, appearance.

When the servers are heavily loaded, there is an amazingly large amount of lag. You can wait minutes to be able to move from one place to another, or have huge pauses in the middle of mini-games that make them unplayable.

Navigation and Movement

Navigation of the world of Fantage is accomplished via the world map. There are several places to access, including Uptown, Downtown, and the Carnival. You mouse over a location to bring up the title of the area and a listing of which games and places can be found there, and left click to travel there.

For the most part, movement in Fantage is by left mouse click; you just click on the location you want to travel to. Every avatar owns a skateboard, and floats from one location to another within each local map. Therefore, there’s also no walking animation: avatars never get off their skateboards. There are however animations for gestures, like waving, or jumping, for example.

Purchase of Goods

fantage starries

“Stars” are the currency of Fantage. Stars can be earned by playing mini-games; you also get an initial payout of stars when you begin a premium membership. Considering how difficult it can be to make hair and outfits for avatars of this size and shape, there’s a surprising range of goods available.

Hair, clothing, shoes, accessories, and skateboards, are available for purchase, as you might expect, however there are also extravagant costumes, phone accessories, and furniture on offer as well.

For the most part, you need to be a premium member to be able to purchase items. While each shop is packed full of things to look at, the only thing you can do once you have entered the store is to look at the store catalogue and interact with that.

Meeting People and having Friends

As with other “tween” oriented virtual environments, there’s not a whole lot of communication action to be seen. Possibly on the days when there are lots of people online, they are just IMing each other, instead of chatting out loud. I didn’t manage to have any contact with anyone else while I was online.

You get a buddy list which will hold up to 200 names.


The mini-games have two purposes: to entertain, and to allow the player to earn stars to spend on items.

The mini-games are essentially casual, with low entry requirements. The rules are simple, and are usually encapsulated in a sentence or two of explanation. Most of the mini-games are single player, though there are at least a couple of multi-player games. The mini-games in Fantage cross a fair spectrum of game types, some requiring good hand-eye coordination, others needing good estimation skills, yet others requiring good pattern-matching skills.

Despite these benefits, I found the games to be unsatisfactory. The games failed to engage me, being either far too simple, or too difficult. The difficulty often did not ramp up well either, in games where the difficulty was variable. I found there to be an insufficient number of games; if you were drawn only to one type of game, likely there’d only be one or two available for you to choose from.


fantage missions

Missions lump together several mini-games not otherwise available into a theme-consistent whole with a storyline.

I didn’t find the mission itself to be all that attractive, but, despite some grammatical and punctuation errors, the interplay between yourself and some of the characters is decidedly amusing and entertaining.

Missions are probably the best part about Fantage.

The Sum-Up

Overall, Fantage is a pretty good environment, but not outstanding. It would be a nice, safe place for a child to start learning about virtual environments, however I think that most children would grow out of it quickly.

The Super Secret world. Shhh!

It was the year 2050 and the City was under attack. We held out as long as we could, those of us who had chosen to stay behind. We kept our vigil in the dark, all the lights out, excepting only the dim illumination from our monitors, both for reasons of conservation and safety. At random periods, the missiles came in on trajectories we were barely able to track; those of us with the best reflexes and eyesight were on duty bringing those missiles down, before they were able to explode against our shields, or, worse, take down yet another part of the City.

In the end, the City fell, though I continued on.”

“Armed with the best in winter garb and a snowboard, I hurried swiftly to my destination. Even all the snow flying through the air and the powder obscuring the snowboard at my feet could not make me falter; I darted to and fro, left right left again, leaping over obstacles – fallen trees, wandering livestock – all the while pulling wicked stunts with the board. Flips backward, rolls to the front, high, higher into the air I leapt, twisting, turning, hot dog, man!

Time is running out …!”

“I levelled the dart at my target. ‘Breathe,’ I thought to myself, ‘Breathe slow.’ The goal is within reach, I’ve traced the parabola that the dart will follow in my mind a thousand times already – I know this, I can do this. Through the steel walls, bounce off the back, down the chute and through to a glorious finish. ‘Watch the bombs,’ I told myself, ‘Watch the bombs!’

But the bombs weren’t even the biggest problem here.”

“So upon my return from my missions, I checked the date, checked my spending account. Spendings – up 200%, a satisfactory result. But the date, oh, that mendacious date! I couldn’t believe I still had five days to wait before my eleventh birthday, the day I would also get to choose a pet of my very own to care for! Oh, the sheer unfairness of it all!

‘Patience,’ I counselled myself, ‘Have patience.’

Because getting older is cool when you’re ten; losing your cool? Not so good at any age.”

Welcome to Super Secret!

Welcome to Super Secret! A world for tweens (that age when getting older still actually seems like a good idea) where the overarching goal is to grow up and have cool new responsibilities, and get neat stuff to play with.

Entry to the world is easy — almost too easy. Though it is stated in the Terms of Use that users must either be over 18 or have parental permission, little information is required to get in. Fortunately, the creators of Super Secret have made it an especially safe place for kids to be. Interactions are limited by several mechanisms: “super chat”, essentially regular instant messaging, can only be engaged in with parental consent, and is monitored by humans and by computer; “simple chat”, in which the user selects a phrase from a list, is available to all; gift giving, in which an item is removed from the user’s inventory and given to another user; and gag-gift giving, in which a practical joke of a specific nature is played on another user.

Additionally, Super Secret is free to join. However, you must pay a subscription to be able to advance beyond the age of 13. Users can continue to access the world for free regardless of age, but will not be able to unlock secrets or purchase some items available only to older characters. It should be noted that only USA credit cards are being honoured at this point, though the ability for users from other countries to subscribe is supposed to be in the works.

The main way to earn money (“Spenders”) and to gain age points (which advance the character’s age) is to play the mini games available both through the user’s card deck, and throughout the locations that can be visited in-world. There are over 20 games available when you begin, and many more can be found or purchased. Each game tests the reflexes and the ability to learn and adapt, and a knowledge of a little physics doesn’t hurt for some of them, either. If the casual mini games in Free Realms aren’t quite casual enough for you, then Super Secret’s will likely fit the bill.

Aside from this, there is a world to explore, filled with objects of worth to find, quests to fulfill, and secrets aplenty.

As an adult, I found the world to be safe and engaging, and the mini-games to be compelling enough to inspire persistence. The only thing I found to be slightly odd, coming from adult virtual environments, was the lack of public communication between users. Were all the kids trying out the world too shy, too confused, or busy to speak up? Perhaps there were many adults testing out the world, embarrassed to be asked, ”What grade are you in?” – I do not know.

If I was 10 again, or around that age, I’d be pleased to get into Super Secret as my first or second virtual world. If I was a parent, I’d be keen for my child to access it. And as an adult, I think I will indulge in the guilty pleasure of popping in every so often just to play the mini-games.

eKidna World: Australia’s preteen virtual world challenger

eK-logo-color-textonly eKidna World is one of the newest virtual world offerings on the block for preteens, and it’s an Australia-based one to boot.

Founded by Brisbane-based mother of two, Karen Orford, eKidna World is a web-based world with a fairly hefty feature-set. As you’ll read in our interview below, eKidna is essentially a one-person self-funded operation, which makes the end result even more impressive.

A brief review

Registration is fairly easy, with a parent needing to provide key information prior to registering their child’s account. One of eKidna’s features is Mate Safety™ – if this is selected by the parent on registration, every friend (mate) request will require the parent to enter their password before that connection is made. There’s also two chat options – Open Chat (the child can type their own phrases) of Safe Chat (selection from a catalog of phrases only).

Once a child has logged in, they can choose their avatar from a range of Australian animals like kangaroos, emus and possums. On entering the world itself, it has an immediately familiar interface. Movement occurs via mouse clicks, there’s a chat window, a ‘Mate’ tab, a map of the world, private messaging and an inventory of goods purchased. The basic services is free but the premium option gives much more flexibility around avatar customisation, gaining awards, saving high scores from games and owning a house. It costs $7.95 Australian per month with multi-month discounts.


As far as the activities themselves, I found them quite varied. The areas themselves are really well rendered with lots of endearing landscapes and characters. Each area features at least one activity e.g. kangaroo races or snowball throwing. Each requires more than one person to take part before commencing, which encourages interaction but which can also be frustrating at present as a new service with small numbers of registrations.

Overall, eKidna is a very worthy challenger in the burgeoning preteen virtual world market. Australian customers will enjoy its familiarity and others will engage with the (sometimes stereotypical) Australian flavour.


Lowell Cremorne: What specifically led you to decide to create eKidna?

Karen Orford: At 7 and 9 my daughters had finally reached the age that they wanted to explore the internet and so with some trepidation I ventured out to find some things for them to do online that I considered appropriate for their age. But it soon became obvious that matching their computer skills, which like most children of their generation are quite advanced, with their social and emotional development, was not easy. My personal standards of what is appropriate I think would be considered quite high. We are one of those homes in which TV is restricted and if watched, is monitored. I didn’t like sites with advertising; I didn’t like sites with violence, or links. I also found that none of the kid’s sites had done anything in particular to allow the parents an element of control over with whom their kids chatted with.

Finally I came to the conclusion that if I wanted a site which met all of my personal criteria I was going to have to create it myself! I then set out to search for a theme and was surprised to find that there was nothing quintessentially Australian which I couldn’t believe considering our diverse range of unique animals and landscape. At first I worried whether Australian children would be interested in Australian animals, but I got the shock of my life to discover in my focus groups, and I’m not sure it is the right term, that they are fiercely patriotic about their Aussie animals. Of course the international fascination with Australian animals is well established so that sealed it for the theme and the ideology, and so eKidna was born.


Lowell Cremorne: What professional background do you come from?

Karen Orford: I have a Communications Degree from the University of Canberra which in a strictly professional sense I’ve barely used! I have spent most of my life self-employed from managing English schools for children in Japan, to running several different businesses with my husband. eKidna, however, is an opportunity for me to go it alone.

Lowell Cremorne: Roughly how many registrations have occurred to date or are you hoping will occur?

Karen Orford: Two weeks ago we very quietly uploaded and set about putting ekidna through its final paces before we really faced the world. Starting with my own two daughters, and while flying under the radar, it has grown to about 45 registrations as word has spread quietly amongst their friends at school. We are now ready to take on the world and the big push for registrations begins.

Lowell Cremorne: Is eKidna self-funded or if not, who underpins it financially?

Karen Orford: eKidna is completely self funded. I have literally remortgaged the house on this one and I am astounded and proud of what we have managed to create on our budget. If I’d realised at the beginning what the big boys, with venture capital, were spending on start up virtual worlds I would never have attempted what I did because I would have thought it was unachievable for a
mum from Brisbane. The only thing underpinning eKidna is me!

Lowell Cremorne: Is eKidna staffed fulltime in regards to moderation etc?

Karen Orford: Yes it is.

Lowell Cremorne: What future growth plans do you have?

Karen Orford: I have been self employed most of my life so has a very clear and realistic business strategy and growth plan. The plan is conservative and growth projections are based on just 1% of the reported growth achieved by known competitors such as Club Penguin and Webkinz World. Our first target is the English speaking market ie Australia, the US and the
UK. After that we may well expand into different languages. The Australian theme and the cost effective opportunity to practice English would go over very well with children in Japan. It is a market I know well.

Lowell Cremorne: You mentioned in your press release that you’re taking on Disney – who do you see as your primary competitors?

karen_orford Karen Orford: It is interesting in that despite the mass far reaching tentacles of the internet the competitors still vary widely from country to country. Club Penguin is the clearly the king of the jungle here in Australia, but in the US it has very serious competition from the likes of Webkinz World, and in the UK European sites such as Habbo have a major grip. However, despite these sites being competitors in that they are online children’s virtual worlds none of them have focused on chat safety in the way
has. In that sense we have no competitors. Our Safety Feature, Mate Safety, is truly unique. You will find a full description of Mate Safety and how it works in the Parents’ Info section of

Lowell Cremorne:A big players in the Australian field is Club Penguin – do you think you’ll need to attract some of their user base to be successful?

Karen Orford: I don’t think we will need to attract some of Club Penguins user base because despite the number of virtual worlds for children growing rapidly in the last couple of years it is still relatively a new niche of the internet. My research leads me to believe that our largest competitor Club Penguin, still only holds around 2.5% of the potential market, leaving plenty of room for new entrants such as Particularly when we have differentiated ourselves with a unique feature such as Mate Safety. Having said that, I think we can still expect to claim at least some of their user base due to the human nature of children simply looking for ‘what’s next?’.

‘B Bucks’ – buy virtual Barbie Girls gear

Mattel have started to offer a subscription option for its Barbie Girls virtual world. There are literally millions of active users now so Mattel will be hoping a decent percentage of those will beg their parents to fork out US $5.99 per month to be able to customise their avatars more and spend the ‘B Bucks’ their free account has earned.

(Image from

If you were ever in any doubt about the momentum of virtual worlds, you only need to spend a little time perusing the pre-adult offerings to know where the future lies for online social interaction.

Let’s hear your thoughts – would you pay out for your child to access Barbie Girls VIP? And if not, why not?

A heads-up to GigaOM for the original story.

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