Many virtual worlds designed for girls are built around the assumption that girls want to decorate themselves and their surroundings, find a boy, have a baby, and keep up to date on celebrity activities. While this may be a stereotyped vision of modern female interests, it is also accurate to at least a limited degree.
Other areas of interest for girls that are supported by virtual world designers include horses, fantasy (elves, unicorns, and fairies), and entrepreneurship (usually based around... the fashion industry). Sim games, in which players set parameters and watch a world grow and evolve, are not intended specifically for girls -- but girls tend to be attracted to such worlds.
In addition to their subject matter, what makes girl games a little different is their focus on design details and social interaction -- both among players and between players and virtual beings. Girls tend to be more social than boys and enjoy building relationships online. The downside of this preference is the reality that talk is cheap: most gaming companies make a good deal of their profit on objects, land, and other items purchased for real money by players eager to improve their status in a virtual world.
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Club Penguin is a lot of fun for both boys and girls, but many of its elements are likely to appeal to girls. It's one of many Disney-created virtual words, but it is not specifically linked to Disney characters.
What makes this game fun for girls? In addition to playing a wide range of games and interacting with friends online, girls can "buy" clothing, accessories, and Igloo-decorating doodads to create their own igloo home. Then, they can share what they've created, make... friends, go to online virtual events, and become part of a penguin "community."
Club Penguin is definitely a game for younger children; anyone older than age ten is likely to get bored. But for younger girls, it's a great introduction to the elements of multiplayer gaming and a fun way to learn some skills. You can't be successful at Club Penguin, for example, if you can't earn and save coins, manage your budget, or navigate through a fairly complex landscape.
Recommended Ages: 7-11
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Many girls love horses, but few have their very own horse to care for and ride. Bella Sara is a chance to enter and take part in a "magical world of horses." It's also wildly popular around the world, largely because of the Bella Sara collectors' cards created by a company in Denmark.
Bella Sara was developed as a safe and positive place for children -- mostly girls -- and parental approval is required for children under 13. There are also built-in parental controls.
You start by... exploring the world of magical horses and selecting your own. You can then groom, feed, and train your horses, play games, and take part in mild adventures.
In addition to horse-related activities, girls can help to solve mysteries, take part in action-oriented adventures, watch videos, and interact with one another (in a limited fashion).
Like many virtual worlds, Bella Sara is also linked to opportunities to purchase real-world and virtual items. Much like a renaissance fair, the world Bella Sara is loaded with artisans and merchants who are eager to exchange "horse shoes" for products. Horse shoes can be earned through the game or purchased for real money.
If you do have a daughter who loves Bella Sara (or horses!) you can also buy a wide range of related products in real world Toys R Us toy stores.
Recommended Ages: 5-12
Cost: Free unless you choose to purchase real or virtual products.
Other: Bella Sara has a whole line of products including books, video games, and craft kits.