By Sharon Duke Estroff
As I’ve devoted my last two posts to illuminating the darker sides of Stardoll, I’m going to dedicate today’s entry to spotlighting what I consider to be the site’s crowning glory: its design center.
A few weeks back, while investigating Club Penguin, I described my experience in the pizza parlor, where dozens of kids/penguins pretending to be waiters and waitresses took my order for food that was never delivered. At first, I’d found the scene to be a charming example of virtual pretend play but, the more time I spent in there, the less charming it seemed to be.
When I was a kid, playing “restaurant” meant creating something out of nothing – taking a cardboard box and turning it into an elegantly set table; turning inanimate dolls and stuffed animals into lively customers; creating our own recipes out of random ingredients we’d swiped from the kitchen. I didn’t see anything of the sort taking place on Club Penguin. Graphic designers – not kids’ imaginations – built the pizzeria, where the extent of children’s imaginary play was asking a roomful of already animated penguins what they wanted to eat – and leaving them virtually to starve at the table.
In the Stardoll design center, the scene is quite different. Children can create their own fabrics, choosing from dozens of colors and decorative shapes and adjusting for the size and repetition of the print. They can then use that custom fabric to sew tablecloths, curtains, and rugs, even uniforms for their restaurant staff.
In the scenery design area, kids can create backdrops – themes span from a Parisian café to a creepy castle dungeon – and jazz up the interior with kitschy furniture and accessories (some of these perks require a paid Super Star membership). As in most virtual worlds, including Club Penguin, Stardoll players can also decorate their home spaces with items they’ve “purchased” using the site’s currency.
Another clever Stardoll creative activity is the “Print Your Tee” concept. Kids can select from a dozen or so shirt styles in a rainbow of colors, and personalize them with decorative designs and self-created slogans. With the help of a credit card, the tee can be catapulted across the digital divide and arrive at the real world front door several days later. Yes, it’s a ruthless money-making ploy, but a brilliant one, don’t you think? Besides, what aspiring designer wouldn’t thrill to the chance to strut her own designs on the school playground? [I am slightly unsettled by the “maternity” shirt style choice, as Stardoll says most of its clientele are girls 7-17.]
Another feather in Stardoll’s hat is the personal album feature, which allows kids to compile a portfolio of their design work. In addition to displaying images of their work (some of which require a Super Star membership to save and post), the album also offers creative-writing opps, enabling children to add captions and storylines to their designs.
So if I were to sum up my stint in Stardoll, I’d have to call it a blend of parenting pros and cons – a fast-moving, materialistic, slightly-slutty, anorexic-ish virtual world, where imagination abounds and the potential for creative expression in children is far greater than anything I’ve seen in my undercover travels.
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