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A Backpacker's Guide to Virtual Online Communities

backpackers guide to free virtual worlds online

The world offers many amazing places to visit, cultures to experience and people to meet. More often than not, the best way to truly find something new is to travel past your day to day borders. But when you have got work, family, school, college and plenty of obligations, taking a couple of weeks off is not something anyone can afford on a common basis. So what is an adventurous person to do? Log on, that's what.

Online, there are literally thousands of communities that you can join and become a part of. From mailing lists to forums to chat rooms, these social circles are fast becoming the norm. But for those who truly want to get a feel of something new; nothing is better than joining one of the many free virtual worlds online. There are plenty of these virtual worlds for people to choose from, all that matters is to know which one offers the activities and cultures that best suit your personality.

Without further ado we present a list of our top 10 worlds to play in online.

10. Migo Land

Migo Land: free virtual worlds online

We'll start off the list with a fan favorite: Migo Land. This site offers plenty in terms of interactivity. Both in games and active users, there are plenty that users will be able to choose from. If you just want to try out the site and see what it is like, you can easily create an instant character without having to sign up for anything at all. The concept is simple; if you liked the experience then you can choose to save the character you made (which also saves any progress such as purchased items and coins earned). Saving will require a registration - which you should do if you enjoyed it. And chances are, you will.

Creating your own character is as simple as clicking on the wardrobe panel and selecting all the basic features from hair style to shoes. With an initial 6000 coins worth of credits to start with, you can pretty much customize your character fully and still have coins left - provided you stay away from the more expensive choices of course. The rest of your money you may want to use to decorate your own pad.

Each player is provided with a personal home which they can set up with a vast array of designs and furnishings. As you would expect, you can get other players to visit your home - which is basically the whole point of customizing the place. While not everyone wants to show off, having a nice home is a definite help when you host a party.

Parties are basically mini get-togethers for you and anyone you meet in the Migo Land community. The party can also be posted on the public listing so that other players can also join in on the fun. Aside from mingling with other users in public locations such as the lobbies and castle grounds, this is another great way to socialize in game.

Of course, before you go off and start making parties, you will need a lot more than the credits you start with. This is where the games come in. Click on the games button on the left side of the screen to open up several mini games which will help you earn money. All you need here is time as the system grants you bonus credits simply for playing, even if you lose the game, you still earn something. Initially, players start out with a five-in-row, Othello and a whack-a-mole style game. These three games will let you choose between facing a computer or human controlled opponent. Winning the match earns a significantly higher amount more than losing so practicing and raising your skill is not a bad thing.

9. Wee World

Wee World: free virtual worlds online

Moving on, we'll try out something more simple and straightforward with Wee World. This site is actually more of a 'create your own avatar' kind of place than a social networking service. Still, there is a very active community of users and the arty style is simply something that many people would love. The actual community itself is not that busy in terms of holding events, but they are active nonetheless. If this is your kind of thing, then you will definitely have lots of fun.

There is a certain degree of cartoonish-ness to the site's overall approach. While this may be a turn off for some users, we found that it actually looks pretty good if you are looking for a good mix of tough cutesy characters. As mentioned above, there is plenty of focus on the avatar creation side of things so expect to see some pretty interesting choices when making your character.

The clothing choices and facial features are pretty good, considering that everything has been done in a very unique art style, the variations that you can achieve are still significantly better than other sites on this list. If you are aiming to get a character that comes close to expressing your own personal and physical quirks, this is the service for you. Also, each player gets to have their own personal space or a room. This room can be decorated and fitted with furniture - some of which are initially available while some you will earn through playing.

One thing users should be aware of is that the average user age for Wee World is about thirteen. Most of the discussions in the community will undoubtedly reflect this so if your age bracket is a little higher, you might want to just try this for the character creation and invest your time in a different game.

8. Moove Online

Moove Online: free virtual worlds online

Running off the Roomancer 3D system is the graphic intensive Moove which is probably the fanciest looking of all the Free Virtual Worlds Online. Okay folks, we'll be straight out honest with you here, if you are running a system that already has trouble with a few flash games, you might want to pass this up. Moove is a system resource hog. As nice as the graphics are and as interesting as the community may be, you will need a decent desktop computer before attempting to jump into this one. Again, those of you with netbooks will have trouble running this game.

With that said Moove Online gives players a truly in-depth feel of an online community as you literally move from one location to another and interact with various characters in very 'personal' ways. This game was built with a well detailed 3D graphics engine for two main reasons - immersion and interactivity. Many of the users of Moove enjoy the unique player to player interactions that you can make. While not exactly suited for a general audience, there's nothing in the world that would require you to keep your bedroom door locked either!

The focus on building relationships is helped further by the well detailed animations of the game. Characters walk, sway and swagger much like people would in real life, and simple gestures such as waving, holding hands and hugging look and feel a lot more real than usual. Also, the game allows users to use voice and cam chatting features as well. If you are looking for connectivity, this is a great option.

There are of course, plenty of downsides to the system. First off, this is not something you can run in the background - which makes it hard to participate in unless you regularly schedule some serious gaming time. Unlike other browser based social networking games where you can easily switch between your work and the web such as the free virtual world of ourWorld, Moove demands your complete attention. As stated above, the need for a high end computer also alienates some users.

Overall, we're still approving of Moove. While they may have a very niche crowd to cater to, the total number of active users is enough to keep the place going. Also, the ability to be able to hear the people you interact with through voice chat and the option to also use a webcam is much appreciated as well.

7. Vizwoz

Vizwoz: free virtual worlds online

Odd name aside, this is currently one of the largest online communities for children ages 11 to 14 online. The reason for this is that more parents are willing to invest in subscription for this service than any other online. And there is one outstanding reason for this: Vizcops.

Aside from being a very niche market system, Vizwoz also maintains and employs its own online law enforcement team. While the actual in-and-outs of Vizcops are not known publicly, parents can rest assured that in this community, their children are save and well protected. Unlike typical moderators, game masters and community heads in free virtual worlds online, Vizcops take their jobs seriously. Complaints by users are handled with care and professionalism, and the investigation of any claim takes everything into account. While there are other support systems available such as technical support for software and hardware concerns, most of the issues fall under the Vizcops jurisdiction.

So now that you know you are protected, why should you play? Vizwoz also supports a large array of gameplay options for players. Those who want to talk and mingle can join one of the many open rooms and chatrooms available to users. You can even create your own room for people to join. Those who prefer to play will find that Vizwoz offers a large library of flash games that will not only keep you entertained for hours, but will also earn you a few online credits for the game as well.

For the most part, we recommend Vizwoz as a good starting off point for kids who are new to online interaction. The presence of an authority figure in-game will help iron out these many creases that blur the internet's morality rules to a smudgy gray. After all, nothing beats practicing in a controlled environment before jumping into the fray. For kids and parents, Vizwoz offers plenty of security - which is something that is hard to put a price on these days.

6. Habbo

Habbo: free virtual worlds online

With all the flash based virtual communities online, there is some pretty tough competition out there. But Habbo is facing these turbulent seas and is taking in plenty of fish as the world of weird and boxlike virtual people meet, Kongregate and play continues to grow each day. Habbo is virtually an animated chat lounge and each location you find ingame is a self-sustaining chat room. New players will initially have access to almost all public and commercial channels. In order to get inside private rooms, you need to make friends, socialize and be invited.

Creating your own Habbo character is easy, the moment you step into the game, the system prompts you for a gender and places your character in the public area. From here, you can name and change almost any detail you want. Be careful of the name change too, you can only do it once and after you click on confirm, you will not be able to change it again. As for physical features, Habbo allows players to adjust these aspects (hairstyle, clothes, etc) from the access toolbar on the left side of the game screen at any time.

Among the many things players will enjoy about Habbo is the presence of specialized commercial rooms and themed rooms. These allow players to visit virtual locations designed to mimic real life places or simply as virtual stand in offices for real world companies (a television studio can have a virtual set, while a clothing manufacturer can have a virtual store).

To purchase items online, players can literally buy game credits or accomplish quests online. These quests are often easy to accomplish and more often than not, simply requires the player to walk around the different locations.

Habbo's pixel art cubic delivery may not appeal to some players and tends to have the appearance of a children's game, but it is something we have come to appreciate. Also, this approach to the visual style discourages grievers and other users who prefer to cause trouble in games that border too much on looking real.

5. Moshi Monsters

Moshi Monsters: free virtual worlds online

Pet games have always had that distinctive charm of having a cute little critter follow you around without the need to pick up the litter they leave behind (or in the case of certain games, the entire task is accomplished in a single neat click). Moshi Monsters follows this tradition and takes the scenario up a notch: by providing you with a nest of mythical creatures to choose from. And these are not your typical unicorns and dragons sort either; Moshi Monsters brings in some of the lesser known monsters into the forefront.

With a choice of zombies, angry bunnies, living puppets, imps, demons and gorilla-like monkeys at your fingertips, which demented option will you choose? Fortunately, the game visual's approach is not as disturbing as it sounds on paper. All the creatures have been redesigned to become cute and lovable - with looks that would not be too out of place to imagine on a grade school student's lunchbox. They have also been given strange new names to fit the new image as well.

Speaking of image, players will also get to decide on how their little monsters will be colored (since you cannot directly change the physical form of the pets), and what kinds of clothes and accessories they will wear. After players name the monster and select a color scheme, they can head straight into one of the game's many stores in order to buy clothes. Initially, new members will not have access to several shops. But once a user has purchased membership, plenty of options will be made available.

In order to gain ingame credits for virtual purchases, players can take part in the daily puzzle challenge - a mix of number and visual problems at the Puzzle Palace. While the earnings are meager, spending a few minutes a day on this game can go a long way.

One great thing we noticed about the Moshi Monsters community was how welcoming the existing users can be. There are also plenty of submissions for daily fan art and screenshots. If you have been looking for a solid community of active users to join, Moshi Monsters is a great place to find it.

4. Club Penguin

Club Penguin: free virtual worlds online

Run and supported by Disney Online Studios Canada, Club Penguin is a self-sustaining world with plenty of users, lots of places to explore and hordes of games to find (yes, find). While it is generally targeted for a much younger audience, a much older crowd of teens and young adults will still find its many games and features to be quite charming. Besides, waddling around as a penguin around a snowcapped virtual community can be quite fun in its own way.

In case you are wondering, yes, you can pick up some snow and throw it. After all, that's one of the best ways of enjoying a snow filled neighborhood right? In Club Penguin, it is snow all year round and there is an instant button for the "throw snowball" action. This instantly turns your mouse cursor into a targeting reticule and you can launch a snow ball in the area you click. The sites' many locations have ice forts and plenty of other obstacles for players to use in snowball fights. You can also toss a snowball at some of the objects in game just to see what happens (throw one in the mine generator and the lights will turn on for a few moments).

As we mentioned above, games have to be found. Each location hosts about one or two games that players can try out - and there are so many locations to explore. While this may be a annoying for players who prefer a quicker way to access games, we found it quite refreshing. The concept is so much better than simply heading to an 'arcade' location in-game (which is actually a bad substitute for having a simple games window). Some games will require you play with a human opponent and others let you face off against a computer. While playing with others is fun, there are plenty of occasions when a losing player will quit the game midway - effectively negating a loss and also, wasting your time and effort. These range from typical board based challenges to Game & Watch inspired mini games.

Penguin Club users also participate in a wide range of Puffle rescue missions. Puffles are weird fur-ball type creatures that come in different colors and have a penchant for getting into all sort of ridiculous trouble. In order to rescue them, players take part in uniquely challenging mini games -voften with the simple premise of getting past obstacles to retrieve the Puffle, then making it back to the point of origin. As a reward, players can gain special Puffle rescue stamps. Rescuing Puffles is a major feature of the game and in order to access some of the bigger rescue missions, players will have to sign up for a membership to the Club.

For those hoping for some extra degree of customization, the only thing you can change with your penguin is the color. You could wear some interesting accessories, but that's about as much customization as you can do for your character. The igloo on the other hand, is much more fun to play around with. The igloo serves as the player's personal home which can be visited instantly using the "home" button on the lower right.

With its many in game locations, games and competitive multiplayer community, Club Penguin is one of the most lastable free virtual worlds online and is quite rewarding for players with an adventurous spirit and a drive for challenges.

3. ourWorld

ourWorld: free virtual worlds online

We consider three basic factors for what would make a great virtual world: good character creation tools, an active community and plenty of games. On all three counts, ourWorld is a definite winner.

The game is a straight forward flash based application that delivers exactly what it promises: a strong community with plenty of users and lots of opportunities to socialize, a large library of games that can be accessed and played at any time, and character creation that allows you to tweak and edit your character as much as you see fit. The result is an amazing online game experience that has proven to be hard to beat.

From the start of the game, you get to choose your gender and basic details. Instead of bothering you with inconsequential tutorials on how to move around, players are allowed to explore and experience the game on their own. While this may sound hard, the intuitive controls and easy to understand interface helps ease out any beginner worries.

Moving forward in the game is done by earning Flow to level up. This is achieved through a variety of means: dancing and playing games. While dancing earns you a small amount of flow, the big earnings are achieved by clicking on the games icon and selecting a game to play. The games are a wide variety of Flash based apps developed by various game makers. Depending on your preference, you can choose to play with all the titles or simply concentrate on one single game you like. In order to satisfy its large client range, Our World's game library covers various genres ranging from simply puzzle games to slightly more challenging action titles.

Your character gets to do more things, interact with more objects and access more content when you join in for membership. The player level also affects this as well. This is important to know when you are joining public and private lobbies in the game.

Another important factor to take note of is that the average users of Our World are teens and young adults. With its visual style, games and chatting options, the game has been designed specifically for this age bracket. If you are in your awkward years and feel like some games are just too adult or too childish for you, then you have come to the right place. But despite its niche crowd design, OurWorld still offers plenty for users of all ages. And this is why this game is on top of the list. Having said that, if we were to create a separate list of virtual worlds, one for teens and one for adults, then ourWorld and Second Life would rank top respectively.

2. IMVU

IMVU: free virtual worlds online

The virtual community on IMVU focuses on two major features: interaction with other players (through chat and instant messaging functions) and selling virtual stuff you create. There is a very strong and active community that sustains its own virtual economy on IMVU. While we are not exactly certain that the data on market trends on this social space can be used in the real world, knowing the system will certainly help your character.

The developers of the game provide players with extensive tools (software) in order to create items for the IMVU game world. Once the custom made content is submitted and passed, they will be available to the creator to put online as a product to be sold ingame. Also, there is a small fee for uploading content to the game. An extensive product catalog allows players to see and purchase custom content. So far, the only requirements for content creation are to have an active member account and paying the fee. Aside from that, there are very few issues with uploaded content.

As we said, the community for IMVU is pretty broad. Generally, there are two main types of players ingame: there are those who use the service in order to communicate and interact with other players, on the other hand some focus a lot on product creation, selling and marketing. On average, plenty of players are simply a combination of these two extremes.

IMVU's visuals focus a lot on how the players' looks. Not that the backgrounds and locations are no good (they're okay, in terms of layout and general aesthetic value), but it is simply that players get to spend a lot of time making their characters look like high end models. Naturally, this tends to draw plenty of attention to the game's player to player interaction and the number of private rooms seen from the lobby is a testament to this.

1. Second Life

Second Life: free virtual worlds online

Second Life is probably one of the most famous (and infamous) multiplayer online communities ever made. The site has been associated with both controversy and fame thanks to the wide range of users. Developed by Linden Labs, this 3D world of customizable objects and player-controlled avatars has been operating since 2003. In these many years, the game has seen plenty of revisions, add-ons and rule implementations that continuously shape the way the game is played.

For the most part, players concentrate on the two basic tasks: accumulation of ingame wealth and socializing. Wealth is basically measured in Linden Dollars, which is used to purchase ingame content; this is common in many free virtual worlds online and is accomplished through various means.

Socializing takes on a very different approach in Second Life. Unlike other sites that simply allow users to chat and flirt with other players through limited avatar functions, Second Life has fewer restrictions on what your character can and cannot do. As such, there are plenty of adult oriented forms of interaction that are possible ingame - attracting plenty of users to second life.

The game's graphics have significantly improved over the years, with constant patching and updating polishing the aesthetic feel of Second Life. Several years back, intimate forms of interaction on the grid was something of an acquired taste as the graphic and animation qualities made some actions seem odd and awkward. Now, only the stigma remains. The actual animations and modeling details of the characters has taken the concept of online connectivity to a whole new level.

As you may have guessed, Second Life is primarily targeted towards adults and we do highly recommend this game only for users above the legal age (16). While those with more conservative views might want to tread carefully ingame (there are many areas in game where NSFW material is neither present nor allowed), those with more open minds will certainly want to explore.

Aside from earning credits and meeting people, the game also allows users to create and upload content. According to statistics, there are actually more user generated content ingame than first party developed objects. Of course, some uploaded content is known to be malicious, and the Second Life administrators are taking steps to prevent abuse and misuse of the custom item creator functions. Many users have taken object creation into an art form. And since you can sell your creation online, it is considered to be a great way to earn in game credits.

One of the things that has prevented Second Life from taking top spot is the lack of age restrictions in the game. While the user agreement clause does not allow users below 16 years of age to use its services, there is nothing that would prevent a rebellious 13 year old from joining in. And for the most part, kids in general would find it hard to enjoy the adult-targeted theme of Second Life.