LOS ANGELES, CA — (MARKET WIRE) — November 29, 2006 — Whyville.net, the leading edu-tainment virtual world for children and young teenagers (ages 8-15), has announced a campaign to virtually vaccinate its citizens against its own virtual “Why-Flu.” This virtual world effort is being supported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of a new-media component of the recently announced National Influenza Vaccination Week, which kicks off November 27 and runs until December 3.
The collaboration between Whyville and the CDC is part of a concentrated effort to raise awareness amongst children and teens about the seasonal flu and the preventative measures that can be taken to stay healthy. While teens are not categorized as a high-risk group for influenza-related complications, reaching children at this stage allows for an understanding of influenza and how the disease can be effectively prevented. In addition, educating teens empowers them to pass along vaccine-related information to others in their households who would benefit from being vaccinated. With almost 2 million registered users, Whyville represents a unique mechanism to educate young people about the importance of early flu vaccinations.
The citizens of Whyville will have the opportunity to receive a flu shot which will result in immunity to the “Why-Flu,” a simulated virtual version of common influenza. Similar to a real flu, the Why-Flu will is transmitted between by “contact” in the virtual community, such as being in the same vicinity as another citizen’s infected avatar. Without the protection of a flu shot, a citizen will very likely get infected and experience virtual symptoms that include uncontrolled sneezing that interruptions in the ability to chat as well as unsightly red boils on one’s virtual face.
The Why-vaccinate campaign is the latest phase in a longer running effort in Whyville to help kids understand diseases and their prevention. The program first launched on Valentines Day 2002 with an infectious disease called the “Why-Pox.” The educational consequence of the yearly recurring Why-Pox has been the subject of a research study funded by the National Science Foundation at UCLA, and has also been used as part of the health curriculum in real classrooms.
As part of the new Why-vaccinate program in Whyville, bulletins and news articles in the Whyville Times, Whyville’s weekly newspaper, will alert members to the impending risk of flu and encourage them to get vaccinated. As in the real world, the children will pay for the vaccination in Whyville’s clam currency. All those who get vaccinated will not only be immune to the disease, but will also receive a button to affix to their avatar indicating that they have been immunized. Says Dr. James Bower, CEO of Numedeon, the company that runs Whyville, “We have found that there is a surprisingly close link between kids perceptions of their virtual lives and their real lives. Therefore, this collaboration with the CDC is a perfect way to teach kids not only about vaccinations, but also about the process of disease control and how diseases affect real-world communities.”
“We are enthusiastic about this opportunity to extend the important message about getting seasonal flu vaccinations into Whyville — especially because the CDC has made a real commitment to understanding the educational power of new-media and virtual worlds in particular,” said Dr. Jay Bernhardt, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing. “This activity teaches kids early that flu vaccinations are important during this time of a year. It’s a natural extension of our ‘real world’ National Influenza Vaccination Week campaign.” (Press information on the CDC campaign can be obtained from http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/pressrel/r061113.htm.)
Whyville (http://www.whyville.net) is the leading educational virtual world for boys and girls, ages 8 to 15. For eight years, the site has successfully created an environment that engages children to learn while having fun. Inside Whyville, “citizens” learn & play, socialize & recreate, govern & earn, write & design, eat & dance, and much, much more. Numedeon, Inc., Whyville’s parent company, develops virtual worlds that promote learning through interactivity and engagement. Numedeon’s founders are Caltech scientists, who combined research expertise in neuroscience with education experience from the internationally recognized Caltech Pre-college Science Initiative to conceive of an innovative way to harness the power of the Internet for the purpose of engagement and education. In formal education parlance, the education in Whyville is designed to be hands-on, inquiry-based and constructivist, embedded within motivational settings among peers.