Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Random chatting

Omegle is a website for having text or webcam chats with random people. Though it is simply a website for chatting I have to believe it is a game for reasons I will explain. My 7th grade students just told me about this during a class in which they have been working on making posters about internet safety to put up around our school. The website has as its motto "Talk to Strangers" and the statement "Chats are completely anonymous, although there is nothing to stop you from revealing personal details if you would like," both of which are behaviors my students are fully aware should be avoided. But as they showed me the website they were clearly excited and having a great time trying it out to see what happens. The most important reason I want this to be a game is that it is a medium for kids to do something their parents are always telling them not to do. My first thought was that it makes the concept of strangers meaningless to them by reducing them to harmless sources of funny conversations. After a lot of exposure to this stuff will they start thinking of strangers on the street as random people to play around with, flirt with, have a crazy wacky time with? But if they treat it as a game by just playing with it or seeing how long they can maintain a chat before the stranger leaves or seeing how many strangers they can surprise or whatever goal makes it fun for them, then they are participating in an activity with its own set of rules that is apart from reality and strangers will still be strangers, to be wary and suspicious of, in real life. That is my hope, and theories about games should bear it out. Of course, there are many reasons for them to avoid this type of activity online at this website and the hundreds of others like it, such as chatroulette, even if they do treat it as a game. An informal study on techcrunch found that 1 in 8 video chats on chatroulette had content that was not suitable for children. The same study found that a little hacking can determine the IP address of the chat partner, giving at least a general idea of your physical location.

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