Nurturing Real Life and Online Dolls and Pets
One of the most obvious similarities between Web and Traditional play is that children (and adults, to some extent) nurture their dolls and plush. In real life, children "feed" their dolls, put them to bed, and play "house" with them. Online, both children and adults also get to do this with their Webkinz pets and Barbie Girls (and their ilk) as well. In both instances, the toys and dolls teach you how to take care of something.
Can You Hug a Webkinz?
The biggest difference between Web and Traditional play, however, is that with the online toy you miss the actual, tactile experience of playing with a "real life" plush bear or doll. You can't hug it, go to sleep with it, or call Sally next door to come over and set up the "house" for your dollies together. Which is why, I think, so many of the best Web-based dolls and toys DO have a real-life counterpart--you can build your Webkinz Pug's house online, but then you can pick up his soft, plush counterpart and go to sleep hugging him as well.
It's Just a Marketing Scam!
I've heard many moms bemoan the fact that for online worlds such as Webkinz, it's just a big marketing scheme to get you to buy the online pets more things--more exclusive furniture for their houses, more clothing, more of everything. Well, actually, this is just another huge similarity with popular modern dolls. In the 1960s, I didn't just want Barbie--I wanted all of her clothes, her Dream House, her boyfriend Ken and a boatload of accessories. If a child is playing with Webkinz, it is pretty much the same today, with clothing and accessories readily available. The only difference is that with Webkinz and similar games you are also getting an online counterpart. It is possible to also spend real life money to get only pixilated items as well...for instance, if you buy Webkinz trading cards to "only" get the feature codes which enable you to get online items for your online pets.
Building Online Houses For Dolls and Pets
Finally, with online pets and dolls, there is the addictive and engrossing aspect of building their online homes. Naturally, building real dollhouses is also addictive and engrossing. For real-life dollhouses, you get to furnish your miniature home through purchasing or crafting, although furnishing real dollhouses can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Online, however, you can decorate and furnish a rather intricate home for your online Barbie or Bratz doll or Webkinz pet with very little cost. Webkinz has one of the most intricate and creative online houses available to play with--the homes of Webkinz pets can have dozens of rooms, the pets can interact and walk around in the rooms, and the furniture and accessories are well-drawn and fun to arrange. Of course you can't take your online pet or doll's house and put it in your real-life living room, but you can show it off to your friends online. I also think you don't quite get the sense of accomplishment or wonder that you can get with a real-life dollhouse. For children, you can't beat the imaginative brain-forming skills of "playing" house in your yard with your friends, a few dolls, pots and pans and chairs. But online doll and pet play is here to stay, and I think there is a place for it side by side with traditional doll play.