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Moderating children’s virtual worlds – A sort of “Catcher in the Rye”

Being one of the newest moderators at Metaverse Mod Squad, I’ve been answering a lot of questions about what my job entails. It didn’t take long at all to realize I wasn’t giving very enlightening answers. “What are you doing Mama?” says my 4-year old, after watching avatars move about on our computer screen. “Well”, I answer, “I’m keeping these kids safe and answering their questions, and helping them play games”. Hmm. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks I do at career day at her preschool.

My parents are equally mystified. “I don’t know,” my mother told my aunt. “She does something on the computer”. My friends who are parents of small children have varied widely in their understanding of what I do, but they are especially interested in what it’s like spending time in children’s virtual worlds. I suspect they realize it is one of the areas in which their children’s knowledge will eclipse their own very shortly. “It’s really fun!” I tell them, when I think they just want the short answer. And that’s true. It’s also a little like being a camp counselor, a hall monitor and a concierge, all rolled into one.

So, I’ve apparently been doing a pretty shabby job of defining my role as a moderator to my friends and family. Shortly after I began moderating, I began thinking about one of my favorite books, “A Catcher in the Rye”. It nagged me so much I finally pulled the book off the shelf and found that Holden Caulfield’s character, when describing what he wants to do as a career, actually sums up being a moderator quite nicely.

“You know what I’d like to be?” he tells his sister. “…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. [… ] “I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

How is this like being a moderator? Well, I do get to watch kids play (and play with them!), but I’m also there to help them from doing something unsafe (i.e. – falling off the cliff) like giving out personal information or engaging in inappropriate behavior. I encourage them when they try something new, cheer them up when they are sad, and mediate disagreements so that all parties reach an outcome that leaves them feeling better than they did before. And that is a pretty amazing job indeed. Even if I do still have trouble describing it.

– Sara Henry

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