My son and I have both enjoyed playing and learning in the game Travian since we recorded the podcast “A 10 year old discusses Travian, an online simulation war game” on December 16th. This weekend particularly I have been amazed at the opportunities it has provided for him to learn about graphing in a two dimensional coordinate plane, as well as other math skills. It is wonderful to have an opportunity to help him learn about something like graphing with such a clear and relevant purpose.

Playing the game together has also provided several opportunities to discuss and learn some important lessons about Internet safety, and that is what I would like to comment on briefly this evening. Recently I received the following message in the email system included in Travian, and received the same message again yesterday:

An attempt in Travian solicit actual email addresses and identities...

The writer provides a URL address to an online forum which requires registration with an email address. The images on the front and on the second, registration page of the forum look very sinister, and neither my son or I registered. We have discussed how it is important to preserve our anonymity in this game and in other online games, and this email is a blatant attempt to solicit email addresses and possibly other contact information outside of the realm of the game. We have no idea what the agenda of the person(s) behind this message is, but we do not want to have any part of it. I am going to forward this message on to the administrators of the game, as I suspect (but do not know for certain) that this type of solicitation likely violates the AUP and rules of the game.

Travian is a LOT of fun and provides ongoing challenges that are full of surprises. This email was one of those surprises, but like many unexpected events it has provided a good “teachable moment” for some lessons in Internet safety that I certainly want my son to understand and remember.

The second way in which Travian has sparked discussions relating to Internet safety this week involves screennames and profile information. At the suggestion of Karen Montgomery, I added some guidelines and links to my new “Internet Safety and Social Networking for Parents” presentation/workshop curriculum relating to IM and screennames. We discussed this past week the importance of kids NOT choosing screennames which reveal their age, gender, location, or other personal information.

My 2nd grade daughter has become interested in Travian because of all our discussions about it, and wanted to play the game herself. She created a screenname, and at the time I didn’t even notice what name she had selected. After discussing screenname safety with Karen, however, (something emphasized in the iSafe training she recently completed) I realized that Sarah’s screenname reveals:

  • She is a girl
  • She is connected in some way to Texas
  • She is young

Having a connection to Texas is not really a big deal in terms of safety, like sharing the name of her school and her city would be, but sharing that she’s a young girl IS a problem. She is going to delete her Travian account and re-create it with a new and SAFER screenname, which she is still contemplating.

I skyped briefly to a group of first and second year ag teachers in Missouri this afternoon, and discussed (at the invitation of Karen) the similarities between cooking and teaching with digital tools. In the context of this discussion about Internet safety, in both the kitchen and online, cooks and learners can get burned or hurt. The key in both situations, however, is working to insure that the “burn” or “hurt” isn’t permanent and doesn’t leave a lasting scar. I’m glad we’re able to have good conversations IN A MEANINGFUL CONTEXT about Internet safety thanks to our involvement in Travian, and I expect these conversations to continue. We’re not only learning a lot, we’re also having a lot of fun, and it’s wonderful when those two things can go together! :-)

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