www.whyville.net Mar 29, 2009 Weekly Issue

Guest Writer

What Whyville Teaches

Users' Rating
Rate this article

Whyville is a site unlike any other.

Yes, it's been said a lot, and has become something of a cliche. But it's nonetheless true.

I first joined Whyville in April 2007, soon after quitting IMVU. For those of you who don't know it, IMVU is a site that's kind of like an instant messenger except users have 3D avatars for which they can buy clothes and accessories and can perform a wide array of actions to represent emotions. The only way you could buy things on the site without spending real money was by visiting the new items page every day to receive a small amount of "promo credits," which you couldn't send to anyone. In addition, until you paid around $7, your username was "Guest_(username)" and anyone could buy your name, forcing you to change it.

About when I quit, my sister joined a site she had read about in a magazine. I created an account myself to see what it was like. Since the site was at least partially aimed at a younger audience, I (14 at the time) didn't think it would be all that interesting. I made my account and was surprised to learn you had to take a chat license test, with no penalty for failure except having to go back and change what it said you got wrong. I was even more surprised to find that you actually could discuss the war in Iraq or complain about the site's censorship. Many such sites don't let you discuss controversial subjects because you might hurt someone's feelings.

Next I went to Grandma's and got a free selection of face parts and bricks. I made a face using the "Suspicious eyes" and "The Moe" and picked a room at random off of the large selection list on the Bus Menu. It turned out to be the playground. Another user thought I was staring at her because of the eyes, said so, and then conferred with her friend in whispers. I became confused and thought that people were actually taking the time to type "Achoo" and "[ I am whispering to (username) ]". Fortunately, a kind-hearted citizen showed me how to whisper, saving me from the trouble of having to constantly type "(username):" before each sentence to specify who I was talking to.

Many other aspects of Whoville (or whatever) continued to perplex me. People advertising "BC's" were equally confounded when I asked them why there was a British Columbia on the moon, or how there could be a Before Current Era at a newspaper. Eventually I learned it stood for beauty contest, replacing my then-current theory of "buying clams." The site felt like a ghost town inhabited by vagrants to me. Most of the site's look clearly hadn't been updated since the turn of the century, and the vector graphics in 3D games like the balloon race or the spinning games were outlandishly basic.

After having visited sites like IMVU, I was amazed that this site with its 256-color imagery and Microsoft Paint-inspired landscapes was still running. Many of the salary games didn't (and still don't) work. Someone told me to go to the spin game to earn a few clams of salary, and I soon found it was impossible to get the maximum salary for the game. Investigating less-used areas, I found there were many links to defunct sites and mentions of programs which "will" end in 2003.

I'm not writing this to talk about how I was confused or to insult Whyville, however. On the contrary.

Whyville shows that humanist values such as self-worth and the power of scientific inquiry are timeless. Rooms like Dr. Leila's, which stand now as they have been for years (or the inside at least), stand as a testament to the eternal wonders of science, albeit populated by an always-changing group of people. Natalie will always wonder why hair turns gray, even as new people post on the BBS about the human body. Pierro's question about the electroconductivity of giraffes will always have applications, even as competitions to "win 150 clams!!" pepper the BBS about animals.

City Workers still listen to Whyvillians. Even if "Meet the Makers" doesn't occur as often as it once did, we have a Senator system in place that lets us communicate our ideas to improve the site. Some time last year, a lot of older users felt alienated by changes which, I believe, could have been more gently implemented. The skin of the whole site changed from the basic early black background to the blue background we have now, to better match the login screen, which has itself changed a number of times since the site's induction.

The long-standing WhyPasses were replaced by Pearls. But the older users were not forgotten. A number of skins were added to allow users to choose how they view the site, although the original was not there, and after a conference with older users at the Greek theater, a room only for Oldbies was added -- in the form of the much-beloved Buzz Hive to boot.

Many sites frequently change appearance, and everyone gripes for a while and then gets used to it. Usually the reason given for the change is that it makes the site more streamlined or modern, much like Whyville's changes.

But how many sites would actually listen to the users' feedback, even from Oldbies, and bring back areas from now-expired sponsorships?

The face of Whyville may change, but its core values will stay the same. If you get taped by mistake, City Workers will apologize. Even though you may be able to throw projectiles at people by username instead of angle now, you'll still have to use your head in the Zero Gravity Chamber. I doubt I'd be doing as well as I am in pre-Calculus if I hadn't memorized degree measures on a circle from years of throwing projectiles. I might have missed 5 points on my Chemistry final if I hadn't played the Spitzer Spectrum enough to be familiar with the location on the spectrum of many different types of waves.

Whyville is 10 years young. No matter whether the graphics are better than the PS3 in 2019 or 2D Java applets like they are now, whether Whyville's economy collapses, whether Beach South is flooded by the melting of the ice caps, as long as Whyville still exists, its scientific spirit shall not perish from the web.



Did you like this article?
1 Star = Bleh.5 Stars = Props!
Rate it!
Ymail this article to a friend.
Discuss this article in the Forums.

  Back to front page