By Damon Brown
Virtual world: gaiaonline.com
Combining the visuals of Japanese anime cartoons with cheeky humor, this world takes players ages 13 and up on an adventurous treasure hunt. Avatars wear distinct clothing and hairstyles and can get "in" with cool cliques called guilds. Like anime, Gaia Online attracts boys, but girls can be found in the world too.
Emotional draw: Only serious fans of anime seek out this exotic, insular community. Not everyone can appreciate the adventure hunting or the visual style, but for kids who find it appealing, playing on Gaia is like being admitted to the most exclusive club in town.
Cool factor: Kids can get creative with Gaia's fantasy art, poetry, and storytelling, or take a break by playing pinball, going fishing, and doing puzzles. And since the games usually involve solo play, kids don't have to depend on others for fun. They can also take a game (like the pinball experience), plop it into another virtual world and play.
Real-life rules: There is no membership fee, but accessories like mobile phone pictures, avatar upgrades and Gaia Online-branded clothing cost real-life money. Gaia Cash, the in-world currency, can be purchased several ways; Target, for example, sells gifts cards.