Virtual nightclub offers teens alter egos

Game lets teens create computer-generated characters, complete with cool hair cuts and dance moves. Images: The Lounge

School dances were once the training ground for teens to learn to interact with the opposite sex.

If Andrew Littlefield has his way, young people will be honing their social skills within his virtual nightclub, which features all the trappings of a trendy hotspot: dim lights, Jacuzzi and bouncers. Littlefield is the architect of The Lounge, an Internet nightclub that threw open its virtual doors late Sunday.

Photos: Virtual nightclub

Future generations of young people may not have to worry about whether they've chosen the right clothes or haircut. Once logged in at Pcdmusiclounge.com, club-goers choose a computer-generated character to represent themselves. They can put their own stamp on their character's appearance by choosing from fashionable hair and clothing styles. No need to be self conscious about looking awkward on the dance floor; Littlefield hired a choreographer who personally approved a range of moves so the alter egos of the Lounge's patrons are sure to look good while they boogie.

Visitors of The Lounge can even select a specific body posture. Young men will have a choice of standing erect or slouching in a cool, Brando-kind of way.

The club is a cross between MySpace.com, the social-networking site, and "World of Warcraft," a multiplayer online game. Both are successful at building Web communities, and Littlefield and his company, Doppelganger, tried to create a hybrid.

Online communities are getting a lot of attention lately. News Corp. said earlier this month that MySpace expanded its membership to more than 70 million, and video upload site YouTube said last month that it sees more than 12 million unique visitors per month only five months after launching. Plenty of marketing opportunities exist for companies that can engage large teenage audiences, advertising analysts say.

Doppelganger's strategy is to use the Internet to transport glamour to rural or isolated areas.

"Sure, kids in Los Angeles and New York know what a club experience is like," said Littlefield, who is from London. "But what about teenagers who live in Des Moines, Iowa?"

Guests attend The Lounge free of a cover charge and communicate with each other via AOL's Instant Messenger service. Small prompts appear over a character's head when its real-world user has written something.

Parents should note that the characters are automatically prevented from engaging in fighting or any sexual activity. The characters are mostly limited to walking, dancing and listening to music.

"About the raciest thing they are allowed to do is blow a kiss," said Littlefield, who added that later editions will allow characters to hold hands.

The club will also feature bouncers. Doppelganger staff will patrol the club in their own virtual characters and will boot anyone who harasses patrons. Club-goers who want to avoid someone can list them under their Ignore section. The offending party will be prevented from sending or reading any messages to the person who complained. Littlefield hopes this will help protect his site from sexual predators. Some companies that cater to young people have struggled to keep their visitors secure.

Parents can also act as the club doorman to prevent their child from entering.

"We believe parents should have the choice of not allowing their child to participate," Littlefield said. "We don't want that argument. A parent can log on to the site, and we will make sure to remove their child's membership."

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