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Activeworlds Virtual Sandbox: Build, Play, Interact!

Updated on April 2, 2018
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Eric Standridge is a published author who writes about a wide variety of subjects.

Active Worlds was founded in 1995 and is the longest-running virtual sandbox on the web. For more than twenty years, a thriving community has called Active Worlds home. The amount of history that can be found within Active Worlds is staggering. Visitors can find “citizen” created “builds” older than twenty years. During the time that they were built, the internet was still considered the wild, wild west.

Through the years, the platform has seen numerous upgrades. Today, builders in Active Worlds have access to much more than they did twenty years ago, including “movers”, “colliders”, “particle effects”, “cameras”, and more. Today, Active Worlds is a thriving community. While many chat programs have come and gone, Active Worlds is still going strong.

What is Active Worlds?

Many people through the years have tried to define Active Worlds and failed. It stands in a class of its own.

On the surface, it is a chat program. People come in to visit with one another and to make new friends. Some worlds only feature classic text chat, while others have a built-in voice chat program.

At first glance, it looks like a 3D game. Visitors arrive wearing avatars, which can be customized to suit their personality. They use these avatars to walk around in a 3D environment. However, there aren’t any enemies to shoot at, no secret clues to unlock levels, and no score to beat. It is a virtual chat environment where the goal is to make friends and explore the world around you.

Digging deeper, visitors soon learn that everything they see was “built” by a member of the community. In addition to being a chat program and a virtual environment, Active Worlds also becomes an outlet for creative expression. Similar to building with Legos, visitors use pre-made models to build things such as houses, castles, and even futuristic colonies on distant planets. They can then use more detailed objects to create special effects, such as leaves blowing in the wind or dinosaurs to ride on.

So now Active Worlds has become a virtual reality 3D chat sandbox building platform.

Still, that does not define Active Worlds.

In addition to chatting, building, and exploring, it is also a place for 3D modelers to test their models, it is a place for programmers to test their programs, it is a place for city engineers to recreate their cities, it is a place for educators to hold classes. It is also a place to get away from it all, a place for people to create their own worlds, to host parties, meet new friends, play games, find a home. Because there is so much that Active Worlds has to offer, it may be impossible to define.

For now, it can be defined simply as a virtual life.

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What Can Be Done in Active Worlds?

Most people visit Active Worlds to meet other people.

The app draws in people from all over the world, so there is a rich mix of diversity.

Regular events are always happening inside Active Worlds, such as the “TGIF” dance parties every Friday Night to poetry and book readings. Many visitors enjoy playing games such as Candyland and Zoo, while others would rather hang around the “universe” entry and just chat.

Some are into fashion and want to create the most stunning looks available, while others are into creating non-human beasts of fancy. With Active Worlds Custom Avatar settings and with the mover settings, all of this can be done.

Being able to build further expands the number of things to do in Active Worlds.

With over twenty years worth of areas built by the community, it becomes a fascinating place to explore. Some of the oldest “builds” provide a glimpse back in time to when the internet was considered the wild west. More modern “builds” that people can explore can be stunningly realistic. Imagine walking through a deep forest shrouded in fog, or through the streets of a major metropolitan city.

Although Active Worlds is not considered a game, there are plenty of games located throughout the various “worlds” that users can enter. These types of games can range from simple text-based chat games to board games and 3D games, all housed within the virtual environment of Active Worlds. Signs advertising games and events can be found throughout the universe entrance area.

The more advanced user may soon learn to build. Many people begin with simple structures, such as homes and gardens. As they learn more about how to build, they move on to more advanced creations. Almost anything can be built in Active Worlds, from the mundane to the strange and bizarre. Throughout the year, there are many contests held for “builders” to participate in.

This just covers the surface. There is so much that can be done in Active Worlds that it would take a novel to describe. The best thing to do is to download the software and give it a try.

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What You Should Know

After first entering Active Worlds, visitors arrive at the Landing Zone, or “LZ”. This is currently set to the “World”, “AW”, or Alpha World. Alpha World is the oldest world in Active Worlds. It is a “public” world, meaning that anyone can build there. On the first visit, visitors have to download all of the models used in the world. This is done automatically and may take a few seconds up to several minutes, depending on their internet connection. Once the world is downloaded, visitors are free to explore.

Alpha World represents 20 years worth of building, so it may not be the most eye-catching of all of the worlds. With over 300 worlds, there is quite a variety of sights to see. Until visitors have taken the time to explore, they should not base their first impressions of Active Worlds on Alpha World.

Generally, chat in Active Worlds is “PG” rated. In other words, profanity is not allowed. However, there are many places throughout that have different ratings, ranging from “G” up to “X”. Because there are so many users in Active Worlds, this is to ensure that those under 18 aren’t exposed to behavior that would be unacceptable. Settings can be adjusted to lock children out of certain worlds based on their rating system.

Moving around in Active Worlds is initially set to using the arrow keys. However, Active Worlds is completely customizable. For those used to using “WASD” keys for movement, and for those who want a map of what all of the keys do, that can be found in the “Configure Controls” box under the Options Menu.

Typically, there is a “Gatekeeper” or an experienced user at the universe entry point that can provide more assistance and help answer questions.

The most important thing in Active Worlds is to have fun!

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