As many as 65 countries worldwide are set to observe 'Safer Internet Day' on February 8. With the slogan 'Internet is more than a game, it's your life', this year's goal will be to heighten awareness in children and teenagers on the risks of online gaming and social networking or in short the 'virtual life'.

The annual 'Safer Internet Day' has been organized by INSAFE, a network of Awareness Centres that receives European Union (EU) funding to promote a safe use of internet and mobile phones among children, parents, schools, and media, since 2004.

The topic 'virtual lives' encompasses online gaming - from simple games to MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) - and social networking, i.e. the two online activities most popular with Europe's youth. As such, it will draw attention to all of them, and its key messages will encapsulate opportunities and protection against risks, INSAFE said in an online statement.

The eight year old annual event has grown more significant in the present day scenario due to the surging number of cyber crime and cyberbullying cases being reported. Besides the direct threats, there are other risks involved in letting internet dependence grow into an addiction. Some of the facts released by INSAFE throw light on the distressing trends in connection with internet and virtual life:

- Gamers spend on average 8 hours weekly playing online.
- Young people sleep 2 to 3 hours less per night than 10 years ago.
- In January 2010, 18 million accounts were registered on Second Life.
- Facebook reports more than 500 million active users.
- Users spend 700 billion minutes on Facebook each month.
- 13 million players of World of Warcraft (WoW), the world's largest MMORPG.
- MMORPGs generated $1.5 billion in subscription revenues worldwide in 2008, forecast to reach $2.5 billion by 2012.
- Up to 250,000 players are simultaneously online on WoW.
- Transactions and sales of virtual goods in virtual worlds were estimated at $18 billion in 2009.

This year, the organizers hope to raise awareness on two levels by addressing the risks involved when youngsters deliberately go virtual through an avatar or a nickname, as well as the risks involved when they project their real self onto virtual platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

INSAFE has also released a 30-second promotion video: