Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Penguin's Life

Massively multi-player games are all the rage. There is Everquest and World of Warcraft if you want to wage war. There is Second Life if you want to wage life. And for the kids, there is the torridly two dimensional world of Club Penguin. These school holidays, it has totally absorbed our family.

So what happens in the club? Basically, for free, your kid gets a penguin and can earn coins by playing games. They can then use the coins to buy some things including stuff to do up their very own igloo. They can also buy pets called puffles and spend some time trying to keep them healthy and happy. Finally, they can waddle around the world and see who else is there.

This teaches them about life. My 6 year old son, played enough games to earn himself some loot and then spent it on ten puffles. He learnt the lesson of over-population quickly and found himself unable to care for them. By the day's end, they were all gone; passed on to another virtual place. From then on, he kept his puffle herd down.

For my kids, we told them not to talk to strangers. So their activities are divided between saying in response to someone asking them to be their friend, "No!" and looking for each other. So in one room someone shouts out, "where are you?" and there is the response "in the Outback." Suffice it to say the Outback is a much colder place than you would expect.

To earn coins, the kids played games. I asked whether they killed anyone and apparently that wasn't allowed. Now how, may I ask, is this going to prepare them for other virtual games?

Typically, I would come home to this conversation:

"How long have you been playing that thing?"

"About three hours."

"Don't you think you should stop?"


"What are you doing?"

"I am playing this ice block game. Three more rounds and I'll have enough coins do get another puffle."

"What about bath time?"

"What about it?"

"Well, the kids seem to be waiting to go to bed and they haven't eaten since lunch. Well, except for some virtual fish."

You see, Club Penguin -- like other games before it -- has taken in my kids' mother. She too is obsessed with getting further in it. The entire family is now on ice.