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Overview

For those of you who have never come across Club Penguin, here’s a quick overview:

The website’s slogan, ‘Waddle around and meet new friends’, pretty much sums it up – Club Penguin is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) for kids where they can meet up and make new friends. Now owned by Disney, there’s a fair bit of clout behind the application since it’s original launch by New Horizon Interactive in 2005.

Boxing Day…

I’ve reached that age where I’m no longer really considered one of the ‘children’ at family gatherings. However, I hope I’ve become one of those super cool relatives that’s still able to interact  with the youngsters on their level and get asked to be on their team during the party games.

Boxing day at my grandparents is where my hopes come to fruition. Family members are split into Adults vs Children teams and a game of ‘Who’s in the Bag’ commences. The Oldies sneak a victory, and although I’m on the Children’s team, I feel I’m the real winner due to the team selection.

Nevertheless, shortly after the game I get my laptop out for a bit of browsing but am soon overwhelmed by children demanding I log into something called ‘Club Penguin’. Interested, I allow my younger cousins (roughly aged between 8 and 12 years) to guide me through the login process and show me around the virtual world that is Club Penguin.

Virtual World for Children

I was astonished at the level of engagement these kids had with such a classic online game model. This is something which I’ve played for years but had never experienced at such a young age – create and customize a character, complete tasks to earn in-game currency, buy items and improve your character.

At first, I was surprised at how these children talked about the game, their feelings of accomplishment and how they enjoyed showing me the characters they had created. They knew and understood game mechanics as well as acted out in-game nuances and user-projected rules.

It suddenly dawned on me, not only should I not be surprised at this – of course children of this age will engage with online communities in the same way as their older counterparts – but I should be jealous. This generation will become far better equipped to deal with the ins and outs of virtual worlds, and in turn a completely ‘wired existence’, than I ever did or ever will.

Synoptic pruning takes care of that. These kids are using their brains in ways that I never did at such a young age. They’re learning to communicate, to form bonds and create communities across the web through play, and in doing so are preparing themselves for a future which will almost certainly be dictated by online technologies.

There’s always the lingering concerns of privacy when it comes to children and the internet. One of my immediate thoughts was how are these children protecting themselves online? What measures are in place to ensure their safety?

However, the more I think about it, perhaps benefits outweigh the risk. We’ve learnt harsh lessons since the dawn of the web when it comes to online privacy and those lessons have gone a long way towards protecting ourselves, and our children. The advantages opening themselves up when children engage in online virtual communities could be endless – and they enjoy it!

Let me know how you feel about children using online virtual communities. Are the dangers too great and how young is too young?

 Image attributed to: San José Library, Flickr