Ramble: Why I’m Enamored With Club Penguin

Okay. Honesty here. I used to despise club penguin. I won’t really get into it, but let’s just say I couldn’t understand why boy & girl tweens would be interested in something that seemed to young.

That was quite a while ago. Now, I’m in awe of the community manager/strategist/PM… WHOMEVER it is over there making that gem of a world. Why????

SIMPLICITY. And Imagination.

There seem to be quite a few things in life that make me giddy. GIDDY. I think I’ve established that in the past. But I’ll tell you what– it’s uber-hard to trump how giddy I get when I see kids living out their imaginative play– uninhibited and free-flowing. It makes me proud to be in this industry– whether or not I have a bloomin’ thing to do with the project. Why? Because people like me are attempting to offer quantities of similar opportunities.

But I digress: Back to the splendor of Club Penguin’s progression. About a month (or more) ago, Rockhopper (Club Penguin’s “celebrity” in-house penguin, of piratey nature) was sailing his ship through the seas. Rockhopper’s ongoing storylines have continually brought new levels of realness– or pretend play– to the world, giving kids someone to aspire to meet, greet, be like, hang with, etc. Grounds them a bit more in the surreal nature of the penguin world. You could see good ole Rockhopper sailing his ship in a low-tech flash video by climbing to the top of the lighthouse and peering through the giant telescope. Well… tragedy struck a few weeks back, having poor ole Rockhopper crash his boat. In response, CP provided PFD (personal float device) for penguins to sport around– which they did in droves. Nothing like giving cool-factor to otherwise lamish safety devices (however, that Titanic camp sound about the PFD’s always made them cool for me, and now I’ve the sound stuck in my head, lol if you know it).

Marooned Rockhopper then became a local celeb, hanging out from time to time, greeting penguins and gifting them with avatar backgrounds of himself (signed too– for extra famousness). If a penguin got this background– he/she STILL has this background. It’s a status thing now. Limited and exclusive and now unable to attain. SMART SMART SMART. Fueling the “citizenship” competition, and encouraging penguins to WANT to hang out more often (they don’t want to miss out).

Well, time has passed. They through an underwater-themed party… which they tied into Rockhopper’s tale by the addition of a submarine game for penguins to explore the underwater wreckage. That’s pretty wicked.

All of this is fantastic strategy & planning & tie-ins for the cross-world interaction. But THIS WEE GEM today floored me even more….

While exploring the temp/new party-aesthetics, I went to the ICE BERG, where the free “minors” hat was, and where I suspected the sub game to be… The “room” (iceberg area) was FULL. Took me several tries to enter. Regardless, it was full. When I finally entered I was met with this site:

club-penguins-trying-to-tip-ice-berg.jpg

 

 

(side note: I just wrote a HUGE inspiration piece about this bloody interaction and STUPID wordpress just erased it. Forgive me, but I’m IRRITATED as I just spend ages writing that…. GRRRRRRROWL)

Anyway. Background about the island: the iceberg is a STATIC BACKGROUND. There isn’t a lick of flash or movement or anything. A few months back, and for days on end, this room would fill to the max with penguins trying to FLIP/TIP the iceberg. Let me repeat: static. image. They would all stand in hordes on the edge– encouraging each other to dance or move so that it might do something to the berg. Alas, it didn’t.

Well, here we are, months later, and Club Penguin staged a themed party of “underwater” delights. One of which was the pimpin’ out of the barren iceberg & a future SUBMARINE game allowing users to EXPLORE Rockhopper’s ship wreckage. Pretty darn cool. Once again– this gives kids a sense of cause & action. This world has meaning. If a ship wrecks, one might be able to see it. So, the clever wee penguins (or not so clever, depending on your value of imagination & play) are once again trying to TIP THE BERG… this time they’ve come armed!!

Club Penguin has continuously added customizations that are action-bound. The fireman costume can spew water from the hose, and the construction worker penguin can jackhammer– complete with jackhammering animations. The users (as you can see) have collected at the bottom of the iceberg and are collectively trying to “break” or tip the berg.

“Why are we doing this?” asked a lemming penguin
“Because it’s fun!” replied four others.
“Rockhoppers ship is down there!” shouts another penguin.
“We’re going to free the ship” adds another.
“Dance or move to do something to help!”
“Get your friends!”

And they continue on– collectively pretending & hoping & interacting. Awesome

Have you ever seen a group of day camp kids @ the beach? I was a summer camp counselor for nigh on 14ish years (ten of which I spent at a day camp for the park district). It doesn’t matter WHO you are– if you’re a kid, you are welcome to join in the mayhem– especially the boys. They build and create worlds in the sand– and the waterfalls they make never stay right, so they build dams, and yell for help, and recruit bucket kids whose sole job is to run back and forth from the water, bringing in water reserves. They don’t even look you in the face, they just include you in the emotional-story-creation.

One of my favorite campers ever– a nine year old named PAYTON decided one day that she HATED this plastic baby toy truck she found on the beach. She and her 4 friends decided to bury it, all the while spewing their wrath on the poor toy, building story lines about the infamous “Farmer Brown” who was painted as the driver of the truck. Oooo, that Farmer Brown! So, I came along, checking in on her and the girls, and they told me of the burial. I suggested that we build Scotland on top of the buried Farmer Brown and then we could have a proper funeral afterwards. So, that morning we spent nigh on 2 hours building mountains and lochs and valleys, etc. We started with six total ‘builders’ (myself included, naturally). When we finished we had forty-three children working with us– some were just locals, not even campers. We each made up folktales about the wilderness and how Farmer Brown was attached to the story. Oooo that Farmer Brown. When it came time, I gave the sermon of Farmer Brown’s funeral. Payton gave testimonials, as did a few others who wished to join in, and then we all… and I do mean all, gave the most faux-miserable, loud-sobbing version of “Amazing Grace” one could ever hear. At some point during the “service” we attracted a HUGE crowd. I couldn’t give you numbers– parents, campers, public, etc. And they laughed and cheered and faux-cried along.

Afterwards, the kids set to “destroying” scotland by trampling it, as a uber-sandcastle should be trampled. I went to grab lunch. When I came back– all the kids were at it again. Burying Farmer Brown & getting into the stories & history of it.

Basically– kids want to be included on the magic, they want to build empires from scratch, they want to emotionally invest themselves in seemingly-silliness, etc. It’s fun. It’s a release. It’s escapism– all the while feeling included and excited.

I see this play pattern/behavior all the time on Club Penguin. From “snowball” wars (which are much more fun in the making then the actual war part, which is why “retreats” are so much fun too), to parties in the igloo (again, much more fun in theory and planning and rounding up than the actual dancing part). Club Penguin provides tools… triggers… that allow the users to “go to town” — making up their own rules & play. Club Penguin tries to support by facilitating pieces of storyline — just enough of a taste that the users will run away with the end.

The staff gives real credit to the power of their community, and the innovative nature of this demographic, and I just dig it. Other Virtual Worlds you see out there have to hard-sell all the brand elements, and try to “knock you out” with their high tech awesomeness. I “get” that in regards to catching enough attention to even COMPETE in this market these days– I do. But, Club Penguin… man, they get a WHOLE LOT out of very little (at least in regards to flashiest of the flashy). It reminds me of the good ole days– a large cardboard box, time, and loads of imagination. I’m not sure anyone could really compete with Club Penguin’s level of simplicity & community any longer because it’s all about the differentiating of “big sells” and catchy 2.0 intensiveness or beat-head-with-education that the corps peeps are looking for– and no longer about the simplicity of the play…

But in the now: Bravo, Club Penguin Staff. I salute you proudly.

  1. February 20, 2008 at 12:39 am

    Great post Izzy! While I have some concerns about CP, I think you’re very right about how they let kids use their imaginations to help shape the story of the world. As you say, the iceberg doesn’t have to tip for the game to be fun. I think the vws that survive the current glut in the market are the ones who remember that.

  2. February 20, 2008 at 1:30 am

    Tell me about it. Sigh. I have this battle regularly. Which isn’t always that bad– some people do want to give kids EVERYTHING, which is nice, and I can’t begrudge that at all. Then I become the “whoa! ease up” curmudgeon who acts as a spoil sport to all the huge elaborate ideas, lol. Le sigh.

  3. February 20, 2008 at 11:17 am

    I LOVE this world. It is so simple, no 3-D graphics or anything, and all the special dances you can do just seems to add more fun. And, even though there is little kids around, they still
    sometimes have better ideas what to do than the older kids.

    My little sister and I always play on that together when we want to go somewhere fun, but we can’t because of rain or a blizzard.
    Sometimes we put on a little play at my igloo, or we play hide and seek. We even made a band when the instruments got released, and we wrote our own penguin songs and played at the night club and the Pizza Parlor.

  4. February 20, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks for the insight into why my tween continues to love CP.

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