Home > entertainment, kid empowerment, kid entertainment, kid pop culture, pop culture, responsibility, social networking > More on VMK, and a ramble about community blossoms

More on VMK, and a ramble about community blossoms

In a report last week on the closing of Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom, I noted at that the event would make a good case study for the closing of a fairly popular virtual world or MMOG, something that just doesn’t happen that frequently. The story prompted a wave of responses, many both emotionally compelling and eloquent, that hasn’t stopped yet. Anyone who uses virtual worlds as a promotional tool might want to keep an eye on them as an example of how to balance the benefits of community building that virtual worlds bring with the pragmatics of a temporary, however long-term, campaign. Disney, through a spokesperson, declined to comment further beyond a written statement, provided below.

Virtual Worlds News: Disney on Virtual Magic Kingdom: “All Good Promotions Must Come To An End”

Check out that link above to read Disney’s statement. I can’t help but feel they were responding to people like this momblogger:

Many of you know that my girls and I, although in the past year definitely more me, have been part of an online community/game run by Disney called VMK, or Virtual Magic Kingdom. Almost three years ago, I got this goofy email from Disney asking me if I’d like to be a cool mom and sign my child up for this new community. Of course, at the time, I was completely in love with Disney. We’d made several trips there, our family had enjoyed a few Disney vacations and I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into!! I’d never joined an online community, let alone an online game.

To make a long story short, what Disney had apparently intended to be a year long 50th anniversary promotion (of course, that intent was never really communicated at onset to their fans), ended up continuing into a huge, three year online community/game complete with message boards, expert room builders, expert gamers, people having multiple “mules” and VMKers amassing massive amounts of virtual “stuff”! There were (and probably still are) sales of these virtual items on ebay, bringing in loads of money.

My part in all of this?? I joined two online communities, met in person a few of the people I met online (not recommending this, although for me it’s been fine), and enjoyed some of my downtime with friends I’ve made in the game. It’s an environment where we all have made our own rooms, can chat with each other, play a few games Disney has added and wander around the Magic Kingdom online. Really… it’s just fun! Kt enjoys decorating her rooms with credits I win for her, Em enjoys buying costumes and changing her clothes. We completed several of their in park quests while on various vacations and have brought home virtual prizes that we’ve shared with friends who can’t make it to the parks.

My Tiny Voice in the Big World – When Community Ends

There’s much more to that post as well, if ya click the link.

It’s amazing to see these environments grow roots. When I was in my late teens/early twenties, Talkcity had a Star Wars-themed set of chat rooms (Naboo Swamp, Jedi Temple, Watto’s Junkyard, etc). I hung out there (much to the chagrin of my not-so-techy friends who thought i was a nerd for doing such a thing… little did they know, I was just prolific).

How I got to be there was quite innocent. When Star Wars EP1 came out and Quigon Jinn was killed, I was desperate to know whether or not he would be in EP2. So I went surfing and stumbled into the chat room (linked from starwars.com at that time). I figured of ANYONE, those crazy fans would know. And then somehow… I got addicted (curiosity made a junkie of the cat).

We played and chatted and established weird bonds. Since chatrooms are just a conglomerate of words & people on a white (or black) screen… everything you conjure to create an environment is of your imagination. Naboo Swamp – those two words set a scene. We made more. I had a tree that shot staples at the annoying Fetts (12/ 13 year old kids who buzzed around, playing on their lonesome yet instigating a community, masked with the Handle of “Boba” and or “Fett”). My tree also had a never ending supply of m&m’s to share with others (see? I was a community chick from the start– sharing means caring, lol).

I never really made “relationships” romantically, as many did. I just sat in my tree, watching the continuous conversations scroll up the page, occasionally saying things like “Jedi izzy eats some m&ms and drools”, and that was about it in the beginning.

Eventually, people start to recognize names. A group of “Swampies” (as we later titled ourselves) flirted and battled and had lovely love triangles of amusement. It was like watching fake-fencing. Parry, retreat, spin + parry, retreat – all dictated through sentences. Who ever said it first got the point and others had to react to each sentence after. Like a choose your own adventure that made you roll with the unexpected punches.

Jaina_Solo, Sith_Lord_Kal, and Cally were the first three I got to know – they sat on a couch, or had jedi/sith battles (Kal was a Sith, much to Jaina’s dismay). Eventually Qui joined in the fun– taking the less star wars approach (like me) of conjuring an ice rink (he was a hockey fan/player) and shooting down the Fetts. The four of us met daily in the Swamp. We made other friends, but they would come and go. I disappeared often– busy with college life (everyone else seemed to be in high school when I joined). But Qui, Jaina, Kal, Cally (Hermod, Lioness, Thalia, the Fetts, etc) were always there when I returned– their story lines altering slightly, but they never forgot a swampie friend. We always asked after each other, as if one might psychically know what has happened to another. There was no ulterior method of communication outside Talkcity (we didn’t share IM’s or emails, and if we did, we didn’t really use them), or the Swamp (however, I had traveled once or twice to Watto’s Junkyard, but never grew roots there).

Over time we shared real life stories. They knew about my crush on my soccer coach (but then, everyone in my life knew about that), and they knew about my college life (of sorts). I knew about their choices (for colleges, and majors), and we talked about the stuff we wanted a beyond-our-world partial opinion on, or we exaggerated problems from real life to an audience who only had our “word” for it. Some of us even lied about en masse (not me, but I’m sure I exaggerated often). And that was fine. Slowly, Star Wars slipped into the background, become secondary to our chosen identities (how we wanted to portray ourselves and invest in others).

Talkcity went from web-browser, to download program, to non-existence (at least for the Star Wars crew). That last week of Swampdom we scrambled to share IM names, emails, and even new “replacement” arenas (msn groups, IRC, etc). We lamented after it was gone, and often most conversations surrounded “What happened to…?” or “remember when…?” The play pattern had ended.

You see and hear a lot of “remember when…?” and “what happened to…?” in life – from kids (“remember when we made that store during recess and sold worms to the girls? Lets do it again tomorrow”) to post-college kids (“what ever happened to Bronke the Lumberjack? Did he become a lawyer?”) to our elders (“When I was a kid we had salt and pepper shakers as toys”). It’s a sign of a good memory. A solid experience.

Solid. Experience. Yes– even vague imaginary worlds built by text and sheer determination in the net can have that effect. Great environments become social experiences, learning environments, comfort locations. And yes, just like recess and childhood, they too must go…
They’re like Mary Poppins. Blossoming in one area, only to eventually go– only to pop up again somewhere else, giving others the same ounce of joy that you experienced.

From what it sounds like, the mom blogger had a bit of that joy herself. And it’s sad to see such things go. But you know what– for me? Reading about her experience? That little piece of my memory flared with the thoughts of the Swamp, and I realized it was still living, just elsewhere, with new people and new content. The same thing happened when I worked at Star Farm with the kids forming friendships & imagination through the blog (my Pirate Pole Chicken and blogger Rosie’s interactions were GOLD).

Fantasy, imagination, and people = the greatest combo. It also makes for a SUCCESSFUL virtual environment.

And by the way- I’m still in contact with two of the swampies on Facebook, and if you look in the “About Izzy” section of this blog, you’ll see a comment from another.

Blogged with the Flock Browser
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  1. April 17, 2008 at 5:07 am

    Thanks! and still sad to see such a successful online community disappear!

  2. Teresa
    April 21, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Nice story. I am a VMKer. As so many have stated, things like this may end but we go on to another place. You even stated that in the last days everyone was scrambling to get contact information.
    Unfortunately, because VMK was originally geared towards kids, they have safety precautions. There is a set dictionary of words. Anything not in that dictionary cannot be said unless you “dance” around it. There are no numbers, no proper names, no states or countries or anything of the sort. Giving out Any personal information is strictly forbidden and can result in an instant ban. I’ve even seen people go poof as soon as they say anything personal.

    So, these friendships that many of these people have formed will be completely dissolved when Disney pulls the plug.
    I also know of many kids and adults who have various forms of autism or other problems or diseases that play. Many of these people have had not had any friends at all until they started playing VMK.
    Some of the stories of kids are absolutely heartbreaking.

    One 11 year old girl who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy and can’t move on her own says in her blog:
    “I love VMK cause I can WALK, TALK, EAT, DANCE, SHOP and play checkers all by myself.

    PLEASE HELP ME!

    Love,
    Madison
    p.s. VMK is GERM FREE too!
    p.s.s. and no one stares at me there. ”

    Another mother pleads with Disney because her child with autism progressed in her development after starting VMK and even made friends for the first time ever. Now since the annoucement of the closing, she says she’s watching her daughter regress back to before she started playing.

    VMK is much more than your ordinary virtual community. It is a virtual representation of the Disney parks. The moment you start playing, you notice the magic of Disneyland. And so many of us that play are huge Disney fans. This is the only place on the internet that has the actual Disney Magic about it. Even their other games don’t have it.

    Disney is just turning it’s backs on the 250,000 active accounts currently in VMK. They are taking away the most magical place on the internet, and we don’t want to see that happen.

  3. April 21, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Thanks for posting, Teresa.

    Of all people, I do indeed know the safety limitations of a child-based virtual world. 🙂

    No one wants to see a child hurting or upset. What would you suggest Disney do in the interim?

  1. July 25, 2008 at 11:32 pm

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