Parent tools and Imagination: Club Penguin style

Club Penguin is launching new tools to help parents manage their children’s online play experience. With the update, parents will be able to view account histories, change the password for the account and chat freedom levels, and, in the future, set time limits for play. More virtual worlds, like BarbieGirls.com, are beginning to promote parents’ areas as a unique feature of the game, and some are even charging for the safety tools. With the near-glut of youth-oriented worlds out there, it looks like developers are marketing as much to parents (the ones with the wallets) as kids (the ones with the demands).

While Club Penguin offers children a world of opportunity to play and use their imaginations online, as parents ourselves we understand the value of making sure kids also spend time away from the computer playing sports and being with their friends,” Lane Merrifield, general manager and co-founder of Club Penguin, said in a statement.

Virtual Worlds News: Club Penguin Launches Parenting Tools

HAHAHA. I laugh simply because – no GREAT IDEA is thought of once, by one person. Great ideas seriously POP into the heads of at LEAST 7 (that’s my estimate) people. The first one to act on that idea gets the glory. I shake my fist at the gods for timing.

Of course, webkinz and Pirates of the Caribbean Online both already have “parent account” areas, but as progression… well… progresses, as do tools, tech, and ease of use. (Besides, Webkinz parent area sucks. Sorry, but it does).

Oh, le sigh. Soon, soon parental controls of tween and younger sites will be customary. Virtual World 101. Expected, typical, demanded. And ya know what? Good. Put some of the control & responsibility back into the hands of the parents. Nice.

I highlighted Lane Merrifield’s statement because I wanted to share something else with ya. Club Penguin & their imagination offerings. I’m telling you, these people have got the magic. Seriously. I used to be freaked (back in the pre-VW youth boom) that the interweb was going to steal the soul of free imaginative play from youth. I was worried that storylines and structured play patterns were going to hinder any freedom. And then I drank the punch and became a VW advocate. And lately, Club Penguin’s population has calmed any spec o fears lying in the back of my brain from those old days of worry. Why? Because I found TWO events going on of free imaginative play:

The top image is a backyard barbecue with family-styled badminton. Badminton? Yes. Badminton. Notice the fence line (net), tennis rackets (badminton rackets), two separate teams broken into two colors. There isn’t a “badminton” animation for the penguins (let alone a tennis animation), but no worries. The kids mind modeled it. How? They throw snowballs, and it looks like they’re serving. One throws it to a kid, the kid then throws a snowball to another, and the game goes on. No winning or losing it seems. Just playing.

The second image is a SPA. Yes. A spa, complete with tanning beds, mani-pedi chairs, A BATHROOM, a pool/hot tub, a healthy kitchen, and a yoga studio. Crazy, right? Okay, okay – I’ll admin. The spa seems a bit complex and there COULD have been adult interaction (parent, staff, etc). I don’t care. Why? Because while I was in the spa, nearly 30 kids went through. That’s thirty sets of eyes and brains that see the possibility and take it as a role model experience. More spas have been popping up too. Imagination, my friends, is addictive to those willing to let go of rules and accept the possibility. Too freakin’ cool. 😉

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  1. Ron
    May 16, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Izzy – Not a virtual world – but in the context of parent participation – check out Vancouver based Totlol (http://www.totlol.com)

    Would love to hear our take.

  2. May 27, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    I read your columns lot Izzy and I admire your dedication. I’m so often way too opinionated to post but I have some thoughts. SO many websites that have preprogrammed chat and other safety features are not capturing the tween audience because it is too young for them. Preprogrammed is great for younger kids especially the ones learning to read, but as for the tween scene if you want to capture their attention you need to treat them like budding adults without crushing their identity and their growth.

    Word filters are very useful but can only do so much and I find a lot of time things tweens say is taken out of context. Another useful tool is parental controls. The problem with this is the “Parent” in parental. More often then not parents aren’t aware of the accounts their kids are making online and that there are parental controls. The thought is “that won’t happen to my kid”. Tweens are starting to formulate their ideas on the universe and I think they have a lot to say. Tweens also have a sense that they are going to live forever, so warnings go unobserved.

    To allow them to express their ideas and to keep them safe at the same time is the key. Live moderation is a key I think, combined with word filters, and parental controls. Parents need to step up and take an interest in what their childern are doing and observing online.

  3. May 27, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Hey, Xiviowinter!

    Thanks for the props 😉

    Totally agree in regards to live moderation, I do think it’s important. Depending on the experience the Company is creating – the visible vs non-visible also creates a contrast in strategy. Seeing adults vs not seeing the adults. Personally, I do not think one is better than the other, it all depends on what your goals/objectives/community strategy are. But regardless – moderators are a must, and kids should know they’re around.

    Also – agree, parents are an issue. Personally, I like to see sites completely cover their own rears for safety – doing what they can on their side of the line, while also encouraging parents to get more involved. When it comes to credit card – that’s huge. And if parents are putting down the digits, it’s good to allow them the vision of THEIR own part in the process. Parental accounts are good for helping the moms and the pops feel a sense of obligation to their child’s experience.

    Of course, this can always create more headaches for the customer service department, as there are suddenly more customers in the kitchen giving tips and making complaints – but you know what? In that long run that could be good. It’s up the company to find ways of offering a WORK WITH pattern for parents, instead of a “work against” or a “work for”….

    Like you said – tweens know what’s up. And they’ll continue to gain momentum in their own wee brilliance. However companies can help introduce better parent-to-kid-to-web experience interactions? That’s the better. Why? Because parents will start to adapt to the reality of the situation (or at least i hope they do), and know what to look for, look out for, and expect in quality.

    So, I say – amen to you – parents DO need to step up and take an interest. I gotta wonder – in like 10 years/15 years… will such worries still exist? after all, these little tater tot internet-Einsteins are going to be mommas and poppas one day. Will they take their clever wee learnings with them into adulthood as life lessons? Hope so. No doubt other tech will come along and make things much more complicated. Oh life. Thou art always a’changing.

    Cheers 🙂

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