Community Tools: The News
As the main source of information about events within Disney’s icy, penguin-populated virtual world, it boasts the kind of reader penetration that mainstream newspapers would envy. At least two-thirds of the players turn to the Times each week to find out what’s happening, Merrifield estimates.
Because it won’t accept advertising, the Club Penguin Times doesn’t keep strict Audit Bureau of Circulations figures. Nor does it permit news from the outside world — say, the Democratic National Convention or airstrikes in Afghanistan — to intrude on Club Penguin’s fantasy.
“Oftentimes, there are elements of concern. Avalanches in the past that needed the penguins to band together,” said Merrifield, noting that the Club Penguin Times serves as a device to build community as well as promote literacy.
Merrifield said he was looking for ways to incorporate learning — what he called educational “fiber” — in the game. Publishing a “newspaper” seemed an obvious way to encourage reading by offering information that users care about, such as the latest igloo upgrades.
“We know there’s a value in reading but also a value in kids keeping up with the news, keeping up with what’s going on in our world,” Merrifield said. “The paper is one of the best sources for that.”
Yasmin B. Kafai, a professor of learning sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, said the Club Penguin Times doesn’t have a monopoly on faux news dissemination. The Whyville Times, the ersatz paper of record for that virtual world for teens and preteens, provides a mixture of standard newspaper features, such as TV reviews, along with reader-submitted essays.
Such digital forums can promote literacy, Kafai said, because they encourage kids to do it on their own, without prodding from teachers or parents.
“The more we can get kids engaged in reading and writing outside of [the] school context, it is actually a tool to help them,” Kafai said.
Whether the Club Penguin Times will spark a lifelong love of newspapers remains to be seen.
“It’s too premature to say that,” said Sandy Woodcock, director of the Newspaper in Education program, which promotes newspapers as an educational resource. Nonetheless, she described Disney’s melding of social networking and news dissemination “interesting” and an approach that merits study.
“If the Disney project has a news component and not just a social component, that might be an opportunity for young people to be exposed to information that can help them develop those skill sets — like civic engagement — that can carry them through the rest of their lives.”
I LOVE THE FACT THE LA TIMES DID A PIECE ON THIS.
Here’s the thing – “newspapers” or “gazettes” – etc, are the mouthpiece for PLAY & PRETEND. They give depth & credit to the social-fantasy you are trying to build around and within the “world” you’ve built for your audience.
Yes, there’s the literacy angle, and I get that. Reading = good. You don’t have to sell me on that point (future award-winning novelist that I will be once I get over my writer’s block, ugh).
There is a total art form in creating digestible content for youth that doesn’t feel “forced” or have a marketing/cross-promo agenda. A lot of Virtual Worlds for youth use these news-outlets LESS for building story arcs & world depth, and more for the “hot” thing to buy with your points, or the newest promotional item tied to the world. Blah.
Of course, there always needs to be cross-promotion in these community tools (otherwise, without commercials, how do you know what’s out there? — Hey now, all you commercial-haters, those things are occasionally necessary too!). It’s HOW you promote & display… HOW you engage and arrange.
Club Penguin does a MARVELOUS job of getting content across – from future story-epic-arc-world-altering-awesomeness, to latest cool outfits that penguins enjoy, to interactive gaming elements that help support some function or another (2.0 word games using environmental themes).
And then there is the community engagement – allowing users to write articles, share content, etc. 15 minutes of fame = future brand evangelist. Kids want to count – and in a world of their own? They SHOULD count.
Once again, yay to you, CP.
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