Thursday, 11 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Club Penguin MMORPG

My name is Captainchair (all one word due to character limit) and I am the Avatar! No, not that Avatar, nor this, but the penguin representation of Damian's children in the MMORPG Club Penguin. Damian got to choose my name (and colour) to prevent fights between his offspring who no doubt would want completely different names & colours.

Actually this isn't exactly how I look, all I actually have is a cap. A rather fetching one, but ultimately just a cap. Other clothes and accessories cost extra, but I'll come onto that in a minute.

This is me in the middle, saying 'hello'.

Club Penguin (CP) was created as a 'safe' place for children who wanted to play Warcraft and the like but whose parents were a bit wary of the type of people they might encounter on the way. After designing your basic penguin, the User walks him through the virtual world, talking to other penguin avatars and playing games to earn coins and buy new accessories.

It takes a while to get into it and at first I was stood there a little lost & confused as to what I was supposed to do. Things became a bit better when my User started clicking on things at random to see what happened.

There are lots of mini-games within CP such as this one -

My adult User found the games incredibly repetitive and boring. My child Users had more fun, spurred on by the desire to get more coins.

Depending where your penguin wanders you'll come across loads of other penguins who you can chat to. At times everything can get very busy, with dozens of other penguins, and my User lost me amongst the crowd.

If your User only has a free account, they encounter this quite a lot -

To get the full-on CP experience your User has to pay (real money, not the virtual kind). This starts at £3.95 a month, up to £37.95 for a year.

Toys R Us supplied my User with a free account, which he passed onto a friendly 9 year old, since his own children can't read and thus were having a few problems playing. I was a little sad that I was never going to get the attention that I deserved as a penguin, but glad that someone else would benefit.

At this point Captainchair returns to the Virtual World and the adult User takes over the review.

9 yo says that CP is 'really good'.  He likes sending his school friends letters and chatting to them.  Unlike me, he really likes the coin-earning games - his favourite being a surf boarding one. He particularly likes the pets ('puffles') you can get for the penguins & the ability to name them.

Absolutely everything on CP is watched by moderators: penguin names have to be approved, bad language & personal details are blocked, etc etc.

CP is not in any way educational. You could try and argue it is - children learn the value of money! You know, those who don't get pocket money - but really it's just for fun. Like a lot of computer games it is a complete waste of time and will suck away your children's free life like an adult using Warcraft/Facebook/Twitter.

Strict time limits for use are ESSENTIAL.

In fact, it might actually be a good idea for CP to include an option for an adult to set a playing time in the game, after which (and a couple of on-screen warnings that your time is about to run out) you get kicked off.

This is where I bring on the evil Drsabath avatar (not an official CP character) to say why I'm not entirely convinced CP is a great thing. CP is fun, and children love playing it, but that's not always a good reason for doing something. I mean, Drsabath loves robbing banks, but society tends to frown on this.

Unlike regular computer games there's no endpoint, so they can go on and on forever. In fact you have to spend hours and hours playing MMORPGs to get anywhere - that's how they're designed. CP is aimed at primary school children (actually it says it's aimed at children up to 14, but I highly doubt high school kids are going to play this). Personally, I think young children should be doing other things with their time than playing this type of game.

I don't have a problem with kids playing computer games generally. I like kids playing games with good story lines and that require some kind of logical thought process. CP doesn't have any real story, it doesn't require much in the way of thought, and I'd much rather my kids have a friend physically round to the house to play than chat to them online.

As for it being a 'safe' site, well, any kid who can navigate CP can also load up Google too. So unless you're going to stand over the child while he/she is playing it's kind of pointless (and the whole point of CP is that a adult doesn't have to supervise as it's safe). It has been argued that CP is good for teaching kids about online safety. I'd argue an adult saying 'don't give out personal details' is almost as effective.

I understand there was a gap in the market. I'm just not convinced it needed filling.

In summary, top marks from children, lower marks from me.

Other Toyology reviews can by found in the Toys R Us Toy Box on Facebook.

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