April 28th, 2007 by Benjamin Duranske
In the not-so-serious virtual crime department, Wired recently covered a theft at kid-based virtual world “Club Penguin.”
Sure, it’s not as big a deal to you as having your Second Life vendor account hacked, but to an eight year old… it’s devastating. Especially if your little brother is the perp.
One of the highlights from the article:
“All my money is gone, and there’s a fireplace in my igloo,” Ariel screamed when she logged back on.
Poor kid. And it just gets worse from there; her little brother’s a recidivist.
Somewhat oddly, I was actually looking into Club Penguin before I stumbled across this piece because the subject came up in an interview I did last week for a subscription-based financial news site. The analyst I was talking to puts more stock in the longevity of kid-based virtual worlds like Club Penguin than I do, but I have to admit that the numbers are astounding — Club Penguin is reported to have had 4.5 million unique users in December 2006 alone.
So I logged in. Why not? They say right on the website that it’s for “kids of all ages.” You’re laughing, but you really want to know what it’s like, don’t you?
To the immense credit of Club Penguin, safety is a high priority. I had to click a box saying I was “Really Old” (the other demographics offered were “8 and Under,” “9-12,” and “13-17″), an automated system told me to “please be a good example for the younger players,” I could have reported a player to a moderator with two clicks, and though I didn’t test it (these are kids, remember) their filtering is supposedly excellent, blocking curses, come-ons, and violent chat phonetically as well as by keyword and format (e.g., phone numbers).
In addition, they’ve built in self-policing. After an account is 30 days old, the penguin can become a “Secret Agent” and report other players’ misdeeds to the moderators. I assume most kids opt-in to this, since it sounds cool.
Overall, I’m impressed with both the world (which is frankly pretty fun), and with the safety and moderation tools.
Best of all, the kids are learning how to behave in a virtual world-based MMO game, and us old folks get to help. After I got my newbie ass handed to me in an inner tube race down a snowy mountain, a penguin named ‘Imnasim’ told me, “I won u.”
“No, little dude,” I told him, “u own3d me.”
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