Posted on March 30, 2010 - by MG
Rumours of the Zany Orange Puffle have been around for about a year. Small children would argue with you about whether the sightings (posted on YouTube) of this rare Puffle are genuine or fake. A certain small child has been begging me to let her get an Orange Puffle since their official release in the online world of Club Penguin in February.
I don’t know if she means a real three dimensional object or a virtual pet. Probably both.
While adults exchange quips, moans and snippets of news on FaceBook while playing Farmville and poker, kids are having way more fun than us, as always, in the virtual world of kid’s social networking.
These worlds have complex rules, games, social aspects, teamwork etc. There are virtual parties, games, product launches even. In lieu of doing a survey myself (I have to stay away from these places. I learnt years ago that I have a tendency to become addicted), I asked my 8-year old for the low-down. This is her personal ranking of sites:
1. Club Penguin. Owned by Disney, backed up with real-life products like plush toys, backpacks, sticker books etc. Hardly a day goes by that she doesn’t beg for a subscription.
2. WebKinz. One plush-toy company that missed out on collectible Beanie mania realised the opportunity of linking real-life plush toys to a virtual pet. Each toy comes with a unique ID that buys the child another pet in the virtual world of Webkinz.
3. Moshi Monsters, Neopets. Neopets is quite ‘old’ now, in that it’s been around for almost 10 years.
I’m probably the wrong person to write a hand-wringing article about the dangers of letting kids spend too much time online or looking at screens. After all – Joshua Files itself includes a big online component – an Alternate Reality Game for teenagers, which takes them from video blogs to Twitter to chat with mysterious bots and hunt for clues in Habbo Hotel.
I’d have been utterly hooked as a kid to a site like Club Penguin, so I can fully understand why children love them. The graphics and special effects, compared to computers games like Xbox, PS3 and even Wii, are cartoon-like in their simplicity. But they are far more compelling. A 7-year old can have many hours of fun designing rooms for their avatars, playing games to earn points (the games might even be educational, who knows?). The points are traded for virtual stuff, including, at Club Penguin, the Puffles, most recently the Zany Orange variety. (It dances with a hula hoop)
How can sticking pasta shapes and good clean fun with paint compete with that? It can’t. Reading books probably can’t compete either. No wonder authors are having to make stories better, faster and more action-packed to engage young readers! With our own daughter it’s certainly a battle.
I remember my suburban childhood as a constant battle with boredom. We definitely had to become inventive to think of ways around the boredom. That inventiveness was probably a good thing, sure. You hear a lot of angst now that ‘kids today’ are ruined by the fact that they are never bored – robbed of a chance to invent imaginary games and run around keeping fit etc. How all the kids today are unfit and glued to the screen.
Hmmm. But then I watch my own daughter. She seems to be having bags of fun. All self-taught too – by reading instructions. It gives her ideas for offline play too. With WebKinz and Puffles, you continue into role-play with your friends. Lots of kids make videos of their Webkinz singing, dancing, acting out movie scenes and upload them to YouTube.
So kids like these don’t know what it means to be bored. Wherever they turn there is creative distraction, entertainment. Is that really so bad?
I can’t join the handwringers, I’m afraid. I can only remember how the hours stretched painfully in the school holidays of my youth, and watch with vicarious enjoyment as my own kids play on Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel. Because I suspect that social networking sites like these are saving kids from some of the worst of the boredom and loneliness of childhood in the past.
Next on the ZERO MOMENT blog tour – Elektra Assassin – the baddest comic book grrl ever at bookzone4boys.blogspot.com (31 March)<–>