I try to stay ever vigilant over the online activity of my children (ages 7 and 9, respectively). I generally walk them through the process whenever they join a new gaming community, making sure that there is no room for hidden costs, a solid policy against the sharing of personal information, and a clear lack of unmoderated social interaction. I’ve seen War Games, and that is not happening on my watch.
However, there was one game that slipped through my personal firewall—I was, most likely, still in bed on a Sunday morning (it happens), and both of my boys joined Club Penguin without my knowing.
In their defense, I had told them that they could play official Disney games without constant updates of approval from me or their mother, and Club Penguin is a Disney game. The difference is, obviously, that Club Penguin is also a social network for kids (and penguins), and that wasn’t what I had in mind when I thought they were playing with Stanley and his Great Big Book of Everything.
I took a look at Club Penguin. It looked legit, and the kids were having a blast, so rather than wage a war of semantics I let them continue their playtime. I trusted the Disney brand on reputation and personal experience, and my trust, especially where my children are concerned, is not something I give lightly.
It wasn’t until a recent trip to Club Penguin headquarters in Kelowna, British Columbia that I realized how sound my decision was. Within minutes of meeting the people behind the penguins I felt very much at ease, and realized that Club Penguin cares about our children just as much as we do (give or take). They are passionate about safety, and they take their passion seriously.
Club Penguin is the biggest massive multiplayer online (MMO) game for kids in the world. That’s a lot of penguins. It also has some of the most advanced language filters and real-time moderating available today. Their security is so advanced and revolutionary that I’m not even allowed to write about all of it, but know this, it made me, as a parent, feel very, very comfortable. (Also making me feel comfortable was knowing that much of Club Penguin’s proprietary safety and security platforms will also be used in Disney Infinity. Score one for synergy!)
The moderators aren’t just there for good PR, they are quick with fair and consistent disciplinary action when warranted, and they follow that by reaching out to the player’s parent or guardian in a timely manner should further steps or discussions be needed. Bottom line, the kids know the rules, and they are expected to stick to them—no sharing personal information, no inappropriate talk, and no room for anything but kindness. Nobody likes a naughty penguin (except perhaps Lyle Lovett).
The Club Penguin headquarters are as fun and whimsical as one might expect. It was also quite refreshing that the building was not created as a shrine to their own impressive accomplishments, which would have been totally justified, but rather a tribute to the kids that play the game. The walls are covered in fan art and more than one employee found themselves a bit chocked up when talking about the children. Yes, the children. It was downright moving, and I’m a cynical piece of work.
Bottom line, if you are on the fence about letting your children join a gaming community that emphasizes social interaction, you are not alone. However, I recommend that you take a look at Disney Club Penguin and do your research (for example, reading this article). Chances are your kids will be walking pet puffles and decorating igloos in no time, and you will feel darn good about it.
I was a guest of Disney Club Penguin at the Club Penguin Media Summit in Kelowna, Canada. All opinions are my own. Photos courtesy of Disney.