Check this out.A,A I find the last line SO ominous.A,A As I recall, the lady who interviewed Liz for that radio show in NOLA got concerned about addiction because of her young son's reaction to this game:
Clique on to Penguin
How a virtual world is changing social dynamics in fifth-grade classrooms across the country
By Elizabeth Weiss Green
There were early signs, like when her son, Perry, who is 7, started talking seriously about buying a piano. Or when his friends started organizing sled races, even though temperatures in their northern California neighborhood were climbing into the 60s. But GraceAnn Stewart did not use the word obsession until the day a few weeks ago when Perry asked her to make his school day longer.
In Fairfax, Va., these kids socialize in cyberspace and the real world, thanks to Club Penguin.
The reason was Club Penguin, a website where kids live second lives masquerading as chubby aquatic birds. Perry's parents limit the time he spends playing this Internet game at home, but in daycare he can get three uninterrupted hours of sledding down slopes, ordering virtual lattAfAE'A,AE'AfaEUsA,AE'AfAE'A,aEUsAfaEUsA,A(c)s, and maybe even meeting a tiny penguin "gf" (girlfriend). The Internet club, launched in October 2005, has captivated elementary school children across North America, with 4 million visitors in January, up from 2.6 million in September. Club Penguin-and a growing number of similar sites-provide the 8-to-14-year-old set with a virtual meeting place all their own, a MySpace for kids. But Penguin has unsettled parents. "There is no handbook on this," says Stewart. "Should we be allowing kids to do this? Is it really safe?"
That depends. Most parental nightmares involve foul-minded adults posing as penguins. Those fears are very likely overblown: Sophisticated safety features filter anything that looks like an E-mail address, a phone number, or profanity out of the children's chats. In fact, a Canada-based consulting firm that trains police about child safety on the Web uses Club Penguin as a positive model and the Better Business Bureau awarded the site a kids' privacy seal of approval. What's less clear is how these new online 'tween lands change the way kids talk, play, and grow.
Nancy Willard, an educator who wrote the book Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens, limits the time her son and daughter spend on Club Penguin. "These websites are specifically designed to work against the balance of life," she says. "You could get sucked in for hours."
Dennis, an 11-year-old from Ontario, knows firsthand how easy it is to fall for Club Penguin. Like most kids, he started out playing its arcade-style computer games that zoom penguins down ski slopes or behind jetskis. By playing these games, Dennis won points or coins that he could use to buy his bird clothing, pets, or furniture for his igloo.
That purchasing power kept him playing: The more stuff a penguin gets, the more popular he can become with the other players. Vintage items no longer in the game's online catalogs are especially precious. A player whose penguin is dressed in a classic outfit can be barraged with buddy requests and ingratiating virtual postcards. It's this social element-the complex fantasy universe kids have built on top of the developers' basic platform-that's gotten Dennis and others like him hooked.
Hearty chat. Dennis had his first date, his first breakup, and his first making-up in Club Penguin's virtual arctic world. "We just met each other and then we started giving hearts," Dennis says. "And then flowers." Penguins in the game communicate through words and symbols that rise above their heads in cartoon bubbles. Parents can limit their kids' chat repertoire to stock phrases and symbols or let their kids type actual words. "Boy or girl?" is one of the more popular choices. Hearts, which signify romantic attraction, are a close second.
Club Penguin's founders were surprised when their virtual world started pulsing with romance. But ultimately the team, three fathers in British Columbia who ditched their new media company to build the site, decided intervention would be counter to their ideals. They built Club Penguin to be a "virtual sandbox"-just like real life.
But kids say the best parts of Club Penguin are the ways it isn't like real life. "It's about having a rule-free virtual world, which is so addicting because anything you could ever want to do-basically, like almost everything-you can do it," explains Matteo, a District of Columbia fourth grader. "I can make my penguin do anything I want," says 12-year-old Luke of Manhattan. Luke runs a website that publishes hacks, or ways to cheat Club Penguin's system. He can make his penguin dance, or get coins without playing games, or even fly. In the real world, Dennis is teased for playing with girls. But in the game, his penguin is very popular because other players read Dennis's blog. In Club Penguin, Dennis gets his dreams of celebrity.
The online world can be liberating, but it has downsides, too. When Dennis lost his membership for stealing coins, he called the Club Penguin office in tears. His mother, Bilyana, says she's grateful for the lessons the site has taught her son about ethics. After being banned, he has sworn off hacking for life. But she hopes the obsession will fade. "He found himself in a virtual world," she says. "When I see him sitting there on that position all day or for a few hours-I'd rather see him playing outside."
Club Penguin has made efforts to discourage excessive use. New features come out weekly, rather than daily, and the site doesn't punish users for not visiting frequently, as some competing sites do. The creators plan to release a feature in June that will let parents limit how much time kids spend on the site.
But Club Penguin is, in many ways, an exception to the increasingly big business of 'tween gaming. While Club Penguin gets its profits solely from subscriptions, its rivals feed on ads. (A story about Club Penguin's competitors is available at www.usnews.com/penguin.) Some sponsors even pay websites to put products in the games, a kind of product placement called "advergaming."
These sites predict rapid future growth: Nicktropolis, where kids can meet up with actual Nickelodeon characters, announced it has attracted over a million users since its January launch. Finland-based Habbo.com, which gets 10 percent of its revenue from ads, has seen its American user base of older kids grow in the last few months, with 1.7 million users in North America last month-a number the company projects will double, if not triple, by the end of the year.
But for now, Club Penguin is America's 'tween networking king. Two weeks ago, GraceAnn Stewart finally relented and dropped her son off at daycare. When she picked him up, she found a scene that confirmed her suspicions: 19 little bodies sitting in front of 19 computers, all logged in to Club Penguin.
This story appears in the March 19, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.
"Small service is true service while it lasts. Of humblest friends, bright creature! scorn not one
The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,
Protects the lingering dewdrop from the sun." -------William Wordsworth