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Friday, March 20, 2009

Undercover Mom in ClubPenguin, Part 5: Cold shoulders

By Sharon Duke Estroff

I’m not even a week into my undercover expedition and I’m already racking up penguin pals like Pokemon cards. No wonder Club Penguin's signature tagline is "Waddle around and make new friends"! That said, not all the birds I’ve met in this hopping virtual world are amicable types. Here’s what happened when I (ChillyLily) approached a group of cheery looking penguins dancing outside the lighthouse:

Me: Hi I am ChillyLily and I am KEWL

Dancing Penguin 1: R not

Me: Hannah Montana Rules

Dancing Penguin 2: Weirdo

Dancing Penguin 3: We r going to a members only party

Me: Can I come?

Dancing Penguin 1: Ewww no!


Dancing Penguin 2: (angry face emoticon)

Me: (sad face emoticon)

Dancing Penguin 3: Go away or I M reporting U

Report me? As in clicking the monitor badge icon on my player card to tell the CP powers that be that I am behaving inappropriately (which wasn’t true at all)? Couldn’t Dancing Penguin 3 just click on the ghost icon and ignore me for a while (meaning none of the messages I send will show up in bubbles on her screen until she decides to reinstate me to her inner circle)? If I get reported, the monitors could silence me. Or worse yet, they could ban me from Club Penguin altogether! And then what good would I be as an undercover penguin? In the name of damage control, I took the hint and slunk away.

Mom Break: Like so many aspects of children’s virtual worlds, I found Club Penguin’s buzzing social scene to be a mixed bag of fun, fascination, and concern.

I’ll start in the Pro column. When we were growing up, kids ran around the neighborhood with their friends until stars filled the sky. But today not so much. (Why? Because oodles of extracurriculars, mounds of homework, a generally anxiety-ridden parental population, and the advent of the formal playdate have rendered such informal socialization among children ancient practice, but that’s a whole different parenting post.) Consequently, many contemporary kids experience unprecedented feelings of isolation, loneliness, and stress. Virtual social networking, when done safely and in moderation, can provide children with a comforting sense of companionship and community – and not just in the digital realm. Many kids I chatted with in my real world focus sessions reported meeting up with their school friends on Club Penguin at night and on weekends. Social networking at a young age (in secure and kid-oriented environments) helps build critical digital literacy in children while giving parents an opportunity to teach their kids appropriate online behavior and safety rules early in the game.

And now for the Cons. Despite the fact that Club Penguin, like many other sites, works overtime to keep the chat civil, believe me, social cruelty is rampant. A virtual playground is, after all, still a playground with all the classic bullying and power plays. But unlike a real-world playground, there are no parents or teachers around to set the mean kids straight. And, in my mind at least, the website monitors don’t count. (Would you trust a babysitter to watch your kids if she was also responsible for watching millions of other kids at the same time? I think not.) In my first five days on Club Penguin, I was called "weirdo" three times, "nerd" four, and hit with numerous mean face emoticons. I was excluded from eight private igloo parties, told to go away six times, and pummeled with more snowballs than I can count. And as for my encounter with those snobby dancing penguins, well, it felt like junior high all over again. Sure the CP filters prevented them from saying anything blatantly inappropriate, but the penguins' cattiness and cruelty come through like a bullhorn.

I managed to snag some screenshots of (what I consider to be) cyberbullying on Club Penguin. As you look at them, try to imagine how you would feel as a little kid sitting alone in front of a computer screen reading such messages.

Note from editor Anne Collier: For more kinds of cyberbullying in kids' virtual worlds, see "Top 8 workarounds of kid virtual-world users" that I wrote, based on an interview with Sharon last summer. For an index of the complete Undercover Mom series to date, please click here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the tips!
Now I can be sure to be safe!

5:12 PM  
Anonymous titanic95594 said...

Its titanic agian I see your problem.This happend to me alot when I was a non member and it really hurt but im a member but I am not a rude one because I barely talk on it.Anyways you can go to there party because they dont have the power to kick you out.Plus if they report you they really cant because theres no option of the conflict.Besides you should report them.This happend because members think there better then non member witch is not true because everyone is equal.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. This is a real problem. I once went to a "member's only" igloo party when I was a non member, and people teased me, saying things like, "At least I'm a member!" or "You're not cool because you're a non member." There are also igloo parties called "colleges" where penguins pretend to be in college. There are many snobby penguins at these parties. Many of them call you a "prep", which on Club Penguin, doesn't mean a person going to prep school. It means a mean, snobby, girly girl. Also, for a while (until moderators figured it out), people found a way to get around the chat filter and call someone a b**ch (excuse my language.) Instead they called them a "beach." Luckily, moderators eventually figured out what it meant.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The snowball thing is supposed to be fun(unless u've gotten :P emoticoned).It's kids, it's perpetual winter, they're gunna throw snowballs. Plus, if ur not a member, there's a slight 'I'm a member and ur not, therefore I'm better then u are' thing.

3:04 PM  

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