Undercover Mom in Poptropica, Part 2: The Apple Jacks of kids' virtual worlds
By Sharon Duke Estroff
Last week I detailed the good things I discovered in this popular kids' virtual world for 5-to-10-year-olds. This week...
What I wasn't crazy about
Video Game Overtones. Gallant educational effort aside, my suspicions were correct. Kids arenít flocking to Poptropica.com
by the tens of millions out of a quest for learning, theyíre flocking
there for the highly addictive video games. No sooner had I entered an
Aztec ruin on Shark Island than I found myself hopping, flipping, and
climbing Nintendo-style to a secret passage (a task that took me a good
30 minutes to nail down as I kept missing my landing targets and being
tossed back to Go). Indeed, everywhere I turned on Poptropica held
similar gaming challenges. Itís safe to say that for every second a kid
spends reading educational tidbits on Poptropica, he spends hundreds
more in videogame la-la land.
To Cheat or Not to Cheat.
Let there be no mistake about it. Poptropica games are HARD. For a
prehistoric parent like me, they border on downright impossible. At a
loss for how Iíd ever manage to sedate that Great White and save Shark
Island, I turned to two of my joystick-savvy sons (ages 9 and 14) for
assistance. But alas, they too failed miserably. Thatís when I began
combing the kiddie masses (at school, birthday parties, Chuck E. Cheese
and the like) for advice on how to succeed in Poptropica. The consensus
was clear and simple: I needed to Google "Poptropica Cheats." My search
yielded no less than 36,000 results including this unsettling video
on YouTube of two children explaining how to cheat on the site - a
great opportunity, I'd say, for family discussion about "cheating" in
game and virtual worlds vs. in the real world: Ask your kids the
similarities and differences are.
Advertising All Around.
Iím not naÔve. I understand that for a free virtual world like
Poptropica to be profitable it needs to feature paid advertisements.
The Apple Jacks banners flanking the site didnít bother me a bit. Nor
did the Cinnamon Toast Crunch game that has kids collecting pieces of
cereal. But is it really necessary to launch a full-screen pop-up ad
every time a kid (or a mom) moves the mouse a millimeter too far to the
right or left? Worse yet, the pop-up ads prevented me from returning to
the Poptropica page where Iíd been previously playing, forcing me to
start the game all over again with a brand new avatar Ė five times.
(Hmm, might such repeat registration have something to do with those
reported 20 million Poptropica accounts? Hey, Iím just saying.)
The Bottom Line
I found Poptropica to be a lot like the Apple Jacks cereal it plugs so
aggressively - loops of empty calories dusted with vitamins and
minerals. Nevertheless, in a virtual-world cafeteria line full of
straight-out junk food, it makes for a pretty good choice.
Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning educator and author of "Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? (Random House, 2007). Her parenting articles appear in over 100 publications including Scholastic Parent and Child, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Woman's Day. She is a parenting blogger for Huffington Post. Sharon is the creator of CHALLENGE ISLAND enrichment classes, camps, and birthday parties which provide imagination-fueled learning adventures to children while fostering their critical and creative thinking skills.