If your kids are interested in playing online games, and you want one that is safe, fun, and even rather educational, then I can’t recommend Poptropica highly enough. Poptropica is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) geared toward the 6 to 15 year old set, where players create and customize an avatar (your “Poptropican”) and then travel around in the Poptropica world, visiting different themed islands to play games, solve puzzles, compete head to head with other players, and communicate in a safe, scripted way with each other. Players are encouraged to visit the various islands to complete narrative-driven missions and collect medallions, and there are “non-island” games, as well. Kids can also read books and comics, and there’s even an upcoming new island based around the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of books, which my kids and their friends are kind of berzerk for at the moment.
Developed and published by Family Education Network, Poptropica is compatible with both PCs and Macs, and is light enough that you don’t have to have the latest, greatest system in order to play it – if you have an older laptop or desktop that you prefer to let the kids use, then it’ll run just fine on that. I would, however, suggest in investing in a set of headphones if you haven’t already got them, because the game does play music and make noise, and you’re not going to want to listen to that coming from a shared family computer for very long unless you’re a complete masochist.
Poptropica is also free. Though they’ve recently added a store where you can purchase credits for your kids to trick their avatars out further and have access to new islands before the free players do, it’s not necessary to pay to get a satisfying experience, unlike some of the other MMOs my kids are into. You can also be sure your kids are safe while they play Poptropica, because any interaction with other players involves scripted chats only, so they can’t accidentally give out your address to some creeper. They actually can’t even pick their own names for their avatars – they’re randomly generated, so you’ll end up with something goofy like Magic Hippo or Smiley Joker – so no one can get your child’s real name that way, either. The avatars themselves are highly customizable, so your kids can create as crazy a virtual representation as they like, and they all tend to have a serious case of Serious Face (as seen in the shot above), which is amusing, particularly in conjunction with the way the avatars move around.
This game is something of a juggernaut in my house. Both of my kids (ages 10 & 9, boy & girl, respectively) are bonkers for it, and play it several times a week. They’ve probably been playing for over a year now total, and still love it as much as they did when they first started, which is a feather in the creators’ caps, because little kids tend to get bored pretty easily. It’s bright and colorful, and the puzzles and gameplay are tricky enough to keep them engaged, but not so difficult they end up in meltdown mode (well, not very often, anyway). I can’t speak as to the experience a child younger than mine will have, but I think it mostly depends on their patience levels in general. And new things are added all the time, so they always have something interesting to check out when they log on, even if they log on a lot.
All in all, Poptropica is a great way for kids to experience the fun of online gaming without you having to worry they’re going to get into unsafe territory. And since most of the games are educational in one way or another – revolving around a historic period in time, requiring problem-solving skills, reading comprehension skills, etc – you also don’t have to feel like they’re rotting their brains entirely in the process. Everyone wins!
Here are some links for you to check out that will help you and your kids get started with Poptropica:
- If you’d like to check out some of the game before you let your kids play, they have a collection of videos that will take you on a little tour.
- They’ve also got a Membership Tour, if you’re considering letting your kids pay to play. If you don’t like the idea of having your credit card information attached to the account (though there are safeguards to prevent charges you don’t authorize), you can purchase Poptropica cards at Target and other participating retailers to use instead.
- The Creator’s Blog is a journal by, you guessed it, the creators of Poptropica. Gameplay tips and tricks, news and updates, and more can be found here.
- The Parents’ Overview has information for…er…parents, including stuff like how to create a Parent Account that you can use to keep tabs on your membership charges, purchase credits, and more.
- And last but not least, the Poptropica FAQs can answer other questions you might have.
If any of that sounded vaguely like a commercial for this company, don’t worry: it wasn’t. I’m just the mom of two of the millions of kids worldwide that love Poptropica, and I know how difficult it is to find online games that your kids can enjoy extensively without compromising safety or educational value in the process. So, go forth and enjoy. Your kids will have a blast.
Image via Poptropica.