A parent's moral dilemma

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Wednesday January 31, 2007.

Some time back my kids were introduced to a site called Club Penguin. I saw some kids playing it and asked about it, then I went home and asked my kids if they’d heard of it. All three of us signed up to play around and had a great time. Since the initial day, my daughter has been playing on it whenever she has time on the computer.

Club Penguin would make a fascinating case study. It’s an online community entirely for kids. They get a little penguin guy that they use to navigate through the world and play games. They can also interact. Parental controls allow me to set whether my kids can chat with others or just use preset chat lines, like “hello, how are you?” The kids can also add friends and visit each other in their igloos. Paying members get to buy cooler stuff with their points earned form playing the games. Non-paying members are really limited in what they can buy. All in all, Club Penguin is a pretty cool thing for me to watch and my kids to play.

Club Penguin also has a hierarchy of sorts. After 45 days and the passage of a quiz, a kid can become a “tour guide” and get a little hat that signifies they’re willing to help others find their way around. But that’s not the only job available to the kids. The other one is far more interesting. It’s the job of Secret Agent.

The Secret Agent on Club Penguin is an important job. For instance, if another kids drops a bomb, like “$#!T” or something, the Secret Agents in the area are supposed to click on their shiny, cool “spy phone” that is in the top corner of the Secret Agent’s window and report the kid. Or maybe the kid did something really stupid, like tell someone his home address. Pick up the spy phone. And the best part: there’s a secret door in one of the shops that leads to the spy room. The spy room is filled with a wall of television monitors that signify the watching of the rest of the Club Penguin world. According to The Girl, the best part of the room is the “cool door.” The only thing missing from the Secret Agent job position is the issuance of a brown shirt.

I’m not sure how I feel about my kid being a Secret Agent. On one hand, I really want to see how she handles it. Will she abuse her power and report guys who beat her in a sled race? Will she do everything in her power to not report someone even though they should be reported? Will she expose her “secret” status? Will she entrap people by baiting them with crappy tours of the area as the Tour Guide, causing them to go into fits of anger and cussing? This kind of thing can tell you a lot as a parent about how you’re doing and where your child is headed. Would you allow your child to continue on in the role of virtual rat? I think I will. But only because it entertains me.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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