I just started playing Animal Jam: Play Wild. It’s a virtual world designed for children.
What do I mean by virtual world? Imagine you’re in a chat room. But this chat room isn’t a white box filled with text. There’s a thin box of chats at the top of the screen that can be hidden. The rest of the screen is filled with a 3D world. This world has different areas, like a water park and a shopping plaza. And you are there. You are not just a username in a chat box: You are represented by a 3D animal, wearing a combination of clothes and colors you pick out yourself. Your animal can walk around the 3D world, interacting with it and other users’ 3D animals.
An internet chat room filled with anonymous strangers disguised as animals? That really doesn’t sound like a safe place for kids.
That’s why the game has a lot of oddities that only make sense when you realize they’re there for the security of the children.
For one thing, there is the “bubble chat” feature. Unless the user signs in with an email (which presumably belongs to the parent), the only way they can communicate is through a short list of phrases. Examples are “Yes,” “You’re nice,” and “Follow me.” I befriended a user who I hung out with for two days before I realized she was communicating with bubble chat. Bubble chat isn’t that good. I’m just that dumb.
Unlocking the keyboard allows much more versatility. However, you can only type pre-approved words. It can’t just have a blacklist, because even if it blocked “boobs,” people could still get around it by typing “booooobs” or “fuckboobs” or “*b*o*o*b*i*e*z*z*z*” or some such. So the keyboard instead has a whitelist with a reasonably large vocabulary of approved words. Granted, you can’t type things like “australopithecine” or “Sysiphean,” but it does have some impressive words like “uncanny” and “Medusa.”
But then, the keyboard is missing seemingly basic words. Like the word “one.” I typed it three times, unable to believe that the keyboard wouldn’t accept it. Why on earth would a keyboard know “Medusa” but not “one”??
That’s when I remembered that it’s kid safe. By blocking numbers, the game prevents kids from giving out phone numbers and addresses.
Freedom and safety: always a tradeoff. But it really is interesting to see what features this game employs to make it safe for children.