National Geographic is vying for young eyeballs with a new online community/game called Animal Jam. Like it or not, kids are drawn to these virtual worlds where they can amass goodies and interact with other kids. While we are not condoning youngsters spending any more time in front of screens, this system does have valuable parental controls and a small educational component.
As of now, there are more than 500,000 young explorers in the virtual world. The game launched last year and targets kids ages 5-11. Each player can join for free and become an animal. Once they've got an character, the players can cruise through the lands of "Jamaa" looking for friends and adventure. On the plus side, the game does have a trivia component with animal facts, and there are National Geopgraphic videos woven into the game. Security-wise, the game is supervised by moderators, and very little personal information is released,
A few weeks ago, we sat down with the press team behind this game. They walked us through a typical Animal Jam outing. It was very vibrant and busy--and l do appreciate the slick technology. Since my kids are natural hoarders (why so many Polly Pockets? Why!) I was thrown off a bit by the den. Each player has a den they can decorate with trinkets--seems kind of passive for an explorers game. Paid memberships make different content available--like bonus gems,rewards and other sparkly things we don't understand but our kids will crave. A monthly membership starts at $5.95. At this time, Animal Jam is free from advertising.
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Overall we're a little saddened by this game. We expected a deeper integration of educational materials and less acquisitiveness in the game. Yes, it's better than most online content, but we'd love to see National Geographic develop a game that connects child and nature without all the gimmicks. To visit animal jam head to www.animaljam.com
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