Animal Jam is an online game created by Wildworks, in partnership with National Geographic and has been the recipient of awards for its educational value, fun gameplay, and emphasis on online safety for children, including the 2011 Readers’ Choice award. The game has a paid and a free version, and all educational content is available in both versions. The paid version costs $6.95 per month, and a portion of all proceeds to go aid in conservation efforts for endangered species. The game is on a website and runs on both Apple and PC.
Animal Jam is a form of social media and takes place in the fictional world of Jamaa, where the environment is in trouble. Children make an account and create an animal avatar, adopt pets, and decorate their own dens. Players interact with each other, forming online partnerships to complete tasks, make trades, etc. and also interact socially within the moderated chat forums of the game. Many of the educational moments in the game include content narrated by actual scientists. For example, herpetologist Dr. Brady Barr and marine biologist Dr. Tierney Thys communicate with players in the game. Players can collect facts and animal information in their journey books, while interacting with other. The game’s educational intent is clear – players are supposed to learn about animals and conservation from playing the game, and there is downloadable and printable content that can be used offline as well. Teachers First, a website created by teachers for use by other teachers, gave Animal Jam a positive review, stating that the printable online resources are very useful in the classroom when studying extinction and conservation.
Players are not permitted to use their first and last names in the game, most “strong” language is filtered from use, and online safety tips are included as a part of the game. Parents are encouraged to monitor their children’s Internet use because that is general good practice and encourages players to interact appropriately. Common Sense Media gives Animal Jam a rating of 3 out of 5 possible stars, and recommends the game for children ages 10 and up. Parental controls, safety, and moderation are promised, but according to Common Sense Media’s review, these features may not be well-maintained. Parents have had trouble contacting the help desk when issues arise, some children use the game to bully others, and some push the envelope of the sexual content moderation by misspelling common terms purposefully and having the avatars interact in ways that emulate inappropriate sexual conduct for minors. That said, if used appropriately and under parental supervision, Animal Jam has a lot to offer in terms of educational content, introduction to Internet safety, and a safe(er) environment in which to experience social media for the first time.
The National Geographic brand is on the game, and paid memberships are encouraged, but the paid membership is not required in order to use the game and the educational content. If using the free version, occasional ads encouraging the player to upgrade may appear. These are easily dismissed, relatively infrequent, and do not impede gameplay for more than a few seconds. When used according to the rules and with adult supervision, the game is entirely appropriate for children ages 10 and up; however, without an adult checking in from time to time, it is possible for the spirit of the rules to be bent by clever players and the content to become less than appropriate. Websites exist that encourage cheating and workarounds for sexual innuendo, and parents will want to be aware of this and be vigilant. These are all worst-case scenarios that involve people using a game made for children in ways the game was not intended to function. These potential hitches do not mean that the game is unsuitable, just that the Internet can be a dangerous place. Animal Jam is safer than most, but still requires parental checks and balances.
Animal Jam – Website Review (Animal Jam Website Review)
Teachers First – Thinking Teachers Teaching Thinkers (TeachersFirst Review)
~ S. Goodwin