The Ultimate Official Guide To Club Penguin, by Katherine Noll
Have you ever heard of Club Penguin, an online community for flightless bird-loving young people? Me neither, despite my general familiarity with age inappropriate entertainment . I have to admit, though, from reading this book I am not sure if the Club Penguin still exists, but it existed for at least a few years in the mid-to-late 2000s (this book was published in 2008) and it seems like a pretty cool place. If I was a web-savvy kid, it looks like the place I would have enjoyed going and would have provided some suitably worthwhile ways to waste time and enjoy online socializing. The place looks like something appealing, and therefore this book, as odd as it is, ends up being appealing as well. I am no stranger to online games or to online communities, and this one strikes an interesting note, in that it encourages good, clean, innocent fun and activities that could at least theoretically prepare someone for responsible adulthood–including taking care of imaginary pets–and also one that captures the flavor of contemporary anxieties by encouraging children to snitch on those who harass or cause problems. The book reflects a genuine and apparently successful attempt at building an ersatz online community through games and a focus on imaginary trinkets and baubles to amuse the young.
In terms of its contents, this book is pretty straightforward. One would think of it as little else given its target reading demographic somewhere in the tween range. After an introductory section appropriately called “getting started,” the book’s contents are largely focused on the NPCs and games and activities and items that can be purchased that relate to various places within the gameworld, and the places are listed as: town center; the underground; the plaza; the forest and the cove; forts, rink, and dock; the beach and the Migrator; the ski village; hidden places; and the igloo, which is the player-owned territory that can serve as a social location as well. In addition to these chapters there are chapters about joining the community and how one can do various actions through combining special items and the dance move. The last part of the book looks at the individualization of the player’s penguin. All told, the book takes less than 200 pages to give an introductory discussion of an imaginary world that is somewhat nonspecific but also somewhat quirky and interesting at the same time, along with enough secrets to make this book appealing to those who are already familiar with the basics but might want a bit more. I read this sort of book very commonly as a child who played role playing games and wanted to know all the tips and secrets so I could get all of the loot in the most efficient way possible. This book was made for people who are like I was as a child, for what it’s worth.
So, is this book worthwhile outside of its age range? Yes. Obviously, if you like Club Penguin, and especially if you play it, this book is worth reading. The book is sufficiently interesting on its own right, though, to make this reader wonder what book two has in its contents, or if its listing as book one was merely a tease in expectation of future success and growth the same way that the Backstreet Boys called their first hits compilation “Volume One” optimistically. Aside from its target audience, though, the book is worthwhile as an exploration of imaginary communities in the digital age. What is it that can lead somewhat atomistic people to join together in ersatz online communities in an age of widespread anxiety over predatory adults? How can children learn responsibility in a safe fashion in the absence of intact social institutions like families? This book provides at least an attempted answer at how such goals can be achieved in the right imaginary world, where children form part of the help and part of the security apparatus and interact with avatars of other children while being raised to report on those whose behavior is outside of the norm. Whether one views this as a good thing or a bad thing depends, of course, on one’s own perspective and worldview, but it is certainly worth paying attention to all the same.
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