Before I get into the fun Jeff Bogle and I had introducing Animal Jam to our kids, let me just share the repercussions at our house.
First: My two sons, 8 and 6, have asked to play the game every day for a week. Second: Every time they sit down to play, they ask if I can contact Jeff to have his girls play, too.
I was first introduced to Animal Jam at Dad 2.0 Summit this past winter. National Geographic was a sponsor of the event and livened up the sponsor showcase by bringing along live animals for attendees to hold and gawk at.
I held a skunk. Also, an alligator.
It made for a great photo opp, but I figured my kids were so deep into Minecraft at the time that any attempt to interest them in another online game – even one involving one of their favorite things, animals – would be futile. But I loved the concept, and I kept an eye on how Animal Jam worked with other dads in the blogging community.
That’s how I found a contest hosted by my friend Creed Anthony, who publishes the blog Tales from the Poop Deck. The Captain, as he’s known, was giving away a one-year Animal Jam membership, and I figured I’d enter for kicks.
Sure enough, I won the contest. Still, it wasn’t until Jeff suggested that he and I introduce our kids to the game together and chat about it in real time that I activated our account and set Jay and Chris loose in the virtual world of Jamaa.
On an early October Saturday afternoon, Jeff and his older daughter (the “Bear”) up in Pennsylvania logged in on their account. Jay and I did the same down here in Florida.
Here is an edited version of the real-time chat Jeff and I conducted via Facebook while our kids created Captain Speedywolf the wolf and Professor von Cloud, the koala, and immersed themselves in their exploration of the ecological environments of Jamaa.
(We activated our memberships and the kids dived right in. They started in a common area called Jamaa Township, where Halloween festivities were in full swing – complete with spooky music, decorations and costumes that can be “purchased” using in-game currency known as gems or diamonds.)
Carter: This is cool
Jeff: It really is.
Carter: Jay wants to go to his den.
Carter: The Bear can visit.
Jeff: She just arrived. No doorbell to knock so she let herself in. ;)
Jeff: Let’s decorate!
(Jay used his gem stash to “buy” a table for his personal area, known in the game as a den.)
Jeff: Sweet table.
Carter: Jay wants to buy stuff.
(The Bear’s koala, Professor von Cloud, started to dance on Jay’s new table.)
Jeff: Geez, 2 minutes in and she’s table dancing. Nice. ;)
Carter: Awesome. Laughter here!
Carter: This reminds me of absolutely nothing we did as kids.
Carter: Can you imagine if we’d have had this kind of thing in the 70s? Crystal Sands!
Jeff: I really cannot imagine being able to do this with friends as a kid. I would’ve seen even less of the sun and the great outdoors than I did.
(In an aquatic area called Crystal Sands, our kids find a virtual aquarium that features a series of quick, educational videos about sea life and virtual water slides that the characters can ride down. Both the Bear and Jay quickly view a couple of videos and take a ride down the slides.)
Jeff: Water slides!!
Jeff: The Bear is in the aquarium.
Jeff: Watching a video upstairs.
Carter: Upstairs. Wow, that’s neat.
Jeff: Some serious electric eel knowledge being dropped in here. Super cool.
Jeff: “Electric eel give off 5x electric outlet shock.” Yikes!
Carter: Watching a coral video.
Jeff: The video integration is smooth and makes total sense, content wise.
Jeff: This is some serious educational stuff, quick bits of knowledge animal lovers and curious sponges are gonna love.
Carter: “Faster moving sharks need to keep moving to breathe. Nurse sharks and others have pumps and can hang out.”
Jeff: Really? I had no idea.
(Chris, our first grader, suddenly became VERY interested in what his big brother was doing on the laptop and came over to watch.)
Carter: “When can I play?!?” – Chris, 6
Jeff: The pool next to hot tub is a game. The Bear is playing now.
Carter: Jay, too
Jeff: Rad sting ray.
(The kids began to experiment with changing their identities. They each created a penguin to take advantage of the animal-specific activities offered during game play. They can play as a wide variety of animals, including a shark .)
Jeff: Going to Penguin Party.
Carter: Can’t do it. Water slide!?
Jeff: The Bear is making a new animal, becoming a penguin to get there.
Carter: Down the water slide …. woo hoo!
Carter: This Halloween theme is great
Jeff: It is. The music is cool.
(One of the biggest hits with our kids is the ability to “adopt” pets within the game. They found the pet shops pretty early and visit them frequently during game play. The pets are smaller versions of different animals and tag along with the main character animals. Pets also are used to play mini-games in Animal Jam.)
Jeff: The Bear wants to find the pet shop to get a pet.
Carter: Jay wants to do that too. Also stuff for his den.
Carter: Sugar glider!
Jeff: It is hard to figure out where to go in here. Have you found a map of the specific area? With details?
Carter: No. Only world map.
Carter: Zippyninja the sugar glider.
Carter: Zippyninja flies along behind Captain Speedywolf.
Jeff: Hey! We see you!
Carter: Jay loves that cat!
Jeff: That is a RAD pet and pet name. Let’s do the pet game.
Carter: “Look at this little guy! They’re all so cute!”
Carter: Jay wants another pet.
Jeff: He’s a future ‘Crazy Cat Lady.’
Carter: “Daddy! When can I please play that game?” – Chris
Carter: Minecraft might have to take a back seat for a while.
Jeff: Right? This is super and expansive.
Jeff: I like that there are pet specific experiences. Encourages collecting more pets and trying out more animals.
Carter: Is there a story line, or all open play?
Jeff: Little narratives, like this phantom thief mini game, but in general this seems wide open.
Carter: It’s really immersive.
Carter: “When’s it going to be my turn, Daddy?” – Chris
Our kids kept playing right on past our 45-minute online chat. Both of the younger siblings, Chris and the Mouse in Pennsylvania, jumped in with their older siblings and had a blast.
As I mentioned, Jay and Chris have played Animal Jam every day since that first foray into the online world of Jamaa. In fact, Chris filled out an “about me” questionnaire at school this past Monday, and he listed Animal Jam as his favorite game. That’s saying a lot, because I didn’t think anything could knock Minecraft off its lofty perch in our family’s gaming life.
Animal Jam just might have done that.
Here are a few things to know:
- Animal Jam was created by Smart Bomb Interactive, a Salt Lake City-based development studio.
- One of the main focuses of the game is Internet security. All of the sharing and interactivity functions within the game can be deactivated by parents through a parents-only dashboard. It took a couple of minutes for us to figure out how to block “buddy” invitations, but once we did that and blocked unwelcome conversations, the boys were free to move around without fear of potentially unwanted interaction.
- As you might expect with any National Geographic endeavor, education is paramount. The developers created Animal Jam Academy, a place where kids can go to learn more about their favorite animals and participate in hands-on activities.
- Rewards are earned as players learn. Scattered throughout each environment are flora and fauna that can be clicked to earn flash cards. Complete the set for each land, and earn a gift of game gems.
- The game is free to play, but to access all of the features a membership is required. Memberships are available through tiered pricing: $5.95 for one month; $29.95 for six months; $57.95 for a year. The fee includes extra gems and diamonds that can be used to “purchase” items within the game.
There is a lot more to the game, including the fact that a portion of every membership fee is donated to the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative. I don’t want to give too much away, though, because much of the joy in this game comes from exploration and discovery.
Be sure to check out Jeff Bogle’s post on our fun time with Animal Jam, and let us know what you think of the game! Jeff is giving away a handful of one-month Animal Jam memberships, so make sure you head over there and enter.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Animal Jam in association with National Geographic. All opinions expressed are my own or those of my kids, who will no doubt ask to play Animal Jam again this afternoon when they get home from school.