Pandanda – A Virtual World for Kids
Pandanda is an online social networking game that was launched in 2008. It is currently a live site that is aimed at children from ages 6 to 14. The site was originally tested in beta mode for free until the program worked out its kinks and programming issues. The site is a cute-looking, innocuous children’s website with cuddly non-threatening red panda bears and small forest animals – much like children’s stuffed animals or animated animals on a preschooler’s television show. Members choose a red panda as an avatar and move through the site chatting with other avatars.
There are several membership levels. Children can test drive the website with a free membership; however, this limits the activity they can have in the virtual world. Paid memberships begin at $5.95 per month with discounts for a 6 and 12 month membership. A paid membership allows players to enjoy the full features of the world. The site also has a currency in place for members to get memberships for free called Panda Gold. Members can earn this currency by filling out surveys, watching videos or completing offers. Panda Gold can also be exchanged for the main currency on the site simply called ‘coins’. The website is the base for the game. There is no file downloading to operate the game. The website is only available in English.
New members of Pandanda choose an avatar in the form of a red panda bear to be their online personality. They choose a home for their panda and can alter it to fit their personality. The main focus of the world is for players to earn ‘coins’ to pay for their panda’s life in the virtual world. Players buy their avatars food, clothing, shelter and household items. The coins unlock these features and also unlock opportunities for players to interact with other players. Members can chat about their pandas with other members in a chat room and make friends with other players. The mascot for the website is called Henry. He is the panda bear who acts as the host and the face of Pandanda.
Pandanda is a fairly innocent website that will appeal mainly to boys and girls well below age ten who are interested in friendship with other children. The pandas are designed to appeal to small children and appear as non-threatening. The facial expressions are kind and pleasant. The company who produced the website was successful in designing an innocent-looking atmosphere for children. There are no adult themes in the virtual world or on the website. There is no violence, drinking, smoking, drug use, sex or offensive language.
The main focus of Pandanda that will earn the respect of parents is the children’s ability to grasp and handle financial concepts. The players must be responsible with their coins in order to care for their panda. Purchasing goods can be construed as a negative in reinforcing overspending and commercialism; however, parents can be proactive and teach their children the value of money and how to spend it wisely. This is a lightweight virtual world – bland and harmless.
The age range that Pandanda is going for seems to be a bit out of touch with the graphics. The design of the characters may be fine for post-kindergarten children, but children over the age of nine will find them juvenile. The website is very static with little movement. It would be a major improvement if the animal’s movements could be better choreographed. Users have found issues with the chat pages being mildly offensive. Inappropriate language can be posted unless it is caught and removed by a moderator.
Beyond being responsible with money, there is very little educational value attached to this virtual world. The average design and cookie-cutter approach to the creation of the virtual world may leave parents scratching their heads as to what exactly they are paying for. This company needs to update the website’s graphics and not try to overreach their demographic.
The website has done a good job of promoting online safety. No personal information is ever displayed online. There are two chat modes: safe chat (the child clicks on a predetermined chat message) and standard filtered chat (the child types in their own message which is moderated). Parents can easily access the company’s safety information. Pandanda encourages parents to monitor their child’s online experience have an open discussion with them about online safety.
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