By Joseph Nichols, Staff Writer
The name “Club Penguin” alone is likely enough for Xavier students to recall a simpler time in their lives. Whether it was mining for coins around the iceberg or caring for your puffles, Club Penguin was a cultural phenomenon for Gen Z. Five years after its end, the game has been unfairly forgotten as a relic of the past, instead of the online pastime it was for millions of children in the early 2000s.
Upon its initial release in 2005, Club Penguin allowed its users to customize a penguin avatar and explore an iceberg through minigames. It also provided a space for kids to chat with new and old friends alike. Gen Zers, who were children and adolescents at the time, were a market that was generally untapped, and a website where kids could hang outside together had unprecedented success. Club Penguin was also hailed as a pioneer for online child safety with the “safe chat mode,” with the website’s largest legacy being a foundation for a child’s safety on the internet.
After only two years of the website running, Club Penguin was sold to Disney, which made the website more mainstream. Disney was able to connect the Club Penguin intellectual property with other franchises such as Marvel or Star Wars which continually garnered interest in the game. By 2013, Club Penguin had more than 200 active accounts, becoming one of the largest games for children to play.
Its legacy continued with the annual event “Coins for Change” every holiday season in which players could donate their in-game coins to charities, and the Club Penguin company would donate to three charities based on the amounts donated by players. At the conclusion of the first annual Coins for Change, Club Penguin donated one million dollars divided between the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Free the Children.
With millions of players tuning in every day, the sudden end to Club Penguin was done by Disney’s own hand. Et tu, Brute? To help garner players for their new mobile game, Club Penguin Island, the company decided to simply shut down all servers on March 30, 2017. Even though I was readying to make the transition from grade school to high school and no longer playing, I recall feeling disappointed that such a foundation of my childhood abruptly ended.
Unofficial boycotts were organized by players, and Club Penguin Island subsequently failed to ever take off, shutting down the same year due to a lack of players. We are approaching the fifth anniversary of its end, and as far as I can tell, Club Penguin has since been forgotten. Multiple efforts were made to start up new servers — mainly Club Penguin Rewritten — yet these websites have been stopped short by Disney’s legal team.
In an era where the idea of nostalgia is heavily romanticized in film and literature, I cannot help but wonder why Club Penguin does not get the same treatment. It can feel foolish to say as it was not a groundbreaking piece of cinema or literature that defined a generation. However, it was a website that millions of people resonated with and found comfort in.
I am not arguing for the return of Club Penguin. I personally subscribe to the belief that all good things must come to an end. However, I believe that the legacy that the game left behind is something that ought not to be forgotten or dismissed simply because it was a children’s game. While Disney is remaking countless of their 20th-century films such as Pinocchio, Aladdin and The Lion King, I am content to see that Club Penguin was spared from such a fate, cementing the legacy that it left behind.
The legacy it leaves behind was both uncommon and unprecedented. It revolutionized child online safety, serving as an outline for hundreds of other games to follow. Club Penguin imparted a sense of philanthropy to its users, encouraging players to take a first-hand approach to charity. Kids from around the globe were able to meet and talk with one another in a friendly environment.
Thus, simply disregarding the idea that Club Penguin had any lasting cultural significance due to it being a children’s game entirely neglects what it left behind after its end. Club Penguin was the staple of a generation and deserves to be remembered for what it achieved and helped revolutionize.