Having been born during the dot-com bubble, more likely than not, a millennial will refer to media when reflecting on an important moment in their life, such as when they made their first Myspace account or transitioned from a flip phone to a touch screen. But what has managed to escape the mainstream attention of this fast-paced, text-crazed generation?
It was a magical, snow-filled corner of the internet called Club Penguin, and it was unlike any other club we knew of at the time. Absolutely anyone was invited — even those of us who were rejected by our peers in real life. Club Penguin was the place where differences and insecurities were set aside to make one motive stand above the rest: To have fun. And now, as of March 29, 2017, that world is no more. Distraught millennials around the world are struggling to find closure from the ending of what, for many of them, was the first social media platform (or something that closely resembled it).
For the unknowing, Club Penguin was a virtual world in which each person played as a virtual penguin, whose color was of their choice, with accessories the user could buy with coins earned from a variety of games that ranged from making pizza to catching fish.
Within each server were thousands of penguins controlled by other kids just like me, waddling around, with a smiley face next to the name indicating a user in my friends list currently playing in that server. I can most clearly remember browsing through that server page and feeling the thrill of seeing a smiley face pop up at any moment (this was back before I even knew what Facebook was and wouldn’t be able to even fathom ever having a friends list with up to a hundred friends being online at once).
Above everyone else, whether they be friends I met online or friends from my elementary school, there was one friend whose name I looked for more than anyone else’s, and her name was Alyssa.
Alyssa was my best friend in fifth grade and in many respects, I consider her to be my first friend. She intrigued me because her family was so different than mine. They had a variety of pets running rampant in their home and two older pretty stepsisters who were popular with boys. When she first told me about Club Penguin, I thought it sounded boring and extra; I mean, who wants to walk around being a virtual penguin all day? But just like with everything else she introduced me to — Webkinz, Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers, nail polish — I immediately got hooked. And more than anything else, I looked forward to coming home after school and doing nothing else but riding the slopes of icy mountaintops and exploring downtown, complete with its disco dance-floored night club and fancy department stores, with Alyssa.
In real life, Alyssa probably couldn’t have been farther from a genuine friend. She started numerous rumors about me having a crush on a guy named RJ who, in actuality, she liked, and told me to my face that everyone at our table didn’t want me to sit with them at lunch anymore. From elementary school through high school, Alyssa and I stayed in the same school and even happened to have a few classes together, but I never regained the interest in being her friend again.
Despite this, I still browsed the Club Penguin server pages to see if she was online and refreshed my Yahoo! Mail inbox by the minute to see if I got a new email from her telling me to go online. In retrospect, Club Penguin didn’t teach me anything new or substantial about life. There were no life lessons embedded within the multi-player games like one would find in Pokemon nor ultimate objectives for each penguin user to strive for starting from day one of account creation like it was with Runescape. Club Penguin was just the place to be: A universe exemplary of what being a kid should be like, brimming with undeniable marvel and fascination, and it would be one heck of a lie to say that it did not have a profound impact on the way I experienced and maneuvered through childhood.
Immediately following Club Penguin’s cancellation on March 29, a new game was announced titled Club Penguin Island since, well, all the penguins are now on a tropical island. The most prominent difference between Club Penguin Island and the original role-playing game is that the successor is accessible through mobile only. Had this been nine years ago when I was in fifth grade and the only access to the internet I had was the downstairs desktop I had to sneak onto to use, I would have been devastated: How can I play my favorite game, my social network, my life blood, on a fancy, rich-kid smartphone? Despite the substantial amount of negative reviews the new game has already received, the creators must have turned from being computer-only to a phone application for a reason, and with that change having already been initiated and voiding me of my preeminent childhood pastime, I can only hope that the new batch of Club Penguineers appreciate, cherish and treasure the beloved game as much as I did — coming from a millennial to a Generation Z.