If you’ve read any of my Skylanders coverage over the past few years, you might already know that our family’s gaming life is an all-in experience, a social one in the old-fashion sense, an activity that unites and never isolates. Even when the Mrs. and I aren’t in the weeds with them and their game(s), the Bear and the Mouse rarely go 15 minutes without wanting to pull us over and show off what they’ve done/made/found/won. It’s adorable, if not a bit maddening when trying to make sure the risotto doesn’t burn — keep stirring! Still, it’s hard not to absorb their joy, like a more fragrant second-hand smoke sticking to your Fidel Castro-green shirt jacket at a late night rock show, and so we gleam fragments of that sense of wonder at what is happening on the screen in front of their wide eyes.
Sharing in their youthful pursuits, bi it hi-tech, lo-tech or no-tech, helps to keep us older folk young of heart and mind, if not of joints and bones. To that end, I am thankful that my girls have taken to playing their handheld games, and Animal Jam from National Geographic too, while snuggled up in bed, beneath blankets, beside purring cats, and with an army of pillows providing a sweet assault of at-home comfort.
This past weekend, my buddy Carter Gaddis of Dadscribe.com and his oldest son joined me and my oldest gal online as we broke the seal on our Animal Jam careers. The kids met up as animals – a wolf and a koala — in the game as Carter and I provided running commentary on what they were doing and what we thought of the game itself as we saw it unwrapped screen by screen before us. Below is a bit of that conversation. The short version is that Animal Jam gives kids a safe online playground to kick it with friends old and new, an inherently social place to explore their science side and have fun learning about the vast animal kingdom. The educational components are seamlessly integrated into immersive online gameplay, but never feel bloated, obnoxious or heavy-handed. Frankly, the learning can or can not be a part of a child’s Animal Jam experience. Sometimes our kids bellied up to the knowledge bar, other times they skipped past those features to play fun games with their newly acquired animal pets. Animal Jam play is open-ended and 100% self-directed, features Carter and I both found wonderful. There’s a strong emphasis on playfulness throughout the game, from the collecting and naming of pets, the vivid color palettes, the diversity of lands waiting to be explored, and the rotating seasonal themes of the décor throughout each. Animal Jam is an outstanding gaming experience for grade school age kids.
Carter and I both couldn’t believe how smooth the game felt, how easy it was for the kids to jump right in and be off on adventures, and how we feel ripped off for not having these kinds of experiences in our youth. We’d like to share the Animal Jam goodness with you and your kid(s), to see if you agree with us that Animal Jam deserves a place in your child’s entertainment play portfolio and that the 70s and 80s would’ve been SO much better had laptops and Animal Jam been around back then. You can play for free in a neat but somewhat limited manner, so we’d like to hand out a total of three 1-month memberships to the first three readers who LIKE both of our pages on Facebook (Out With The Kids and Dadscribe) and leave a comment on here. No big hurdles, just a few clicks of your time and shazam, an Animal Jam membership is yours.
The scene: A rainy Saturday afternoon in Southeastern PA. The Bear on my bed, me beside her. Animal Jam fired up on one laptop, Facebook messenger on another. Carter and his oldest son on the other end of that line. Our kids have just chosen an animal character and curious 3-part name for it, and have met up in the game by quickly becoming ‘buddies’ within Animal Jam.
Carter: This is cool
Jeff: It really is.
Carter: Jay wants to go to his den
Carter: Bear can visit.
Jeff: She just arrived. No doorbell to knock so she let herself in. 😉
Jeff: Let’s decorate!
Jeff: Sweet table.
Carter: Jay wants to buy stuff.
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’m a child of the 80’s, old man.
Carter: He’s going all over the place!
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.
Jeff: Water slides!!
Carter: Juice hut! Bananas!
Carter: Jay just won something for scale.
Jeff: Bear is in the aquarium.
Carter: We will find it. Found it!
Jeff: Watching a video upstairs.
Carter: Upstairs. Wow, that’s neat.
Jeff: Some serious electric eel knowledge being dropped in here. Super cool.
Carter: Heading there
Jeff: “Electric eel give off 5x electric outlet shock.” Yikes!
Carter: Chris stopped building his fort and is watching now. Couldn’t resist.
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. But, Bear doesn’t seem to have time for it because she hears a screen time clock ticking! Haha
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.
Carter: Jay tried to get in that hot tub but it said he has to be a seal. I guess there are animal-specific experiences?
Jeff: Haha! Bear tried the same thing. Ahhh, the timeless allure of the hot tub.
Carter: “When can I play?!?” – Chris, 6
Jeff: The pool next to hot tub is a game. Bear is playing now.
Carter: Jay, too
Jeff: Rad sting ray.
Jeff: So cute. My wife is distracting Mouse otherwise she’d have the same look. Such longing in his eyes. 😉
Carter: Leaving the touch pool
Carter: Dancing with wolf
Jeff: Ok. Bear is out too.
Jeff: Aaaaaan there he is dancing.
Jeff: Going to Penguin Party.
Carter: Can’t do it. Water slide!?
Jeff: Bear is making a new animal, becoming a penguin to get there.
Carter: Down the water slide ….
Jeff: Bear is now Dr. Snowystone… the Penguin.
Carter: We’ll try that too
Carter: Dancing Frozenpenguin
NICE! Julie just bought a Grammaphone.
Carter: Where’s that party?
Carter: Party is FULL!
Jeff: She bailed on the penguins. Back to Jamma world.
Carter: Here we go! What is her name again?
Jeff: Professor vonCloud
Carter: Switching back to wolf. Captain Speedywolf in the house
Carter: This Halloween theme is great
Jeff: It is. The music is cool.
Jeff: 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: Looking for a furniture store to decorate den
Jeff: Pet store found. In the next land to the left (west)
Carter: Some of these animals have dragon wings. Want!
Jeff: She is getting a cat.
Jeff: We found a pet game, that requires you to bring a pet here.
Carter: We found pictures to print and color.
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: Finding it
Jeff: Our cat is named Good Guy.
Carter: Where is the pet game?
Jeff: Just outside the pet store, the purple and green portal looking thing that is blinking
Carter: “Look at this little guy! They’re all so cute!”
Carter: He wants another pet
Jeff: He’s a future ‘Crazy Cat Lady’
Carter: Phantoms stole candy
Carter: I think we entered the wrong game. It’s a Halloween game. I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.
Jeff: No, phantoms stole candy is where we are too
Carter: “Daddy! When can I please play that game?” – Chris
Carter: Jay is having issues killing phantoms.
Jeff: Same here. Julie just got put in a deep sleep.
Carter: Got ‘me. I mean got ’em. Jay up to 20. 24. And deep sleep
Carter: This is too good.
Jeff: Same. But she keeps getting hit by the big phantom thingie.
Carter: Minecraft might have to take a back seat for a while
Jeff: Right? This is super and expansive.
Carter: Leaving the phantom zone …
Carter: He got put to sleep once too often
Jeff: She’s gonna try to finish.
Carter: He came back
Jeff: I like that there are pet specific experiences. Encourages collecting more pets and trying out more animals.
Carter: I like how open it is.
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.
Jeff: Do you guys play many online games? We do not.
Carter: We do Minecraft.
Jeff: On a device or computer?
Carter: PS3 and iOS
Jeff: My girls play Minecraft on iPads
Carter: Yeah, ours use iPhones or my iPad and we have the console version, too.
Carter: I used to play a game called Guild Wars with my brother. The interface here is like that, sort of. Only this is a lot smoother.
Carter: One minute warning! DING!!
Carter: “When’s it going to be my turn, Daddy?” – Chris
Carter: He is really Jonesing to play.
Holy cow! Did you actually get down here to the bottom? Congrats. That is an achievement unto itself. Now get your reward: LIKE Out With The Kids and Dadscribe on Facebook and leave a comment here. First three to do so get 1 month of freeeeeeee Animal Jam. Yay!
*OWTK received a free 1-month subscription to facilitate this post and additional compensation as well. All opinions expressed above are honest and unbiased, as always. Animal Jam really is a terrific online game experience that my girls both now love.