Bullying is a problem many children face. Herotopia (www.Herotopia.com), a new virtual world for kids, has a unique approach to the problem: empower kids by making them superheroes and then letting them thwart the in-game bullies by using nonviolent means.
Gannett The cast of charachters from ‘Herotopia.’
The cast of charachters from ‘Herotopia.’
The brainchild of husband and wife team, Wade and Caryn Teman, “Herotopia” is a massively multiplayer online game where kids learn kindness, good behavior, how to deal with bullies and global responsibility by simply playing this mission-filled game. These lofty goals are met because this is a carefully thought out online world for kids ages 6 to 12. The game’s adviser, Dr. Joel Haber, a.k.a. “The Bully Coach,” even writes a Bully Blog that is featured on the site.
In Herotopia, kids enter the world by designing a Superhero avatar. Kids can make their superheroes look like them, or they can design one that is radically different. All the heroes or heroines are kids, and they hide their secret identity by using costumes, capes, and masks.
In this online community, kids travel the world while carrying out a series of missions. This online world resembles the real world, and it is filled with other Superheroes who are real kids from around the world. Children can talk to others from inside this virtual world, using a drop down text menu of pre-approved phrases.
The missions send kids teleporting around the earth to find clues and solve problems caused by a gang of kids called the Bully Bunch. In one mission, the Bully Bunch is planning a prank to deface the Statue of Liberty by painting the crown. Luckily, the bullies leave clues and riddles for you to find. In this mission, you must deduce where to go from riddles that mention a Forbidden City (to China), a famous art museum (to the Louvre in France) and a statue of Prometheus (to New York City’s Rockefeller Center skating rink). Upon arriving in those locations, kids must look carefully to find hidden objects.
In addition to going on missions, kids can also play 25 games and many educational puzzles. The games vary greatly, but some are platforming puzzle games, while others might involve using your memory or sorting skills. In one, you will sort trash by what is recyclable and what is not.
While playing in this world, kids earn coins (Topia Tokens) to purchase cool stuff for their hero or heroine and to customize their personal hideout. They also acquire experience points, which are used to give their hero more superpowers and can unlock cool super-vehicles to ride. Cleverly, this world ties earning experience points into doing good things like erasing graffiti off a side of a building, turning off a leaking water hydrant or sending a virtual gift to another player.
In addition to getting kids thinking about bullying and how to be better global citizens, this game also teaches kids about geography. Its world features 19 international landmarks to explore including the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. At each location, kids can find hidden “Fun Facts” about the location that are recorded in their Passports.
“Herotopia” is a rare find in the crowded kids’ online gaming space. It is exciting to play, gorgeous to look at, filled with positive social messages that get internalized because they are baked into the gameplay (i.e., send friends positive messages or pick up garbage to earn points), empowers kids to fight back against the hijinks of bullies and teaches them about the geography of the world they live in.
Another well-thought out aspect of this game is that it doesn’t try to suck kids into playing for too long. Kids can only do one mission a day. Each one will take about 20 to 30 minutes (longer if they stop to play games at each location). It is helpful to parents to have this game regulate the amount of time their children play online.
Since a portion of this game can be played for free, families can check out “Herotopia” to see if it is worth investing $5.95 for a one month All Access Pass, $29.95 for six months or $57.95 for a year. Right now, kids can play the first six missions for free, but the rest require a paid-for All Access Pass. This Pass also gives kids the ability to adopt an endangered orangutan as a pet, and to earn more superpowers and super-vehicles.
There are 15 missions as of the date of this writing, but nine more are coming in August and 10 in September as “Herotopia” expands each month. Even if your kids only explore the free version, it will get them thinking about bullying and may provide you with a wealth of conversation-starters on what can be a difficult topic to discuss.
Score: 4 stars (out of 4).
Best for: Ages 6-12.
Publisher: Jagex, www.herotopia.com.
Cost: Free or 5.95/month, $29.95/6 months, $57.95/year.
Gudmundsen is the editor of Computing With Kids (www.ComputingwithKids.com) magazine. Contact her atC1Tech@gannett.com.