When animals attack
When animals attack
While all the best-selling games are about killing people and smashing up cars, there’s a growing segment of the market that goes for something a bit softer. Like Animal Crossing, a leading game on the Nintendo DS handheld, in which you make friends with animals living in a village near you. If you deliver a present to another animal, you might be rewarded with a roll of wallpaper or some pretty stationery. If you write the animals letters, they’ll write back and maybe even invite you to their birthday parties. It’s that kind of game.
Most of it is based around mock conversations, where the animals spout some nonsense and you let them.
So imagine the horror of a mother who found her daughter subjected to a tirade of abuse from a wolf-like creature called Whitney. “I think calling someone a fucking cow is pretty harsh,” said Whitney as part of her playful banter. Eleven year old schoolgirl Khloe Leslie called out: “Muuuuuum!“
This has almost certainly happened because Whitney was taught those words by another player, either before Whitney moved in near Khloe or afterwards by a human visitor to Khloe’s town. One of the great things about Animal Crossing is that you can visit other players’ towns using the wi-fi connection. Over the internet, you can even have players from all over the world come and visit your town and bring you gifts. Players can interact with the animals in other towns, and sometimes the animals move between towns that the player has visited or had visitors from.
Nintendo, a company that’s famous for being child-friendly, has included controls to keep it safe. Visits between towns are only possible if both players know each other and exchange friend codes. But many players exchange codes with strangers on the internet. Perhaps Khloe invited potty-mouthed visitors to her town who have been talking to Whitney, or maybe she visited other towns where the owners have been a bit liberal with the vernacular when chatting to their virtual neighbours. This might even have come from a communal game at school.
As regards the news story, it looks like a mother has given her daughter an internet-capable communications device without thinking through the implications of that. This is pretty minor stuff (yes, the children are our future but it’s only a few words and Khloe’s probably come across that language elsewhere before). There is a browser available for the Nintendo DS now, which enables email and chatting and obviously exposes children to greater risks. Just because it looks like a toy, it doesn’t mean the Nintendo DS is inherently safe.
There might be other games in Khloe’s collection which are wi-fi or internet-enabled so I’m not convinced that banning Khloe from playing Animal Crossing is the best solution. Parents must take responsibility for how their children use communications devices, and for educating them to use them safely.
It would also help if they were less sensationalist about things like this when they do occur. It doesn’t reflect well on the players or the parents. Nintendo’s spokesman said: ‘It is either a pirate copy or it is user-inputted text.’ That amounts to ‘either you stole the game, or you haven’t learned to use it properly’. Having played the game for months and found the animals including Whitney to be nothing but charming, I believe him.