Moshi Monsters

The PR blurb says : Moshi Monsters is a virtual world for children that allows users to adopt and care for their own pet monsters. Users create a home for their pet monster in Monstro City, play games and make friends, and show off their monster. It is not ‘new’ as such – but new to me. It was nominated for a Childrens BAFTA Award in December 2008.

picture-21The blogger says: Moshi Monsters is slick and well able to align it’s product offering with big brands to fish in the same markets – such as a current tie in competition with the up coming Ben 10 movie. It also got a whopping US$10million as a start up. It’s a 2D flash based site, in which children solve puzzles, earn points, and do the usual social stuff. However, one of the sticky points – a little neo-pets like – is that the monster has a quite clever behavior engine. You have to try and keep it happy. It has in effect an emotional literacy – how to keep your avatar pet alive. Being social is one way – the site allows messages and connections between other Moshi owners.

There are obvious, earlier comparisons to draw here with ‘pet based’ interaction online – but the site also has a ‘blog’, which contains a lot of information – including discussions about what users have created – and some very subtle marketing and cross promotional activity.

A quick trial with the house hold ‘test monkeys’ – and it was a cinch to figure out, but to get the most out of it, they need cognitive skills of online communication as well as problem solving, so not for pre-schoolers or early learners. I’d say 9-11 year olds might stick with it for a while.

There are lots of puzzle sites around, and indeed puzzle based MUVEs, what I found interesting here was the degree of social media integration done over and above the ‘game’ itself. Blogs, buddy lists, message boards … and avatar management – what looks like a simple site – is actually demanding a high level of literacy. Mindcandy – the creators – seem very aware of parent communication and site monitoring, but I didn’t see active evidence of that in the way that ReadingEggs sends a report of your child’s activity.

But it’s been this weeks ‘hit’ internet ‘time’ toy, though I am not at all sure that it has any ‘educational’ value in it’s games – that you can’t get with less of an overhead elsewhere with Dora or Disney, but makes big leaps into social media territory – which is what I found more interesting.

I do wish these things could be more adaptable. Right now they are almost as frustrating as Computer Aided Instruction software in the 1990s. Sure they look nice, do neat stuff  – but they don’t allow ‘learning’ to be at the centre. Collecting “Rox” in return for puzzles is mearly a means to an end. There is no real ability to put the character into a learning framework, no opportunity to ‘create’ or ‘story tell’, so once again, I think we are heading down the wrong path. This might lead to kids ‘social networking’ but really – what is the point – the age of their development does not require them too, or equip them to. Virtualising it and adding moral pressure didn’t thrill me, or make me want to take kids to it in an educational setting.

I can see merit in MeetSee in school and home – and there are others such as MetaPlace that offer more learning centred opportunities. Games have their place, especially with boys education – maths and science – such as Runescape, but then there are things such as Moshi Monsters. It is much harder to ‘extract’ how you’d add these to a class, so this means they are left to be used at home. It is important that teachers at least ‘know’ what is happening in this growing realm – as the skills being developed are significant – and so is the collaborative, social nature used to aquire them. Moshi Monsters would make an interesting study in comparison to other more adaptive offerings.