Editor's Note 8/4/06: I edited the title of this blog entry today to more accurately reflect the exact content of the post. This whole blog is about my opinions and my thoughts, as is stated in the description of my blog. Frankly, I am surprised at the number of comments I am getting about this post. I am also getting some very rude posts from some people, some who seem to be children and others state in the comment that they are a child or a teen. For the record I refuse to publish comments which call me names or use profanity. The sooner that people begin to learn that there are different opinions in the world, the better, and the sooner they learn that opinions can be expressed without insulting those who disagree with their stance, the better. In real life, in a civilized society people don't go around calling names to those with different opinions. And if you think that as you go through life you will ONLY be around those who share all of your same opinions, you will be very disappointed (or angry) as that is NOT reality. I will post some responses to their comments as a comment rather than do a separate blog entry about it. But I will say here that I feel strongly that the games on the site are NOT educational NOR are the sugar-cereals a health food NOR is the site 'commercial free'. I feel saddened that some children and teens are blind to those facts.
At a playdate with some other homeschoolers the boys were abuzz about Millsberry.com and were asking my kids to join and play not only during the playdate but they wanted to know my children’s screen names so they could add them to a buddy list or something like that.
I had never heard of Millsberry before.
Well here is what it is. I joined with my own account and played around with it.
Millsberry.com is run by Mills, Inc. the food company which makes sugary breakfast cereals for children. In my opinion it is advertising to children disguised as free online video games. Mills, Inc. is clever though, as this is not JUST little video games.
And it is not a site with ads running all over it, either. First, some of the games have the food brands as part of the game. Secondly, some show the cereal box at the time that the short game’s final score is given. Some of the games have a food brand as the name of the game while others have the images of certain cereals as part of the game (i.e. parts of the game are little cereal bowls with little pieces that look like the cereal’s pieces.
As games are played, points are awarded (pretend money which is called “Millsbucks”). This money is used to dress your person/character/yourself up to look more exciting and cool, or to look less generic/plain and more customized. You can buy a house and the furnishings for the house.
Because the children earn points/pretend money, there is an incentive to better outfit oneself, to better style oneself and to bring one’s own home to a higher status level by playing more games to earn more ‘money’ to buy bigger and better things. The child can further define themselves by buying objects to adorn their little bodies to further define themselves, like a skateboard or sunglasses that look sporty or ‘cool’. Wow, pretty much this is teaching them to be little materialistic consumers, isn’t it?
But there is more.
Each child can have their own player/account. Children then can swap their screen names with other children. I am not sure about that level because right now I have the function shut off, that allows some kind of chat to go on.
Children at the playdates are discussing what their screen names are, what they are wearing, what kind of house they have bought, etc.
After hearing about this on one playdate, with three boys (aged 5-9) raving about this, my children were BEGGING to join. I expressed discontent at this and was suspicious. The other mother, my friend, said it is harmless and a free game service, and that she intended to allow them to use it only during the summer, and once it was time to restart homeschooling, no video games online would be allowed. Now, mind you, I consider this parent to be quite strict about what she allows her children to view and play, and they don’t own a video game console or a hand held electronic game, either, in other words, they don’t ‘push’ video games onto their boys.
My younger son is the one who gravitates the most toward video games. My older son cares less about them but both kids were very interested in it due to their three friends raving about it (peer pressure does affect homeschooled kids to, to a lesser extent than schooled kids perhaps).
I went online to join and check it out myself. I felt the games were overly simplistic and boring. However my younger son thinks it is great. So that is what I have learned so far.
Due to the kind of hidden advertising and the idea of pushing them to buy, buy, buy and to play more to ‘earn’ more money, I don’t like the game.
I am sure that some of you think that I really over-think or over-analyze things and may be too strict. Oh well. I am who I am.
I also hate this kind of advertising to children. And I think the corporation is taking advantage of families by offering free video games, as the lure is there to play it because it is free, after all, versus the parents who refuse to BUY video games for their kids. This time the children can say “but it is free” and then it is tempting to sign up to play but then the parent may not know up front that this is advertising!
As of right now my boys have played the game on three occasions over a four day period (I put a ban on it one of the days). I find that they argue about the use of the computer, bicker of who got more time, etc. My younger son seems obsessed with buying everything under the sun (he is now buying pets and furniture and foods and everything). My younger son is completely in the ‘buy, buy, buy’ greed mode. The game seems to have both of them addicted and they ask to play it all the time.
I will also say that the games are pretty primitive and due to the not great computer keyboard as ‘joystick’, it is easy to get frustrated (I know I did). I also hear my boys getting angry at the computer or at the game because of frustrations (“I hit the up arrow and it didn’t go up!”).
I will let this game playing go on a little more but soon it will be banned, I think. I am only letting this happen because I don’t feel well, we are not in ‘homeschooling mode’ and I just don’t have the energy or ability to have them out and about or to otherwise keep them occupied.
But I still am annoyed by the advertising. And lastly, the ads are not set up to make it clear to the parent what the child will be exposed to. The children find the ads as they play along with the game.
(I also have a pop-up ad preventer program in place and so I have no idea if pop-up ads are on the site.)
I remain unclear about the confidentiality of our children’s information. I had to enter their birth dates in order to give them an account. I think I may go back in and change it to fake information! I also used my real date of birth in my own account and I should change that as well (to protect from identity theft, which I have been a victim of, twice so far.)
So, be informed about what this is in case your children start asking about it.
One last thing, this is an example of how a parent can’t completely prevent what their children are exposed to. The kids talk to each other and information and opinions are shared. The other two family’s boys think that Millsberry.com is great and they are praising it all over the place. We parents can’t control the fact that kids talk, no matter if we homeschool, are religious or whatever.
Technorati Tags: Millsberry, Millsberry.com, Mills Inc., video games, advertising to children, Internet safety.