Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Opinions of Millsberry (Millsberry.com)

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.

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14 comments:

the spouse said...

It is a good idea never to use your real birthdays online.

I always use my husband's birthdate, and use mine for his sign-ups (that way it is easier to remember!).

For my children, I reverse their data so that 3/12 becomes 12/3 (again easy to remember). If the numbers don't easily convert for you like this, just pick one consistent easy-to-remember "birthday" date such as 01-01-and the year of their birth.

The only time I use actual birthdates is on airline ticketing sites where the air ticket must match the passport of the person traveling. Othewise, it is information that vendors don't really need.

Helpah said...

I understand all that you said. We ( my kids and I) are players of Millsberry. We all love it, no harm done. But I can see how hard it would be for you.
Here is a site- Millsberry Citizens Club that might help you.
I also want to mention that there are NO ways for people to communicate with others. I don't know what the kids you know were talking about- buddy lists?
The only way you contact others is by sending premade postcards like "Thanks" or "Happy Halloween"
everything's really safe.
But good luck with your decisions.

Helpah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fern said...

Millsberry is not owned by Mills inc. Millsberry is owned by General Mills. Mills online however, is a division of General Mills. The reason why kids ask for usernames, is because there is and adress bar whare you tyep in a username, A Mills kids name, or a online 'Street Adress'. Results come up and you can veiw peoples house, what you look like.

Summer said...

Hi, I am 13 yrs old with two younger brothers and I would just like to say Millsberry is great. It is not just about video games and advertisments. It is very educational as well. It has educational games that deal with math and problem solving. I know of a science quiz at Millsberry academy. It even tells you, you have to read books to earn intelligence points. They also tell you to stay in shape, exercise, and eat a proper meal. It is very safe and children learn responsibility from it by taking care of their "buddy" They also learn about money and interest. They only way I knew all about interest when we first learned about it was from Millsberry. They might have advertisements but it's just cereal, most people buy it anyways.

Summer said...

Their only advertising cereal and their games are educational. I mean think about it, Most people buy cereal anyways, It's not a big concern. Children can not "chat" on millsberry you can send premade greeting cards that were made by the site, beside's that their is no communication. I would do some more research if I were you and stop posting about a site you do not even know about. I'm 13 with two little brothers and I'm telling you their's nothing wrong with this site, It's very safe, educational. and fun.

christinemm said...

The games my children and I have played have zero educational content to them. If there are educational games we haven't found them yet.

I have spent time on the site playing some of the games to investigate what the site is, before my kids signed up.

My kids have accounts and I have watched them play. I feel it is a major time waster.

I am entitled to my opinion.

Colleen said...

Hello. I am 15 year old girl and home schooled through a university. First of all, I want to be honest. Most millsberry members ignore the adversitements. I play on the site many times a week, and I don't buy their cereal or any other General Mills Product. In fact, I like Quaker Oatmeal and Life Cereal. Kids will choose the cereal they like best, and will try cereals out, too. It is how they learn about being a consumer. Lots of people try Kix and hate it. They don't ever buy it again. Anyways, it is the parent who makes the final decision on buying a product, not the child.

Millsberry does not allow information to be shared, and under Coppa laws, children under 13's information is most likely not even stored or accessible. A parent should know all about Coppa Laws...As for Millsberry Citizens Club, I don't think you would like that site at all. I do, but you would not.

Yes, Millsberry is a big time waster. However, knowing where educational standards are (I have been to public, private, and home schooling)...I honestly believe Millsberry makes an effort to teach not only math, science, and spelling but also values. Hard determination will give a child a trophy or maybe karate belts. I have about 20 trophies, and I have played around 1 and 1/2 years.

I can see you are a very good parent, and from where I stand, a very overprotective one. I would much rather my child play on Millsberry than Myspace by a longshot. I am fortunate enough that my parents trust me fully. In fact, my parents use my myspace account to spy on my troublesome cousin! Having an open relationship is very good thing. Also, I have overprotective parents. I do think there is a fine line where the child should do his or her own thing or be assisted.

And for the record, peer pressure never changes much. It is mainly a "you have that shirt or ipod" or "you don't have that shirt or ipod". You can't do much about it, but it does allow your children to make dreams for themselves. Peer pressure is not always a bad thing.

Mind you, I play lots of online games, including miniclip, bored, and yahoo, and games.com (board games). If your child spends too much time on the computer, simply limit their time. Also, I don't have video games or even dish/cable television. What a distraction those items would be!

You may think that I am just a middle school kid, but you're very wrong. I didn't write this so you could take it with a grain of salt. In fact, I have a "surprise" for you. I am GRADUATING high school at the age of 15. I am going to college at the age of 16. I have all A+'s I am not dumb; I am genius. I mean what I say when I type things on a computer because I do know that the internet creates a paper trail where ever I go. I also am a country/city girl. I live in both because I am very fortunate.

Perhaps you should teach your boys that there is more to life than begging for an internet account on Millsberry. I waited 13 years for a dog, and I am so thankful everyday for my pet. Your boys seem way too influenced by the other neighbor boys with the "strict" mom...I never had friends over to my house, and it never hurt my relationships with the other kids to say "no."

Oh, and by the way, those General Mills cereals that you call "sugar-cereals" use all whole grain and prevent high cholestrol. If I ever buy a General Mills item, it would be a Cherrios box. Kids aren't dumb or are swayed by the "count chocula" on the box or the "toy inside"...I never was. My parents let me look down the whole grocery aisle as soon as I could walk and talk, decide on 1 cereal box, and let me buy it myself. I rarely ever got a "sugar-cereal, and if I did, it was because my mom wanted it.

Oh, and by the way, you seem like a parent who sends milk and carrots in a lunchbox. I packed my own lunch, and I never, ever got fat. I also only bought an ice cream on Fridays with my own money--my rule, not my parents.

Really, if you leave kids alone, they actually tend to protect themselves...save, spend, give unreal information--just like you!
I think you need to relax a little on your kids. Give them some freedom. You really aren't giving them as much credit as they deserve. (No offence.)

I hope you enjoy my letter to you. It was never intended as a hate letter nor a like letter. I am simply explaining my opinion about parenting and Millsberry. (No, I don't have children, LOL, but I do think I have room to talk because I DO know what I want to instill in my future children.)

Good Luck to you and your boys. I know they will someday grow up to be fine men working the U.S. economy. Happy Holidays, too!

Kool Kat said...

I would love to try the cereals,
espicially cookie crisp,
I'm a kid 10,I think Coleen is lying!
In the place I live there is no millsberry stuff.
Only in a huge super market far away.
There is no advertisements and I think it's the best place in the internet.
I can go to any place I like in the internet and find anything.
If you were Millsberry.com then you could say comments about it and tell people that it's not a good place for kids!

christinemm said...

Wow, look at the comments I've received.

Every time I check my site counter, which is not daily, I see that people are looking for infomration about this website and the games. Mostly they are looking for clues and hints to get extra bonus features.

There are ads on the site in various places. Some games have the cereal characters or items in the game (i.e. Lucky Charm game has a game around the cereal's character and the objects that are the marshmallow pieces).

Other times when a game ends there is a little ad showing the name of a cereal.

Update: I have not let my kids play on that site since August 2006. We have too many other constructive things to do with our/their time. And then there is always TV to watch when a person wants vegging out time.

There are not enough hours in a day to do the many things we want to do. Video games are low on our family's list, including the free online computer games such as Millsberry.com.

Remembered Images said...

I kinda agree with you in some ways. I have looked around the site and the only kinds of games I see are some like the Lucky Charm games where you shoot stars at mermaids and birds or catch them with nets. There is one game where you have to type in the words about the leprechaun story but that is about as "educational" as it gets or maybe if you count Sudoku or a simple crossword! There is even one where all you have to do is stare at the screen and hit the spacebar over and over to hit a baseball. There is advertising all over the place in the games themself like with the Lucky Charm leprechaun and logo, or Reese Puffs, even on the main page of the Arcade with Lucky Charms, Cinamon Toast Crunch, Reese Puggs etc.
While someone pointed out these cereals are whole grain, yes, but they are still sugary cereals and aren't the best for kids. I don't think kids really need chocolate cereal for breakfast, no matter how good it may taste. And while no matter how fun Millsberry may be, it is a waste of time. That being said, I see no harm in letting children play it a few times a week or so. My 5 year old son prefers Club Penguin. I would much rather let my kid play a few hours of online computer games a week which sometimes helps their typing and computer skills, than letting them veg out in front of a TV playing video games like Lego Star Wars and Racing Games, or heaven for bid the horrible Grand Theft Auto games (which should be banned but thats for a whole different story) So I guess I am saying, while yes it may be a waste of time, but why not have a little fun a few hours a week as long as homework is done and it doesn't become an obsession.

neyney_4_life said...

Ok i've had my millsberry account for about 4 years total.Yeah it has a lot of advertising, and they all are harmless.Unlike the ones that you see everyday on t.v. (i.e. axe-wont get you women,no matter how much you use it).The games have an level of excitment, but they differ to age. Young children find them fun, while older children like me find it boring.Some of the games are educational,becasue they challenge your mind and use hand eye coordination(solver,countdown,black belt karate and so on).You are a parent so you have your opinion on what you want your children around.But remember kids will be kids so they will yell at the computer but that's just another life lesson that you can teach them about how they wont always get what they want.If your sons fight over the computer,tell them that if they fight they cant use the computer until they solve it in a fashionable matter.
All im saying is..Millsberry isnt suposed(excuse my spelling) to be an evil website,just one that tries to promote their products in a fun way.

Lizzie said...

Hi! I am a pre-teen girl who found this post by googling about feeding my pet on MillsBerry. I read through it, and found a lot of what you said quite true. I just got it in the past week, and have not yet found a way to interact with other children on the website, other than sending pre-made cards to them. I have no intention of interacting with users if I do not know them otherwise.
As far as the birthdate thing, they do not put it on the website for the world to see, I don't know why they ask for the whole date, but as I understand it, they ask just to know how old the child is, and if they are mature enough and can be responsible for their "buddy", but these days, age can't really measure maturity levels. I too, do not tell my birthday.
I found many of the things you said to be quite fascinating. Most people would not say things about how it causes children to be materialistic. I am not saying this in a bad way at all! I never thought about it that way before.
Many of the things you said only apply to certain people. For example, trying to be the coolest. I treat my buddy like myself. I don't try to be the coolest one around, I don't beg for the attention of others, and I don't always wear pieces of clothing that are the most "in style" . (I would go into more detail with this, but that would be going FAR from the whole point of this comment.)
As you said, everybody has an opinion, this is my opinion, and I will continue to play on MillsBerry unless I find something terribly wrong with it. Thank you for sharing your opinion!
~Lizzie

Lizzie said...

Hi! I am a pre-teen girl who found this post by googling about feeding my pet on MillsBerry. I read through it, and found a lot of what you said quite true. I just got it in the past week, and have not yet found a way to interact with other children on the website, other than sending pre-made cards to them. I have no intention of interacting with users if I do not know them otherwise.
As far as the birthdate thing, they do not put it on the website for the world to see, I don't know why they ask for the whole date, but as I understand it, they ask just to know how old the child is, and if they are mature enough and can be responsible for their "buddy", but these days, age can't really measure maturity levels. I too, do not tell my birthday.
I found many of the things you said to be quite fascinating. Most people would not say things about how it causes children to be materialistic. I am not saying this in a bad way at all! I never thought about it that way before.
Many of the things you said only apply to certain people. For example, trying to be the coolest. I treat my buddy like myself. I don't try to be the coolest one around, I don't beg for the attention of others, and I don't always wear pieces of clothing that are the most "in style" . (I would go into more detail with this, but that would be going FAR from the whole point of this comment.)
As you said, everybody has an opinion, this is my opinion, and I will continue to play on MillsBerry unless I find something terribly wrong with it. Thank you for sharing your opinion!
~Lizzie