From Animal Jam to Minecraft to Five Nights at Freddy’s and other online games and apps, you’d be surprised how addictive and potentially expensive these games can be. Sometimes you don’t even know how much you’re being gouged until the iTunes bill arrives and by then, it’s too late.
The Best and Worst Online Games for Kids.
Animal Jam is billed as an “online playground filled with fun & adventure” but what it really is is a highly addictive game that will strip your wallet while “teaching” kids how to barter, trade and buy clothing and accessories. Sure, it’s by National Geographic, but don’t let that fool you – this is not an educational game. A 12-month membership costs $57.95 but don’t expect your child to last a year without being permanently banned. Cheaper memberships offer you less bang for your buck but even a 6-month membership is $29.95 and that’s still a hefty price considering it’s not a one-time expense. If your child does not have enough points or gems, you have to buy them. With real money. A $10 expense here, a $10 expense there adds up and is just plain annoying. I don’t know if computers or real people are monitoring this site, but my daughter has gotten warnings and been banned for typing in her last name, her teachers’ names, the name of candies she likes, the words “koala” and “llama” – all deemed “inappropriate language.” Getting suspended or banned can lead to tears and meltdowns, which has been no fun for me, either, especially when they are so random and unwarranted. My advice: buyer beware!
Clash of Clans. A friend of mine discovered some mysterious iTunes charges on her bill adding up to thousands of dollars. It took her awhile to figure out the culprit was her 9 year old son, who was playing Clash of Clans. Parental warning: Says my friend Nancy, “The cute cartoon pictures of gems aren’t gems—they’re cash. The shiny fake diamonds aren’t diamonds—they’re cash. Whether they’re called cases, cartons, crates, piles, sacks, bags, add-ons, or multipliers, they are all ingeniously manipulative ways of grabbing the attention of a 9 year old and fooling them into thinking they’re still playing free online games—and the whole thing is a big fat scam. Every time my little zoned out, game-happy, testosterone-filled kid clicked on those gems, it cost me and my husband real live money. Cold hard cash. Thousands of dollars. Because the game designers are incredibly intuitive, and realize that if you don’t touch the factory settings on your iPad to disable the ‘in app purchases’ your kid can click on anything he wants after downloading a free game within the first 15 minutes—automatically connecting to your credit card—without ever having to enter a single credit card number on his iPad. It’s that simple. And that complicated. It’s a perfect flaw in a system designed to take advantage of your kids’ imagination and desire to achieve gamer greatness.” So while you’re making dinner, folding the laundry or getting work done on your computer, your quietly-entertained child may be racking up large bills. Don’t let this happen to you!
Five Nights at Freddy’s. First off, know that this is a horror game designed for kids. I have played with my kids and neither they nor I find it particularly scary, but you know your child best and can decide whether or not this is something appropriate for them. The rather clever concept is that the creepy animatronics at a Chuck E. Cheese-type of restaurant come alive at night and are evil. Anyone who has been to Chuck E. Cheese knows this is entirely plausible. There are 4 different FNAF games, each averaging about $2.99 per app, which isn’t too hefty a price. Once a child has mastered one game, they tend to move on to the next, by my kids have often gone back and played the old games over and over again. There are no additional fees and my kids even found free FNAF music to listen to online while playing the game.
Minecraft. This one is a little pricier, but you can start with a free app and the new Pocket Edition is $6.99. No hidden or additional expenses. The computer version is pricier (around $30) and there is also an X-Box version which I am unfamiliar with. But regardless of the price, you will get your money’s worth. As your kids become more skilled in the game, they continue to create, so they are constantly challenged. My kids have found YouTube videos they can watch (for free, of course) that show them how to create characters and rooms and worlds in Minecraft, so there are many ways to expand on this game without paying extra.
What do you think are the best – and worst – kids’ online games?