When reports started circulating that Club Penguin had become the unlikely stage of a series of anti-Trump demonstrations, I did what no other self-respecting journalist had the chutzpah to do and went undercover to see for myself – kind of like Gloria Steinem infiltrating the Playboy Mansion, except I traded bunny ears for flippers in my journey down the rabbit hole. Or penguin hole, as it were.
For those unfamiliar with Club Penguin, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a game, or rather a series of mini-games, about penguins having anthropomorphic fun, complete with snowball fights and a heavily moderated chatroom function.
Once upon a time, I’d been a semi-regular player, starting not long after the game’s beta launch in 2005. I’d long since lost my log-in details, and I was sure my account had been frozen or deleted for inactivity, leaving my igloo to melt and my pet puffles to starve.
But creating a new account proved to be more of a hassle than I’d anticipated. First, I had to come up with a username that would make it past the censors, because apparently I’m just that much of a potty mouth. (Remember, Club Penguin is a G-rated space.)
My first few choices were either already taken or outright forbidden. Eventually, I settled on the dazzlingly witty Trumpphobe. It would take 48 hours to clear, and until then, I’d be known in the game world by a random string of numbers and letters.
Next, I was supposed to provide parental permission to play, but one of the perks of being an adult is being able to sign your own permission slips. This served as a sobering reminder of what I was getting myself into. You wouldn’t think a game with a player base consisting mostly of ten-year-olds would be a hotbed of political activity, but this election has been full of surprises.
Once I’d picked my penguin’s colour – blue to match Hillary’s pantsuit at the second debate – I was ready to roll. Or waddle. Whatever.
Materialising in the Town Centre, I was immediately disappointed by how quiet things were. No one was rioting. No one was demanding Trump’s impeachment. So I decided to kick things off with a relatively innocent Clinton catchcry. At first, I received no response. And then something miraculous happened. People joined in.
Before I could digest this development, more catchcries erupted.
“Down with the Cheeto!” one penguin roared.
“Penguins of colour matter!” another gnashed.
“My penguin my choice!”
“Tacos not walls!”
“Donuts not Donald!”
“Hearts for Hillary!” Cue a half dozen heart emojis.
At a time when most people assume kids are politically disaffected, indifferent to the goings-on at Capitol Hill, I’d just witnessed evidence to the contrary firsthand. Considering the average age of a Club Penguin player is somewhere between 10 and 12, the fact that players were not only aware of slogans like “Black Lives Matter” but were able to adapt them to humorously suit the in-game environment is a big deal.
For one, it shows that kids are more attuned to politics than we give them credit for. But more importantly, it shows that the future belongs to a generation of fired-up youngsters. And that’s something I can’t wait to see.