“Animal Jam:” Childhood Memories in the Digital Age


Sydney Hancock

COME IN AND PLAY! Many teens look back on games like “Animal Jam”, “Club Penguin”, and “Webkinz World” with nostalgia. These games were huge in the early 2000s but have since declined in popularity. However, those who grew up with these games still have fond memories of customizing characters, collecting items, and playing the many minigames provided by these websites.

Cara Caulton, Staff Writer


“Club‌ ‌Penguin.” ‌”Webkinz‌ ‌World.” ‌”Animal‌ ‌Jam.” ‌If‌ ‌you‌ ‌grew‌ ‌up‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌early‌ ‌2000s,‌ these websites were likely a part of your childhood in one form or another. Many teens, myself included, have fond memories of logging into these games on school or family computers and spending hours playing them. Most of us have grown out of them now, perhaps moving onto games targeted at older audiences, but the nostalgia for these colorful online worlds remains. As someone who holds these games close to my heart, I wanted to revisit some of the nostalgia with fellow Issaquah High students and see just how influential they were to our generation’s childhood.

Being a hardcore “Webkinz” kid myself, it was tons of fun to recall all the various elements of “Webkinz World” with students who also grew up with the game. Junior Natsumi Shibuya and I had both loved the songs in the “Webkinz Music Center” as kids, and amazingly we still knew some of the lyrics. When asked about her favorite parts of “Webkinz,” Shibuya said, “The variety of the games in the arcade was really nice, playing those was very fun. I would actually play those for hours on end.” Junior Madison Shimkus, an “Animal Jam” fan, said, “My favorite part of Animal Jam was creating a den and making different ‘looks’ or outfits for my animals. I also liked trading and tried really hard to get the rare items in the game.” In “Animal Jam,” “Webkinz,” “Club Penguin”, and similar games, the purchasing and trading of items for customization was a key component of gameplay. This customization can still be seen in popular games today, such as the purchasing of “skins” in many popular shooters, but no game was characterized by it quite like the browser games of the early 2000s.

Speaking to freshman Lisa Ham about “Animal Jam” made me realize just how serious some people were about this aspect of gameplay. When she told me, “I have every item in the game,” I thought she was joking, and laughed. “I can login and prove it,” she said, and soon I was looking at an inventory of 992 items as she explained how she had multiple accounts where she spread her literal thousands of “Animal Jam” items out across. “Some of its store-bought, but most of it’s traded for. I spent years trading,” she explained. “My objective was to collect every item in the game, which I eventually did. But then, I just gave it all away pretty much because I was like, ‘Okay, I did it, but I don’t play this anymore.’” Many of her items went to a friend’s younger sister’s “Animal Jam” account. “I gave her all the rare, rare stuff, but I’m still proud of the 992 items I kept.” Ham had played “Animal Jam” up until sixth grade, and she was probably the most dedicated player I had ever met. When asked what made the game so appealing, she said “It’s‌ ‌very‌ ‌interactive‌ ‌visually. There’s‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌color‌ ‌and‌ ‌customization.‌ ‌It‌ ‌lets‌ ‌you‌ ‌express‌ ‌yourself‌ ‌more.‌ ‌Animal‌ ‌Jam‌ ‌literally‌ ‌has‌ ‌any‌ ‌aspect‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌game‌ ‌you’d‌ ‌like.‌ ‌It‌ ‌has‌ ‌minigames,‌ ‌it‌ ‌has‌ ‌a‌ ‌social‌ ‌aspect,‌ ‌trading,‌ ‌and‌ ‌those‌ ‌are‌ ‌all‌ ‌appealing‌ ‌to‌ ‌anybody.”‌ ‌

Personal nostalgia for these games obviously makes me biased, but hearing about students’ favorite memories was extremely heartwarming to me. Senior Maya Patton said, “My friend’s dad had a laptop and she had a computer, so we would go to her house and we would both play “Webkinz” at the same time. She had so many, so I would be able to play on whichever one of hers I wanted.” Shibuya told me about the “’Webkinz’ picnics” that she would have with her neighbors, and sophomore‌ ‌Kaitlyn‌ ‌Smith‌ said,‌ ‌“I remember playing‌ ‌during‌ ‌Christmas‌ ‌with‌ ‌my‌ ‌siblings‌ ‌when‌ ‌we‌ ‌were‌ ‌little.”‌ Many students recollected on the social aspect of these games and how they brought friends together. Ham told me about her two friends that she met through “Animal Jam,” who she spent countless hours on Skype calls with as they played together. “The calls would be for days,” she explained, “Because we wouldn’t end it when we went to bed. And we had literally a two week call one time until Skype just ended it… We had so many group chats, and we were just so close for three years of just playing Animal Jam together. Like every single day we’d log on, and we’d tell each other everything. It was so nice to have such a tightly knit friendship through a game.” As a generation who grew up in the age of the internet, our childhood friendships were often influenced by these online playgrounds. Many teens look back nostalgically on group chats and online web rooms as the blossomings of their first close friendships.

Unfortunately, the whimsy of childhood cannot last forever. As our generation grew, so did our taste in games. Nowadays, Ham prefers games like “Rainbow Six Siege” and “Overwatch” over “Animal Jam,” and Shibuya has moved on to games like “Super Smash Bros”. With‌ ‌”Club‌ ‌Penguin‌” ‌having‌ ‌closed‌ ‌its‌ ‌doors‌ ‌in‌ ‌March‌ ‌of‌ ‌2017,‌ ‌and‌ ‌Flash‌ ‌(the‌ ‌software‌ ‌that‌ ‌many‌ ‌of‌ ‌these‌ ‌virtual‌ ‌games‌ ‌run‌ ‌on)‌ ‌being‌ ‌discontinued‌ ‌in‌ ‌2020,‌ ‌the‌ ‌future‌ ‌of‌ ‌these‌ ‌games‌ ‌is‌ looking‌ ‌bleak.‌ However,‌ ‌there is ‌a‌ ‌significant‌ ‌outlier-‌ “‌Animal‌ ‌Jam‌” ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌hold‌ ‌an‌ ‌impressive‌ ‌player‌ ‌base‌ ‌of‌ ‌over‌ ‌16 ‌million,‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌significant‌ ‌number‌ ‌of‌ ‌these‌ ‌players‌ ‌are‌ ‌teens‌ ‌who‌ ‌grew‌ ‌up‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌game‌ ‌and‌ ‌still‌ ‌enjoy‌ ‌it.‌ ‌This‌ ‌has‌ ‌led‌ ‌to‌ ‌Wildworks,‌ ‌the‌ ‌company‌ ‌that‌ developed‌ “‌Animal‌ ‌Jam”,‌ ‌announcing‌ ‌a‌ ‌new‌ ‌game‌ ‌called‌ “‌Feral” targeted at 13-20 year old players.‌ Wildworks CEO Clark Stacey explained in an interview that “We‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌Animal‌ ‌Jam‌ ‌players‌ ‌who‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌playing‌ ‌for‌ ‌years‌ ‌and‌ ‌years,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌question‌ ‌that‌ ‌they‌ ‌ask‌ ‌us‌ ‌the‌ ‌most‌ often‌ ‌is‌, ‘Can‌ ‌you‌ ‌do‌ ‌something‌ ‌like‌ ‌this,‌ ‌but‌ ‌for‌ ‌older‌ ‌players?’ ‌Something‌ ‌that‌ ‌still‌ ‌has‌ ‌the‌ ‌feeling‌ ‌of‌ ‌community‌ ‌and‌ ‌creativity,‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌still‌ ‌a‌ ‌walled‌ ‌garden,‌ ‌but‌ ‌the‌ ‌walls‌ ‌are‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌lower.”‌ These “lower walls” will allow players to share outside social media and other personal information on the site, something that is strictly forbidden in “Animal Jam.” Stacey also describes the art direction of the game having an “edgier aesthetic” than “Animal Jam.” Beta testing for the game will begin in December of this year, and has already collected over 18,000 sign-ups.

Clearly the interest for these games has not completely faded, and “Feral” is a testament to that. Teens still turn to virtual worlds as a way to deal with stress, spend time with friends, and express themselves in ways they can not in everyday life. And even though most of us have moved on, the memories made and the nostalgia attached to these games will remain with us for the rest of our lives.