It all started sometime at the beginning of the summer. The grandkids were going cuckoo over a new toy that you could play games with over the internet. I'm talking, of course, about
In case you're not familiar with this craze, Webkinz are stuffed animals from Ganz that come with an ID number. You register your "pet" on the Webkinz website, choose whether it's a boy or a girl, and give it a name. Your pet gets a virtual room to live in, which can be customized by buying stuff from the "W Shop". All transactions are based on KinzCash, which you earn by playing a variety of games and activities. There's also a safe chat system that lets you communicate with other players, and you can create friends lists.
Initially, Nicky and Gianna showed us their Webkins and their pets' customized rooms. They showed us a few of the simple games they played to earn "money".
Of course, they were only allowed limited time on the computer, so they gave us their passwords. That way, MaryAnn and I could play some games after their bedtimes to help rack up some cash for their accounts.
The games are strangely addictive. They have some games that are similar to Tetris, Collapse and Bejeweled. There are others that don't require much thinking, just hand-eye coordination. But they're not all mind-numbing, either.
There's one called Lunch Letters, where words or individual letters (somewhat disguised as food) fall from the top of the screen, and you have to type them before they hit the floor, where the animated janitor slowly gets overwhelmed by the mess of food/letters that make it to the floor and have to get swept up. It's good for improving keyboarding skills, which is pretty tough for someone like me who still basically hunts-and-pecks.
My favorite is Quizzy's Word Challenge. It's similar to Boggle, with a 5x5 grid of random letters. The letters have different values, like in Scrabble, and you get more points the more letters you use. The catch is that you have to try to build words from the outside edge to the middle to get the most points. I once played it tournament-style with 25 other players for a winning score of over 3200. It took me close to 3 hours and I beat the next highest score by over 1000.
The problem was that the kids kept changing their passwords. They would share them with their friends, who either went into their accounts and used up their money, or shared them with other friends who would do the same.
So MaryAnn decided to get her own Webkinz. Then she could earn money, buy stuff, and give it to the kids (you can give gifts to other players ). But what she didn't realize was that you also have to take care of your pet. Each pet has a Health, Happiness, and Hunger meter. Most importantly, you have to feed your pet. You can either buy food, or buy an outside yard and do gardening. That usually keeps 'em healthy and happy. Giving them a virtual bath (complete with rubber ducky!) helps, too. To make sure they're healthy, you can take them to the Webkinz vet for a checkup. You can also make your pet happier by buying them stuff. Besides food, the W Shop has clothes, toys, games, electronics, furniture, decorating accessories, and more.
The whole thing seems a little capitalist, but it does teach the kids responsibilty when it comes to earning and spending money. Occasionally there are sale items, and every now and then you can get coupons (especially good for big ticket items like virtual TVs and such).
To sum up this whole story, the kids no longer seem to need our help earning them KinzCash. In fact, Nicky was anxious for me to register the Webkinz that MaryAnn got for ME, just so he could give me a "limited edition" Dragon Bed for my pet. In the meantime, MA & I have been spending a ridiculous amount of time using our shared account and building up our points. When we first started, it seemed tough to reach a balance of more than 1 or 2 thousand KinzCash, we're now up to about 24,000.
So go out and get yourself a Webkinz pet! Then look us up and we can play against one another!