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A Parent's Guide to Poptropica

Since its launch in September 2007, Poptropica has been the fastest-growing online virtual world for kids. Each month, more than 6 million children around the globe explore the vibrant and constantly expanding game world. Kids are also flocking to the Poptropica app. Chances are that your child or one of her friends is an avid player.

But what's the game all about, exactly? As a parent, what do you need to know about this increasingly popular phenomenon? Let's start with the basics.

(Poptropica is also part of Family Education Network.)

The basics of Poptropica

First, kids create a character. After selecting whether to play as a boy or a girl Poptropican, they are assigned a name. Each character's appearance is randomly generated to start with; kids have the option to change almost all of their avatar's physical attributes, such as facial features and clothing. This character can be saved, via a password system, for use in future game-play sessions.

Then, kids enter Poptropica, a virtual world dotted with individual islands. Each island has its own theme, and its own adventure for players to complete. For example, "Time-Tangled Island" is a time-traveling adventure in which players must return objects and characters to their historically accurate periods, while "Spy Island" is a comical thriller with lots of futuristic gadgets. Each has a distinct storyline that is not related to those of the other islands.

Besides the single-player adventure, each island features common rooms, in which Poptropica players can play standalone games against other people. These are primarily short, simple, reflex-based games, such as a skydiving competition in which the first person to touch the ground safely wins, or a basketball shooting competition in which the hoop is rising and falling. Players are given a star ranking based on their win-loss record.

Characters are controlled entirely by the mouse. Players move an arrow-shaped cursor in the direction they want their character to go, and hold down the left mouse button to make them move. To jump, players move the cursor up; to duck, they move it down. There are also special actions that can be accomplished with inventory items -- for example, a jetpack lets users fly, while a glowstick illuminates dark areas. The inventory menu is graphical, and also accessed by the mouse.

Those are the basics. To get a better idea of what kids do in Poptropica, watch this Youtube video, visit these video tutorials, and keep up with Poptropica news on Twitter. Also, learn more about the Poptropica app by watching this video.

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