Unless you have children or you’re a tween then the global phenomena that is Club Penguin may have passed you by. It’s an online game set in a virtual world featuring cartoon penguins although I couldn’t tell you that from experience, being somewhat outside its core demographic of 6-14 years of age. So appealing is the game to its target audience that The Walt Disney Company purchased Club Penguin in 2007.
So, is the revelation that Club Penguin is working on a translation system that allows children across the work to converse with each other a big deal?
Increasing interaction between children from different cultures and different backgrounds has to be lauded but the approach for performing translations may be open to criticism. Perhaps the key quote from Lane Merrifield, one of the founders of Club Penguin, is “once you have a finite list of phrases you can translate, the database is just serving up numbers.” A finite list of phrases might suggest that all the phrases that a developing child might need have already been thought of, or determined.
Club Penguin limits users to certain phrases to prevent inappropriate language in order to provide a child-friendly environment that parents can trust. Clearly Disney don’t want to see their penguins swearing like troopers but it could be argued that constraining language at such an early age could foster a limited, pre-determined vocabulary. In its turn this could lead to limited imagination and discourse. As something of an adjunct to Godwin’s Law, we could end with comparisons being made with Newspeak, a common interwebs method of critiquing communications technology.
It’s typical to fret about the next generation and the influences upon it but I think that perhaps I’m just still bitter that The Wonderful World of Disney thatI tuned into religiously as a child didn’t always feature cartoons and sometimes had boring old real life drama instead.