Things have come a long way since the Pet Rock of the Seventies… These days the coolest pet to have is a Moshi Monster. We caught up with creator Michael Acton Smith (aka Mr Moshi) to find out why the virtual world of Moshi Monsters is one of the most popular, and safest, sites for children:
What are Moshi Monsters? They are virtual pets children can adopt and use to explore the online world of Moshi Monsters, playing educational games, posting messages on friends’ pin boards, shopping in virtual shops like Yukea and the Gross-ery (we like puns) and collecting Moshlings – virtual pets for your virtual pet. Monsters come in six species, Zommer, Diavlo, Katsum, Poppet, Luvli and Furi, which your child can name and personalise with different colours.
Why did you choose monsters? They’re very universal, they can be scary or cute, they can be for boys or girls and they can appeal to a very wide age range as well.
What makes Moshi Monsters stand out? We have a big emphasis on the social side – children can message friends and relatives online. We also have lots of brilliant educational games. I love this story from one of my sister’s friends. She was walking down a street in New York and her five-year-old daughter started naming lots of different countries. It turned out she was looking at all the flags outside the hotel, and could recognise them after playing Moshi Monsters.
What else can children learn from Moshi Monsters? We’re helping children to become aware of the big issues affecting the world. Recently, we asked children what causes they’d like to support through our newsletter The Daily Growl. We had almost 20,000 kids writing in, suggesting everything from saving the environment to feeding children in Africa. Then we had a big vote and decided that Moshi Monsters will help fund several projects, including one in Africa to build kitchens at schools so children who go to school can get a decent meal every day.
Is Moshi Monsters safe for children to use? We take the responsibility of looking after our 23 million users very seriously. We have a team of moderators who watches over the site and software that looks out for suspicious messages, like swear words, phone numbers, addresses etc. We know the IP address and email address of everyone who signs up to the site so we can trace every message. Also, there is no private messaging on Moshi Monsters – all communication is done via pin boards or forums. Before signing up to the site, children also have to agree to the Moshi Monster rules, which include keeping personal information personal and we encourage children to report suspicious messages to us. In this digital age, it’s really important for children to learn how to use the internet, and use it safely, and we think Moshi Monsters is one of the best ways they can do this.
How do you prevent cyber bullying? This is the biggest problem. Again, when children sign up to the site, they have to agree not to bully other players. Our software can spot some of it. Children can also alert us to any unpleasant messages they are getting and we can ban the users doing the bullying. Also, if someone is sending you bullying messages, you don’t have to make them live on your pin board – you can just delete them, so this discourages users from sending offensive messages.
How often do you think children should play on Moshi Monsters? Our philosophy is that it’s all about balance. Children love the web, and they should be allowed to play on the web, but not all the time. We want them to dip in and out and go and do their homework or socialise with their friends and all sorts of other stuff. What we think is great is maybe ten minutes before school and ten minutes when they come back from school – not five hours at a time.
What happens if children don’t play with their Moshi Monster every day? Moshis can’t die, they get sick, they get very unhappy, but they won’t die. Even if it gets to the very lowest level you can still come back and resuscitate it, give it a bit of food, and it will get back to normal in a day or two.
What kinds of toys did you like playing with as a child? I was a big fan of video games and I had a ZX Spectrum, which one of the first computers. I used to design my own computer games on it, so the seeds for Moshi Monsters were sown a long time ago. I also played a lot of chess and I collected Panini football stickers. My mother used to take my sister and I to church every week, and at the end we were allowed to go the sweet shop to get a packet of trading cards and a bag of sweets as a treat. I’ve always loved collecting and I’m really excited about some of the collectibles we’re about to bring out for Moshi Monsters, including trading cards and Moshi Bandz – rubber bands that take on the shape of different Moshi Monsters when you take them off your wrist. They’re really cool!
To adopt a Moshi Monster, see www.moshimonsters.com