MMO Family: A parent's look at Pixie Hollow

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I wasn't planning to include a 2-D Flash game in MMO Family's initial sweep of children's games -- but then my daughter tried Disney's Pixie Hollow. Initially dismissive of the idea of slumming it in 2-D, she found herself utterly captivated by its magpie collection quests and friendly community of players. In the eyes of this 8-year-old road tester, Pixie Hollow delivers an enjoyable, social experience in an online world ... And I was forced to admit that this world suits her own interests as well as deeply immersive MMO worlds hold mine.

We're not going to get into gender wars here. Obviously, some girls won't like the fairies theme, and we're sure grownups will continue their snarky debates over the game's recently added male characters ("sparrow men"). Beyond that, what's most apparent is that Pixie Hollow successfully snares both kids who are enthralled with the Disney Fairies franchise and those who simply enjoy a glittery, web-based spot to flutter and chatter.

Pixie Hollow
Publisher The Walt Disney Company
Developer Disney Interactive Media Group
Launched September 2008

What systems does it run on? Pixie Hollow is played on your web browser, and PCs and Macs are equally welcome. Minimum specs for PCs: Windows 7, Vista, XP or 2000; Adobe Flash 10 or higher; P3 800 MHz or faster processor; 256 MB RAM; and a 350 KB/s or faster internet connection. Mac specs: OS 10.4.6 (Tiger); Adobe Flash 10 or higher; PowerPC G4; 256 MB RAM; and a 350 KB/s or faster internet connection.

How much does it cost? Pixie Hollow's basic game is free to play on up to three characters. Membership (subscriptions at $5.95/month, slightly discounted for longer periods) grants access to more of everything: more in-game shops, more clothing and inventory, purchasable furniture, more storage, more tailoring and baking choices, more quests (including group quests with friends) and the ability not only to attend but to host parties (with special party games) inside a fairy's house. Membership may also be purchased via game cards available at ToysRUs.

What's the game all about? Fairies flit through through Pixie Hollow's meadows and forests to enjoy mini-games, collect items such as flowers and leaves, and complete tasks and exploration achievements that get recorded in their Leaf Journals. Fairies can outfit both their homes and themselves from head to wingtip.

What does the game look and feel like? Pixie Hollow is a pretty place to be. Players with names like Rose Sugarpetal flit about collecting Dandelion Fluff in zones such as Neverberry Thicket. The Disney Fairies aesthetic is obvious here, with nature and innocent magic as the overarching themes. While the gameplay area available on each screen feels fairly constrained, connections to other areas are abundant, offering plenty of room for fairies to stretch their wings and explore.

Who's the target audience? Pixie Hollow is aimed squarely at girls ages 6 through 12. The game recently added "sparrow man" avatars for boys.
Who plays? Disney reps tell us that more than half of Pixie Hollow''s fairies are 8- to 12-year-old girls. Mothers and grandmothers also seem particularly prone to becoming sucked into the swirl of pixie dust.

What playstyles does the game most suit? Collectors and explorers will have a field day in Pixie Hollow, as will any youngsters who enjoy mini-games (who doesn't?) and chatting with others. PH's animal friends system was developed in response to player requests for companion pets.

How does the game address kids' internet safety? SpeedChat menus (default words and phrases) of "fairy-friendly" words are the default setting for Pixie Hollow players; parents must approve the text chat feature before it is activated. Text chat is both filtered and moderated. If a fairy types a word not in the game's dictionary, other fairies will not see it. Players may report bad behavior and ignore other players. Consequences for inappropriate behavior range from emails sent to parents, account suspension or permanent account bans.

What kid-friendly features help guide children through the content? Children who aren't reading yet will miss out on NPC conversations; there are no voice-overs in Pixie Hollow. Mini-game instructions are text-based and menu options aren't recognizably iconic. For its intended audience of competent readers, however, the skill level is right on target.

What's the social atmosphere? In a world: friendly. Our 8-year-old play tester seems to find Pixie Hollow the most inviting of all the games that MMO Family has yet reviewed in which to strike up a conversation with others. The tight age range and interest focus of other players conjures up a safe, chatty atmosphere where girls feel able to ask a question or toss out a greeting or comment to others.

What else can players do outside the game? The Disney Fairies franchise makes it easy for kids to follow their fairy interests offline, as well. Fans can play with Clickables jewelry, dolls and play sets, and a Tinker Bell title for the Nintendo DS. The websites's Never News Blog covers all the latest in-game news, and players can submit comments and questions plus participate in polls and contests. The Disney Fairies site has an area with games, activities and even short Disney videos.

Still looking for more details? Read our article on all the different ways you can evaluate kids' games, or visit the Pixie Hollow website.

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MMO Family offers advice on MMO gaming of the family, by the family and for the family. Send us your questions and observations about gaming and parenting to lisa (at) massively (dot) com.


This article was originally published on Massively.