Animal Jam Children's Game

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I know this is going to sound crazy, and I’m just some stranger that you don’t know, but I strongly suggest that you all stay away from a site called Animal Jam.

If you look it up, you’ll think it’s an innocent game for little kids to learn about animals or something, but it’s much more than that. You didn’t see what I saw or learned what information I know. Ask my friends, they were there too. They know the story, just not in great detail as I do. That’s why I’m the one who has to tell the story. I know the reasons behind what happened.

I’ll start with a little bit about me. I’m a former college student who had to drop out late in the semester due to medical reasons. I’ve been a frequent internet user from a young age and I’ve been a part of lots of different websites. Never before have I had an issue with any of those.

Now, seeing as I was no longer a college student and currently unemployed, I didn’t have much to do outside of cleaning the house and ‘wasting’ time online. Though I mostly did blog sites, which aren’t that much fun if no one else is logged in, and there were times when no one was on MSN. I wanted a way to play games at night when I couldn’t sleep.

It just so happened that one of my internet adventures led me to a website I’d never heard of before.

Animal Jam, a site run by National Geographic and meant for children to not only learn, but be a part of a community while using an animal avatar of their choice.

Okay, children’s website, I was well aware of that by just looking at the advertisement. But that also meant that there were probably a bunch of simple-minded games that I could play whenever I couldn’t sleep at night, and you didn’t have to pay to join either (unless you wanted a membership, which apparently would unlock more animal avatars for you and whatnot). So it didn’t take me long to say to myself, “what the hell, I’ll just join for kicks” and signed up.

I went through the little tutorial thing at the beginning where you are introduced to one of the communities shaman’s and she teaches you the basic controls and how to decorate your animal avatar. She also happens to mention the Goddess of AJ, the creator of the world of ‘Jamaa,’ Mira, but doesn’t explain much more than “you’ll see her everywhere,”

Then the shaman sent me on my way to the Jamaa Township, which was pretty much the central station of all the places you could visit. I’ll admit, things were a little overwhelming, as the township was clogged with people practically yelling out different things like “visit my den, serching 4 a mate!!” or “looking for rare necklace, fair trader” and other things I didn’t understand because I had just arrived.

Eventually I had somehow lured all my friends into joining as well, and as time passed we found that we were having a great time messing around and enjoying the games AJ had to offer. Even though the majority of us were adults we had, as some would say, ‘no regrets’ about playing Animal Jam.

One night, I happened to be online by myself, (watching some people do some poor Warrior’s roleplay using wolf avatars,) and noticed that I was looking at the Phantom pit a little bit more than usual. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s basically a pit in the Temple of Zios area and if you get enough people to sleep by it these black, tentacled creatures called ‘Phantoms’ start levitating in the air around the pit. A little bit creepy, but not by much.

Though that brought the subject of the phantoms to my attention, and it reminded me of a short conversation I’d had with one of my friends about what they might be. Scriptures in Jamaa tell us that they are ‘evil’ but, just like everything else in Animal Jam lore, the whole backstory was shrouded in mystery and not well explained. Considering I didn’t have anything better to do that late at night, (aside from sleeping), I decided to do a little bit of research. There had to be detailed facts somewhere on the internet. Animal Jam wasn’t exactly new, so that meant that maybe there was a website somewhere that held all this information that I wanted.

But no matter where I checked, there never seemed to be more than bits and pieces of things that I had to loosely string together. The Animal Jam website itself was no help, nor the Wikia, and the fanmade sites hardly told me much more than anything considered official. Though from what I did manage to gather, I found a storyline of something similar to this:

The Land of Jamaa and its residents were created by both the Goddess Mira and her fellow God Zios,(whether or not he was an actual god I am not sure, but that seemed like a logical inference). All separate animal species had their own shaman, who all helped guide those within the community. Their names were Peck, Sir Gilbert, Greely, Graham, Cosmo, Liza, Harper, Otto, and Ruby.

Nothing about the Phantoms, aside from one, small mention on an obscure website:

Mira banished the Phantoms after they had been especially mischievous, though they are slowly leaking back into the world of Jamaa.

And I really had to search for that information on a website that had long since been abandoned, so I was skeptic about how credible the source was.

Not knowing much more than what I had started off with, I turned my attention to the shamans, and Greely, (the wolf shaman), in particular. From what I had seen from his bio, he’d been a little more mysterious than the other shamans, and actually studied the origins of phantoms. Here is the actual bio itself, if you’re interested:

‘Greely, the reluctant wolf Shaman, puts his creepy cleverness to use in the study of animal magic. He is definitely on the side of good and righteousness, but he plays by his own rules. He speaks in to-the-point sentences, even to new animals, and has a certain amount of disdain for the other Shaman leaders. The only higher power that Greely respects is the Sky Mother, Mira. Greely is a powerful warrior against the phantoms in Animal Jam; they fear him most of all, because he is so much like them. He is the link to the darker side of the Animal Jam mythology. He has theories about where the phantoms came from and he may even know the location of a few undiscovered spirit stones.’

Returning to the actual game to continue my research, I moved my avatar to this temple where I knew I might find something. I’d been there previously, but I’d never really stopped to examine everything closely. It was the temple filled with busts of the shamans as well as a store upstairs where you can buy special items. Except I wasn’t there to go shopping. The temple also housed a large row of bookcases. Surely if I clicked on every single book maybe I’d find one that belonged to Greely. A journal, a memoir? Anything that might reveal more information on the subject.

My first few clicks got me nowhere, and I kind of expected that, but as with anything else I figured that the information was probably more difficult to find than a good lyric in a Justin Bieber song. I continued clicking the different books for a long, long time. I was about to give up and do the adult thing and go to bed, but just as I went to log out for the night, something appeared on my screen. A picture of a book.

‘The History of Jamaa’

Well, that was pretty straightforward, but I was so glad I’d found what I was looking for. Unfortunately I’d gotten so bored while clicking that I didn’t notice where I clicked when I selected the book, so this was probably my only chance to look at it.

To my disappointment, it didn’t have much more than I already knew, aside from some animal facts about bunnies, wolves, tigers, etc., … then came the section about phantoms. From what I remember, those few pages covering the phantoms gave me at least a little something. Phantoms were created when greed was getting the best of Animal Jam civilians. Fights had broken out between the tribes, (as there were tribes at the time), over disputes between unclaimed land and treasure. Many were killed in the battles, decreasing the Jamaa population significantly. Some of the areas around Jamaa still show the aftermath of these battles— the entire Ruins of Zios was actually a common battlefield, and thus why it is so damaged.

It even started getting into almost sickening detail of how brutally some of the animals were killed, describing severed body parts and the rivers being dyed red due to the bloodshed. Not that it bothered me much, considering my age and actually having seen much worse than it was describing, but it made me uncomfortable to know that something like this was hidden in a site meant for kids.

To continue the story: In an effort to quell the battles, Mira used her powers to give the greed an actual, physical form— the first phantoms. She then locked away the creatures, using the last of her strength in order to keep peace in Jamaa. The Goddess perished soon after, and that is why she is never seen around Jamaa, her memory kept alive only by statues and the occasional spiritual appearance.

A Goddess who died to save her quarreling children by creating a monster from the greed in their souls. That sounded a bit dark, so no wonder this information was not easy to locate. A child would probably have lost interest in clicking around just to find this.

At least I had my answers. There probably wouldn’t be much more than that, and I was satisfied with what I’d found. I continued playing Animal Jam as usual, and the stories I’d spent so much time trying to dig up drifted to the back of my conscious.

Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with anything— the history of Jamaa is clearly no longer a major plotline in the actual site, if it ever even was. But that’s the next part of the story, when something went wrong.

Months later, my friends and I were chatting by the frozen pond on Mt. Shiveer, observing some other players jumping up and down on the ice. They were trying to break it completely, we knew that, (despite the warning signs all around the ice telling you not to stand on it). A famous rumor was floating around that if you got enough people to hop on the ice that it would break and everyone who’d been jumping on it would get a free membership. My own membership had expired a few weeks prior, and I was sort of missing it, but I wasn’t idiotic enough to believe such an outrageous rumor.

It was amusing, how many people they’d actually managed to convince to jump on the ice. More than I’d ever seen before— easily twenty or so people, all yelling at us to come join them because “FREE MEMBERSHIP!!!11!1!”

Eventually I caved. It was an innocent thing. I knew nothing was going to happen but it would please the people commanding me to jump on the ice, so I wasn’t really being inconvenienced. Besides, if the ice did somehow break and I did obtain a free membership, I wouldn’t mind one bit. I really was disappointed that my former membership was gone, but refused to cough up the six dollars for it. My friends joined in too, and we continued our conversation, joking around about other things unrelated to Animal Jam. Now that I think about it, I had started to hear odd cracking noises, but at the time I wasn’t too concerned or even all that focused on the audio of my computer.

That’s when it happened— my speakers erupted with an earsplitting sound of ice crumbling, and the screen faded out to black. I panicked immediately, rushing to quiet my speakers before looking back at my computer monitor. At first I was dumbfounded. Had the rumor actually been true? But I still had a strange feeling in my gut that something wasn’t right— I tried to pass it off as a glitch, seeing as AJ was famous for some of its glitches, but it did sound like the ice had shattered.

… then music began to play. Even though my speakers were muted, I could still make out the soft sound of music. It didn’t sound familiar at first, but then I recognized it to be from one of the aquatic areas in the land of Jamaa. If anyone else had heard it they probably would have understood why I had trouble placing it— the notes were long and drawn out, slower and so much more solemn than expected for a children’s game. To me, it gave off the horrible vibe of ‘funeral march’

The screen suddenly gained some color to it, a dark blue with a brighter blue fading in from above, giving it an aquatic look— chunks of broken ice were visible at the top as the camera angle slowly panned down. I wish I would have looked away then, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the sight. What in the actual fuck was going on? The camera finished its downward pan.

My koala avatar was now in the center of the screen, it’s arms outstretched for the surface but seemingly struggling to swim. The speakers of my computer let out choking, gasping sounds of some creature struggling to catch its breath underwater, like I could hear my animal suffering in an obvious panic, now clutching at its throat and kicking its hind legs in a struggle too painful for me to watch. I attempted to move my mouse over to the red ‘X’ to try and close out of the window, but for whatever reason my cursor would no longer appear, and even when I held the power button for my computer it wouldn’t turn off. In fact, trying to escape made the garbled suffocation of my animal even louder and louder, nearly bringing me to tears. Something wanted me to keep watching, and if I tried to escape, it only made things worse.

When I stopped and finally continued watching, it continued. Upon the screen, these words appeared.

YOU BROKE THE ICE

My koala’s slowly began to run out of strength. It wasn’t kicking as furiously now, the bubbles drifting away from its mouth growing smaller and smaller. I found myself quietly willing that somehow it would be okay, that this wasn’t happening and my new medication was just making my head hallucinate or something like that, but my doctor never mentioned that it could have a side effect like this— not with such a low dosage. The text on the screen switched to a new message.

YOU WERE WARNED NOT TO BREAK THE ICE

It zoomed in on my koala, and suddenly bringing it into a more lifelike detail. Its eyes seemed strangely real, the reflection within them dying out along with the fading ‘lifespan’ of my animal. I swear I could see something in the reflection of its irises, but it was too dim to clearly make out. At least, not until a few moments later, when I recognized the reflection to be a singular bright, white eye staring down at my animal— I could not see the creature itself, but its eye captivated me as well as my animal avatar. The text changed again.

YOU WANTED A PRIZE

I swallowed thickly— what kind of sick joke was this? What was this doing on a children’s site? This wasn’t anywhere near the definition of a surprise at all! I waited with shaking hands, my hopes for a happy ending continuing to diminish as my koala seemed to give up all hope of survival, no longer resisting the urge to just allow itself to drown. It remained focused on the eye above it, and I suddenly realized how much it felt like the eye was somehow passing silent judgement.

The eye in the reflection widened before vanishing completely.

HERE IS YOUR REWARD

The horrific cinematic ended when my poor animal had finally died, it’s choking sounds ebbing away until it drifted lifelessly in the water. Inky black tentacles from somewhere wrapped themselves around its legs and began to drag it down deeper, eventually out of my view. Tentacles resembling something like just how the Phantom’s legs looked.

The Phantoms. Mischief.

Greed.

Just then, the camera suddenly began to focus on something on the background, and I couldn’t help but feel sick to my stomach.

Everyone else who had been with me on the ice, … their animals were fighting for air too— some thirty other various animals flailing their arms until they all eventually died as well. They hung lifelessly for a little while, before also being dragged down by the phantom arms, just as what had happened to my avatar. The screen went to black again. A gigantic phantom eye opened, glaring at me with an eerie glow, its judgmental stare sending chills along my spine. I was about to try exiting out of the window again, … but I didn’t have to.

My Animal Jam tab closed out on its own— only that one, everything else I had open still there and fine. Freed from the scene I’d just witnessed, I hurriedly pulled up another window to get to my email. I still had my confirmation emails in my inbox, and found the Animal Jam support email address. I typed out everything I had seen as well as heavy complaints for ever adding something so terrifying to a children’s site in the first place. Except, when I hit send, it refused to. Frustrated and still a little bit shaken, I tried again, and again, and again. Nothing. It still told me that the send had failed, and I was clearly going nowhere with this.

A bit reluctantly, I tried opening Animal Jam again. To be honest, I was afraid of what I might see. Would it just be my character floating lifelessly in front of me, its open eyes peering into mine as if to say, “why would you do this to me?” I honestly felt sorry for it, as dumb as that may sound. But you didn’t hear it struggling for life, choking underwater, and I knew the reason as to why it was dying— because it was my fault. I’d been greedy. The innocent thing suffered for it. All of those animals did. The phantoms were attracted to the thing they’d been created from, and fed off of it like rabid beasts desperate for a meal they hadn’t had in a long time.

Animal Jam loaded.

But it didn’t open the game itself, just stayed on the main page with the usual koala and panda standing in the background. It was similar to whenever the site would go down every once in a while, so nothing was off about that. No, the only new thing was the message that appeared.

“Animal Jam found a pack of pesky phantoms in the game and is repairing the mess they made. Sorry for the inconvenience, we will be back soon!”

I immediately messaged my friends over MSN, asking if they’d experienced the same thing as I. They were a little panicked, all describing an almost exact story similar to mine. I would have loved to ask anyone else who had also been there if it had also happened to them, but they had been strangers— probably children who would be too frightened to ever log back onto AJ.

I don’t blame them, and I don’t ever plan on logging back onto Animal Jam even when it becomes available again. It’s less innocent than I first thought. Don’t let yourself be lured in. Stay away from Animal Jam. The phantoms will keep coming back, and they will come for you even at the slightest hint of greed or a chance at causing mischief. Mira is no longer around to protect anyone anymore.

The phantoms will escape. No child should be made to witness what they can and will do. I’m warning you now— stay away.