The dance floor glitters in red, pink, yellow, green, teal and orange. Upbeat music drifts over the scene and little conversation bubbles float above chattering guests. It’s a Saturday, early evening, and if not for social distancing and the events of the past few weeks, many people would be enjoying parties at their respective colleges or towns.
But because that’s not within the realm of possibility right now, people will take the next best thing.
Cue Club Penguin Rewritten, a replication of a childhood classic, which comfortingly enough, looks just like it did when we left it back in 2010.
A few weeks ago, I’d been scrolling through Snapchat when I came across a story about Club Penguin. I was skeptical, but after hearing my cousins (both of whom are in college as well) had created accounts, I was in.
The pizza parlor still brims with penguins wearing aprons and chef hats pretending to take orders. The pet shop still offers a bright variety of puffles. The outfits available in the gift shop are just as quirky and fun.
Wandering through the different locations, I spot a penguin in a pink wig, multi-colored sunglasses, a blue sweatshirt and red-and-white checkered shoes. Others wear purple propeller hats. One goes for a monochromatic look — orange jacket, orange hat and a fishing pole, no less.
Though much of the framework looks identical, the user demographic has shifted considerably from mostly younger children to high school and college students. Some usernames nod to current pop culture or current events like ‘Tiger King’ or ‘quarantine.’
And instead of chatting about soccer practice or homework, penguins discuss stay-at-home orders and being bored in isolation (as one penguin quipped, “I’m bored in the house, and I’m in the house bored,” a reference to a popular TikTok tune).
In the cave mine — a ‘game’ of sorts that lets users mine for free coins — penguins tend to be extra talkative. Some conversations are silly, like when someone asks “anyone in a frat?” and a white penguin responds, “no Brad.” Others are more serious, as the discussion shifts to the current state of society. “I was supposed to graduate,” says one. “I’m a college senior rip,” says another.
Some talk about missing prom. Some talk about graduations being canceled. Some mention where they attend college: NYU, Georgia, Illinois.
Answers appear in conversation bubbles, lasting only a few seconds before disappearing. Groups of penguins of all different colors, seemingly from all corners of the world — Canada, New Jersey, Scotland, North Carolina, Spain, England, Ohio, Texas, Brazil and North Korea — populate this game.
Longing for socialization and conversation, some penguins host ‘igloo parties,’ a replacement for house parties. I logged onto Club Penguin out of boredom the other day, but I didn’t really want to play any of the games. Sitting at the cove, which still hosts a crackling fire and the surfing mini-game nearby, I walked up to two new penguins — Liv and Lila — and sat down.
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After exchanging hellos and how are yous, one of the penguins (I can’t remember if it was Lila or Liv) mentioned that they’d just celebrated their 21st birthday in quarantine. The other chimed in and said she had an April birthday as well.
Well, that made three of us. My 21st birthday is on the horizon, and I’ve been thinking of ways to make the day special despite the fact it’ll have to be spent inside away from all of my friends.
Both penguins seemed a little upset about missing their birthday celebrations, so as a joke, we decided to host a joint April birthday party for the three of us. My igloo was chosen for the party, mostly because it has a dance floor, and the three of us traveled to different locations to invite guests to the spontaneous event.
An entire group of light purple penguins wearing purple propeller hats (who called themselves the“Float Gang”) arrived and took to the dance floor, asking whose birthday it was. Liv and Lila answered their questions, and we were greeted with a chorus of happy birthdays and smiley faces.
The Float Gang stayed for a while before leaving one by one for their next adventure. Several of them thanked us for the party before disappearing, and though I didn’t know a single one of them, I smiled at my screen.
It’s such an odd time right now. It’s been difficult adjusting to a reality where we’re supposed to stay six feet away from other people on the sidewalk, or in the grocery store or at the post office.
Yet in this virtual world where penguins wear propeller hats and claim puffles as pets, all of this fear and anxiety melts away. And it’s in igloos — vibrantly decorated with multi-colored twinkle lights and dance floors — that we’re able to celebrate the things we’ve been living without.