Growing up in suburban Chicago, I had access to one of the best private zoos in the country, Brookfield Zoo. Last year the zoo was rated fourth in the nation by Parents magazine. When we lived in New York, we took H to the Bronx Zoo (#7). When we moved to Southern California, one of our first road trips was to the San Diego Zoo (#2). So I have a bit of zoo snobbery and never even thought about going to the LA Zoo (doesn't even make the top 20). Until--the good folks at Mind Candy invited us to the first ever North American demo of Moshi Monsters, one of the world's fastest growing children's free-to-play online games, to be held at the LA Zoo. I think they didn't know there would be more animals in the game than in the zoo, but more on that later.
We got to the event right when it started at 11 am. H immediately monopolized one of the demo stations. The Mind Candy representative doing the demo was impressed with how adept he was with the mouse at age 3. I'm not sure if I should be proud of that, but he's been playing computer games since he was 20 months old and I needed something to distract him while I was doubled over in bed with fatigue while pregnant with R. So he's been practicing a long time. Basically Moshi Monsters is like a combination of Sims and Facebook for kids. Kids can create an avatar from one of six virtual Moshis and custom-tailor its features. Then they navigate the immersive world by solving educational puzzles and collecting Rox, the in-game currency that can be used to purchase accessories for Moshis and their homes. Unlike the Sims world, the Moshi doesn't die if you don't feed him, but it will get very grumpy.
Needless to say, H loved it and had to be dragged away to see the real animals in the zoo. H really wanted to see the hippos. Unfortunately, he couldn't because there were no hippos, there was only hippo. There was one hippo and next to it in the next exhibit was one rhino. My fellow LA Moms Blogger Bernadette was there with her family and she told me one of the jokes her comedian husband, Michael Batts, used to tell, "I went on vacation to the LA Zoo, and it turned out the animals were on vacation too." I guess it's not so funny when it's true. H and R were pretty disappointed they didn't get to see all the animals they wanted to see--we never did find the tigers--but they loved the playground at the top of the zoo. I just want to know, why are the LA Zoo and the San Diego Zoo built on huge hills? I was pushing H and R quite laboriously to reach the playground and one woman saw me and said, "Good luck." I will tell you the Brookfield Zoo is built on flat land and so easy to navigate. Check it out if you are ever visiting Chicago [in spring/fall]!
So the boys had enough of this and wanted to go back to the Moshi Monsters demo area. We went back a couple of times and really got into the games. H loved the Members Only features, which included an Underground Disco and a Gift Island. I really like the games because they are all educational. No shooting other monsters or driving cars around a circle. Number and letter puzzles and history trivia. Definitely something that will make any parent feel better about letting their kids play online. I also like the monitored, limited social networking; you can see all the other Moshis but you can only become friends and talk with them if you know the Moshi owner names behind them. Other parental concerns are addressed here.
After five hours of animals and monsters, we called it a day and fought our way back home through rush hour traffic. I then realized where all the animals were in LA--they were driving on the 110 and 405.
If you would like a one month free trial to the Members Only portion of Moshi Monsters, please be the first person to leave me a comment with your email address stating what zoo you think is the best. Moshi Moshi and Sayonara.