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I Returned to Club Penguin for the First Time in a Decade & the Nostalgia Has Become my Quarantine Lifesaver

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

I’m sure most people don’t remember the first time they logged into Club Penguin. I surely don’t. I must have been around six or seven years old, but for the next few years, the animated penguin universe was a major staple in my life. The game was still in its infancy, its community rather small compared to what it eventually became, but Club Penguin was everything. Each night, my friends and I would beg our parents for access to the landline — yes, those existed — to speak on the phone as we decided what games we wanted to play for the night. We would Hydro Hop until our parents told us it was time for bed at the scandalously late 8:30 p.m. There was an almost indescribable safety I felt when logging onto Club Penguin; I could play with my friends within a world it felt like my parents couldn’t touch. 

But like many other toys, it lost its sparkle, and I left Club Penguin behind. Just like I don’t remember the first time I logged into Club Penguin, I don’t remember the last time I signed out. Suddenly, the online community I had once cherished became nothing but a memory, replaced with new online games for me and my friends to test the bedtime boundary. 

The original Club Penguin was shut down by Disney in 2017 after the number of members continued to drop. Even if I had wanted to return to the safety of my igloo, it was no longer an option. My Puffles had run away almost a decade earlier too, so I would be returning to my icy escape alone.

It made sense Club Penguin could not survive when peoples’ friends began to leave. Club Penguin was about community and friendship more than mini-games. This game was an escape from reality, and without friends, all you could do is go from your empty bedroom to an empty igloo back to your empty bedroom. 

And that’s where I sit right now — in an empty bedroom. It is almost four o’clock in the morning and I am staring at an online world I once knew like the back of my hand. It was almost like returning home after an extended trip. You know how to reach your destination, but you can’t help but notice new things and ask yourself, “Was that always there?” And perhaps those things were always there, but as my eyes absorb each bold flash of color, they can no longer distinguish between the familiar and the foreign. 

Some parts of the revamped Club Penguin sites will always be foreign to me. The original version of the Club Penguin world was completely recreated on Club Penguin Rewritten (and a more updated world was recreated on the now-defunct Club Penguin Online), but my penguin on Club Penguin Rewritten is not my old penguin. Since the original site was wiped, so was my penguin, her clothing, her igloo, and everything that I spent hours curating. This was a new penguin for whom I needed to purchase all the wigs, dresses, and igloo dance floors.  

After my friend — editor of this article and head copy editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator, Sarah Braka, SEAS ’22 — begged me to accompany her to a virtual Soccer Mommy concert on the platform (for the record, I did not know then, nor do I know now, who Soccer Mommy is), I returned to Club Penguin expecting mindless fun. From one state away, my friend talked me through where we were supposed to go to jam out with the other penguins. 

We approached the club, decked out in our best garb — blue sparkly dresses that made us look like Fabergé eggs — and some part of me was excited. I had not left my house in days, New York at this point was a dead city, and here was an opportunity to socialize. For the first time in weeks, I — or rather, my penguin — was wearing something other than sweatpants and was ready to party. The highlight of my week was going to be an online Club Penguin concert, and that didn’t bother me. 

Little did we know that we had missed the Soccer Mommy concert completely. By the time we entered the club, all that was left was one penguin lingering in a corner, as someone always does. We did not see Soccer Mommy that night, but we started dancing, waddling, and throwing snowballs at the penguin in the corner. It might have just been my friend, the lurker, and me, but still, this was a party. 

All of us across the country and globe have lost most of our social interactions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Club Penguin revamps have seen a major surge in popularity as its former users return to the childhood bedrooms where they first entered their favorite server (mine is Zipline). 

Life as it once was has been recreated on Club Penguin. Here, friend groups can stand less than six feet apart and go out like the world is not shut down. There are no stay-at-home orders on Club Penguin, just the expectation to walk your Puffles every day. 

Around a decade after its peak, Club Penguin has returned to its original mission: to create a community. Millions of people flocked back to the pizza parlor and the dojo with their friends and on their own. Unlike its users, the website has not matured, but instead of feeling juvenile, it feels like an escape. Users return back to a home they once loved during a time when everything feels so uncertain. 

This is not the first time the island has brought people together. Before the original website was shut down, the platform was surprisingly used as a hub of political activism. In 2016, there was a Bernie Sanders rally that took place on Club Penguin, and following Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 election, protests broke out online. The island was flooded with penguins writing “not my president” for hours. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, numerous Black Lives Matter protests have taken place on Club Penguin, emphasizing the ability for the community to still come together and advocate for change in a time of crisis. 

Users on Club Penguin continue to waddle on in the midst of a pandemic. My penguin, affectionately — or rather mockingly — referred to as “Nizz,” dances and waves on the floor because there is nothing better to do. Penguins float in and out of the club, discussing their life in quarantine and meeting new friends in the same situations. The experience of campuses, where students can meet a new friend every day, had been replicated on the island. There may be no student center on Club Penguin, but students can take refuge knowing that the same community-building they were doing back on campus is done through igloo parties.

My night ended with igloo-hopping. Once the dance floor had lost its flair, my friend and I chose to enter a penguin’s open igloo. We ended up in a large pink igloo that was completely furnished, including a kitchen because obviously, your penguin needs to make itself lunch. There were a dozen or so rainbow penguins dancing and waddling around, introducing themselves. My friend and I broke out our best penguin dance moves to impress everyone around, but we definitely were overshadowed by an orange penguin in a Viking hat and large metal wings. 

Soon we found out the owner of the igloo, SlimShady480, was celebrating her 24th birthday. Instead of having an in-person party, she and one of her friends had decided to log into Club Penguin and meet people there. We all anxiously waited until it was midnight for her — 3 a.m. for me — to pelt snowballs at the birthday girl. My friend and I sang happy birthday over Zoom to someone who would never hear us. At the moment, it almost felt like she could. 

The entire room was filled with penguins of all colors throwing snowballs and text-screaming “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” We were a group of young adults returning back to an old, beloved world when it felt like our current world was on fire. It didn’t make a difference that we were actually sitting at our desks at home; here, we were dancing in the middle of a random girl’s birthday party. We were those party guests who showed up uninvited, but for once, it was deemed acceptable. This was an open party for anyone looking for somewhere to be at 3 a.m. Everyone on Club Penguin felt like a friend at that moment. 

My friend and I might have missed Soccer Mommy, but this was the real place to be that night. Once again, this website became my community, 

There was something so impromptu, so chaotic, so college-like about a Club Penguin party. Here I was, in the middle of a global pandemic attending the birthday party of a girl I had never met before and most likely will never meet again. For the first time in weeks, I did not feel lonely. Unlike Zoom, where the second you click the end call button you are thrust back into isolation, the feeling of fun and community lingered far after I powered off my laptop. For a fleeting moment, I felt like I was returning back to my dorm from a real birthday party. We were the same people celebrating our birthdays on this website 10 years ago, but now we and our penguins are older. My problems are different and more complex than they were back then, but somehow Club Penguin made me forget there were any problems at all. All I knew was that it was this random girl’s birthday completely across the country and we needed to celebrate. 

So happy birthday, Slimshady480. Perhaps one day we will tip the iceberg again.

Elizabeth Karpen

Columbia Barnard '22

Lizzie Karpen is 2022 graduate of Barnard College, the most fuego of women’s colleges, who studied Political Science and English with a concentrations in Film and American Literature. To argue with her very unpopular opinions, send her a message at @lizziekarpen on Instagram and Twitter. To read her other work, check out Elizabethkarpen.com.