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  • Teddy O'Neill

Animal Jam: Furry MMO, or Capitalist Hellscape?

Barked by Teddy (He/it/ia) 

(A small caveat: this article is about Animal Jam Classic, not Animal Jam: Play Wild.) 

Be honest with me, who didn’t play an MMO as a kid? There used to be an endless amount: Moshi Monsters, MovieStarPlanet, Poptropica, Neopets, Habbo Hotel, the list could go on and on. The two, however, that I played the most were Club Penguin and, of course, Animal Jam. After the fall of Adobe Flash player, many of these games came to their close, servers quiet and empty as the years had gone on, but…

Many have persevered! MovieStarPlanet adapted to the times, creating a downloadable desktop version of the game. And though most other titles didn’t, I’m sure we’re all aware of the many Club Penguin remakes and remasters. We can thank older Gen Z’s, figuring out how to code websites to soothe their nostalgia. The greatest story of all, though, is Animal Jam

The game could produce a thesis. I could talk to you about its rise and fall and rise again; about how National Geographic is no longer involved in a game once created to educate kids on the wildlife of the world; about how it is now run by a dying company which invested too much time into NFTs. Wildworks, incidentally, did manage to scrape by—on the funds of children, and of furries in their 20’s dressing up their animal avatars and roleplaying as quite literally anything you can think of (the best Animal Jam RPs are Warrior Cats themed. You can’t change my mind.) 

I could talk about any of this. But today, I’m talking about capitalism. 

Animal Jam is a game which relies on social class to establish status amongst its players. How do they create that social class? Rares. And what are rares, you might ask? 

Well, that depends. Rare Item Mondays (RIMs) are the lowest kind of rares you can get. Every week, one of the shops around Jamaa—the world where AJ takes place—will release an item with a ‘RARE’ tag on it, declaring it as better than common items. A step above that are regular rares. These ‘RARE’ tagged items (not RIMs) are harder to come by—because they came out earlier in the game’s release, or because there are fewer of them in the world. Finally, there are Betas. These items aren’t tagged with the ‘RARE’ label, but were solely released in the Beta phase of the game, meaning they’re extremely hard to come by, and worth quite a lot. 

These final two kinds of items are acquired either via trading—the best part of the game other than running around as an Arctic Wolf—or via purchase from another players' shop. There is, though, a third option: the EBay black market. Through EBay, players can purchase items from anywhere between $1 and $100—and that’s in USD! 

Basically, the game runs on a laissez-faire capitalist system; a form of economy in which there’s no government intervention, and society ‘naturally’ runs it alone. 

What a player chooses to wear on their current display animal, (non-members can have two, members up to 1,000, really showing the class divide) denotes how “rich” they are, and therefore their social standing. Oh, you’re a bunny wearing a head flower? You have no friends. You’re a snow leopard with a headdress, long spiked collar and worn blanket? Hellooooooo, besties! 

These “rare” jammers are regarded in the same way the elite are in our real world: respected, feared, their friendship sought after. It’s always been interesting to me how membership in Animal Jam doesn’t cause the class divide within players which membership usually would—because non-members can have just as many rares as members, access to the elite is theoretically possible for all. 

Much like the real stock market, Animal Jam’s index of item worth changes weekly, sometimes daily, to keep up with ever-releasing items and trends. One week a worn blanket might be worth a few clothing Betas, the next, a few RIMs. This is all tracked and catalogued via the AJ Item Wiki, a Wikipedia which does exactly what it says on the tin. You’ve received a den item in a trade you’re not sure is a Beta? Check the Wiki! You’ll find out soon enough if you’ve been scammed. 

All of this to say: I was taught about economics through an online MMO. I learnt about uptrading, a term used here to describe how you can trade from a low-worth item up to an item worth at least five times its amount. Entrepreneurial, in a way. Not only that, but I was also taught psychological manipulation. How many people have been scammed before, in the real world? Well, not me! I was scammed on Animal Jam once, when I was twelve, and have never mentally or emotionally recovered—allowing me a blissful existence of never-ending money related trust issues. 

If you don’t believe me, just look at the Steam reviews!


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