Disney Got Fans Arrested Over a Club for Penguins?

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S1: Club Penguin Rewritten is gone.

S2: Hi, I’m Rachel Hampton.

S1: And I’m a Laker Frank sitting in for Madison, Malone Kircher. And you’re listening to I see. Why am I?

S2: In Case You Missed It.

S1: Slate’s podcast about Internet culture.

S2: And we are here, as you can tell, with Allegra, our editor. Hello, Allegra. Thanks for joining me.

S1: Hi. Thanks for having me. I feel like I’m like very peppy and ready to go, which is not like me. But I guess I’m just so excited to talk to you today, Rachel.

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S2: Wow. I mean, you should be excited to talk to me all the time, but I’m glad that you’re finally rising to the occasion of speaking with me. Well, speaking of controversial opinions, the black menaces have recruited a white menace.

S1: Oh, boy. Wow. That’s a turn.

S2: Truly a turn, but also a brilliant strategy in case you missed it. On Saturday, we interviewed Rachel Weaver and Nate Bird, two of the black ministers at BYU. If you listen to the episode, shame on you. But the black menaces are a group of black students that roam BYU campus performing person on the street interviews asking BYU students what they think about like sex and race, gender, politics and more, and basically catching some people out in 4K. But they apparently were not catching enough people out in 4K because they decided to recruit a white menace onto the team to see if their interviewees will show their asses even more when they have a white person holding the mic. And God damn did that strategy work because the new videos, I’m just like, Oh, y’all are bold. One of the videos is asking if people on the BYU campus support the Black Lives Matter movement, which the minutes have already done a video like this. So this is really just a repeat. But these answers are just a tiny bit different.

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S3: Not in the way it’s been presented politically in the papers. Okay, so I would say the same because black lives do matter, but I think we have taken it out of context. Okay. You know, I think all lives matter. I actually saw someone that did a sign, you know, we all matter and we should be.

S2: And they continue going on with their various reasons why they don’t support Black Lives Matter. But we don’t have time to talk about that anymore. That’s all we got for white people talking about Black Lives Matter.

S1: We’ve been through that.

S2: We’ve been through it through the ringer, through the fire, as Chaka Khan would say. But speaking of people who have been through the fire last week, three people were arrested for their involvement in a Club Penguin rewrite. That is right. People were real life arrested for a beer made recreation of Disney’s Club Penguin online game. I never thought I would say those sentences.

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S1: It’s honestly my worst nightmare. I think getting arrested for like being too hardcore of a fan of something, you know?

S2: On today’s show, we’re talking all about Club Penguin. Yes, we are doing a little throwback. We’re going to get into why exactly three people were arrested for remaking this game, how fans have been trying to rebuild Club Penguin ever since it shut down way back in 2017. And what this series of arrests. So about the whole library of free to play online games that so many of us grew up with that are no longer available from legal sources. And we’re back surrounded by penguins. How did we get here?

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S1: Yeah. So it was kind of it’s kind of nuts. So have you ever heard of Club Penguin Rewritten? Are you a Club Penguin person at all?

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S2: So I hadn’t heard of Club Penguin Rewritten before we started prepping this episode. I of course, have heard about Club Penguin. I was never a Club Penguin acolyte myself, but so many of my friends were, so it was just ubiquitous.

S1: Okay, good. Well, we’ll get more into Club Penguin and what it is and what it was for you since you weren’t playing it. Although I’m glad you know of it. So you understand why it was so sad that Club Penguin Rewritten was taken down. So according to the BBC, Disney hit Club Penguin rewritten with copyright infringement claims last week, which led to three people in London being arrested by the City of London police in connection with the website, which is very intense for what is like basically a fan run version of Club Penguin. And we’ll get into why that exists in a minute. But essentially Disney being Disney, they were not happy that there was a fan site that they weren’t in charge of for a property that they were trying to make money off of. So they six the City of London police on the people in charge. And not only did they arrest the creators and owners of Club Penguin Rewritten, but they even most sadly to fans, I don’t know if that’s most sadly, it’s all kind of sad, but the Club Penguin Rewritten website was also seized. So if you go to the website, which millions of people did to play this game, you now will see the City of London police logo and the statement that this site has been taken over by Operation Creative Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, which is so intense. It’s so intense.

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S2: Just like I never imagined in all of my life that this is what would happen with copyright infringement claims on fan works, because obviously this is something a bit of a pet issue for me. I love talking about this, but I’m just imagining now that the police can just knock down your door for like posting. You’re like Marvel fanfiction.

S1: I know. I mean it laws are different everywhere in the world, but I know in Europe and London they can be real intense about this. So, you know, I’m not moving to London anytime soon because I’m writing way too much Marvel fan fiction and running to many fan sites. And I don’t want to go to the police.

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S2: So you need to share with me after the break. But so along with the website being taken down and covered with the City of London police logo, the site’s discord, which is a chat server where the site’s community gathering thrive, now features just a message from a username name Thorne that reads CP Rewritten is shutting down effective immediately due to a full request by Disney. We have voluntarily given control over the website to the police to continue their copyright investigation.

S1: Wow.

S2: So what we have here is, you know, Disney, the mouse, the company that owns what feels like 65% of intellectual property at this point, protecting their copyright, which is a common occurrence on the Internet nowadays. Still not as common as I sometimes think it’s going to be. But this isn’t the first time that Disney has decided to shut down a fan created Penguin in 2020, Disney shut down Club Penguin Online, which is a different fan made recreation. That was quite unmoderated, to put it mildly. So there were just, you know, a lot of offensive content all over that game. One of the admins was arrested on suspicions of having child pornography, so Disney was ready when Club Penguin Rewritten got too big. They already had the model in place for how to shut this shit down.

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S1: Yeah, I mean, and in that case, probably a good call to shut that one down.

S2: Yeah, I’m going to. I’m going to, you know, I really agree with the Disney Corporation, but I’m going to say that that feels like a good reason to shut something down. A bad reason to shut these things down is when they get too big, which is usually why it’s getting shut down. I think Club Penguin Rewritten had like 10 million users, which is huge.

S1: Right? Like Club Penguin, the actual like Disney owned version had 200 million users reportedly in 2013. But the thing is, this is fan made, right? So and the fact that there were other ones too that existed is pretty wild, like 10 million for an unofficial fan site. I can’t even conceive of that. Like, that’s a ton.

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S2: But apparently it wasn’t just the size that caught Disney’s eye or like, inappropriate content, specifically on Club Penguin Rewritten it was the Club Penguin Rewritten was free to play, but they were running ads across their site and making revenue from those ads. And it’s when you start making money off of IP that is not yours. That shit seems to get a little bit dicey. In 2017, the creators tweeted they were using the funds to pay for like servers and donating the rest, which feels good and right, but also who the fuck knows if they’re actually using their money for? I never once in my life believed a tweet.

S1: Of any kind.

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S2: But again, I must confess I am a bit of a club penguin neophyte. I vaguely understand the premise of it, but thankfully we have you here to tell me all about Club Penguin history. Allegra. Take it away.

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S1: So Club Penguin was a massively multiplayer online game, which, you know, also known as MMO, you might know of World of Warcraft. It’s sort of like that except for kids. And it was online on your browser. So players would navigate this online world, a virtual world, where you could play different kinds of games and do different activities. And the biggest things were, one, you would be a little penguin. Obviously you’re it’s called Club Penguin and you could like get outfits, you could design your penguin and everyone had their own igloo and you could destroy your igloo, kind of like animal crossing vibes. Okay, but the thing is, Club Penguin. Think about like a club, you know, like it is about partying. Yes. He would go on Club Penguin and have parties. He could have house parties a year ago. Yeah. Or they would host like sitewide parties. So people would go and they would chat with each other and they would just be like hanging out at these parties. You can’t really like get too crunk online, but it was like, yeah, that’s why, you know.

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S2: It’s like, I don’t know what kind of online you’re living in, but that can get pretty crowded also to me. Why are we being crunk like? I don’t know.

S1: That’s what Disney was saying. Disney was saying You can’t get to crunk on Club Penguin. And we are like, okay, we see you. We are, we are proving you wrong. So Club Penguin was like very popular as sort of an intro to being social online and online games and meeting friends and making, you know, making some party memories on the Internet.

S2: I feel like my primary memory of Club Penguin is my best friend in like middle school was really into Club Penguin and briefly had a boyfriend from Club Penguin. Like they exchanged AM handles eventually and like we’re dating and I was just like, what the fuck? But I was really fascinated by how like a proto social media it was.

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S1: Yeah, it absolutely was like it was completely based on the social element. You could obviously like you could play games by yourself and it’s still fun to decorate your penguin and decorate your igloo just for your own sake. Like you don’t have to be very social on it. But the whole fun of it was talking to other people and you could talk privately, like you could totally make friends and lovers. Apparently through Club Penguin, I definitely knew people who had their their love of penguins.

S2: Yes. So Club Penguin launched in October 2005, which feels so long ago, and it was acquired by Disney in 2007 for a a nice chunk of change. $700 million? Yeah. Which is goddamn. It was a free to play game, as we said before. But they also offered memberships which gave players access to various additional features, and it was directed at children ages 6 to 14. Obviously, the player base was much wider than that. Obviously, we say because people, adults are rewriting it. And importantly for this episode, it wasn’t the only MMO that Disney owned at the time. It had three others already. And if you were on the internet at the same time as being Allegra, these next names are going to just really make your little nostalgia ears perk up because there was the beloved Toontown. Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Pixie Hollow.

S1: So, I mean, Penguin obviously started a really long time ago, but it really got, you know, the hits peak in the early to mid 20 tens, which is where that 200 million user base number comes from. But through a combination of a couple of different things, like gaming moving away from desktop and browsers to phones and mobile games and the decline of Adobe Flash Player Club Penguin ended up shutting down in March 2017, and instead later that year, Disney launched a. And I’m saying because I can.

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S2: Hear this sigh in your voice, your disappointment.

S1: Like they had something going, like Penguin had a very unique look and feel and they were like, No, everyone’s on mobile now and we can have those nice free to play ads. So they launched Club Penguin Island Bench. I don’t want to be on the island. I’m a penguin. First of all, I am a frigging penguin and you’re putting me on a beach. So already there was a problem.

S2: Wow, that’s true. That’s the vibe there.

S1: All the vibes were so off. I did not like this vibe shift and that game sucked. It was just so boring. It was so slow. We were on islands. It was very isolated. And I’m not the only person who felt this way because within a year the game was shut down.

S2: I mean, Disney clearly didn’t recognize what it had. And you know what? I didn’t recognize what we had when we had Adobe Flash.

S1: Yeah, we were blessed.

S2: So Adobe Flash was a browser software that a lot of the games that we’ve mentioned thus far used. It was discontinued in 2020 but had been slowly getting phased out for at least the preceding decade prior due to a lot of like security and malware issues. And while, you know, it’s great we’re not downloading viruses when we play our little games anymore, it does mean that we lost a lot of the games that we played as children.

S1: It’s really sad to think about and and yet we can’t stop thinking about it like we are doing a whole episode about it. And people are mourning Club Penguin rewritten and rewriting Club Penguin in the first place. So we’re going to take a quick break. But when we come back, we’re going to talk about why people keep trying to recreate these old flash games and why the people who own the dead stuff and stop the rest of us from enjoying it.

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S2: If you love. I see. Why am I? And I sure hope you do. Then please consider subscribing to Slate Plus with a Slate plus subscription, you get no ads on the new Slate podcast and perhaps most importantly, you support our show. I see why my would not be possible without your support and slate plus really helps keep this show going. You’ll get bonus segments or episodes on shows like Slow Burn, Hang Up and Listen The Waves and Big Move, Little Moon. And you’ll also get unlimited reading on the Slate website. Yes. That means you get access to every single article and every single advice column on Slate without ever hitting the paywall. Just visit Slate.com Slash. I see why. My plus to sign up that Slate.com slash. I see. Why am I plus. And we’re back in the graveyard of browser games. R.I.P. in Power.

S1: Perhaps it’s so sad here in this graveyard.

S2: So for most of the show we’ve been talking about Club Penguin, but it’s not the only Disney owned, now defunct MMO that fans are constantly trying to revive. There are just a whole list of games. If you Google Disney online games rewrite right now, you will get so many links to various attempts to preserve these games. But the one we’re going to talk about now is Pixie Hollow, which was another Disney MMO that ran from 2008 to 2013 as part of the Disney Fairies universe, which was centered around Tinker Bell, but has recently, almost ten years later, been popping up on Tik-Tok. Thanks to We the Pixies, which is a quote unquote rewrite in progress of the original game.

S1: Yeah. Which is kind of a cool way to phrase it remake, which is what these are. I like the idea that they’re kind of evolving, and if you want to learn more, there’s a whole Tumblr for it. We, the Pixies start Tumblr. The way that we even saw this in the first place is that it’s getting really big on Tik-Tok. You’ve been seeing it on your FIP, right? You’ve been seeing these like tick tock of people playing the new Pixie Hollow.

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S2: I have, which is fascinating to me because I’m not entirely sure why it’s serving it to me. I didn’t actually play Pixie Hollow as a child. Yeah, I think Tick Tock now knows that I host an internet culture show and it’s giving me just fodder for the show. But basically people are posting tiktoks filming themselves, just clicking around the new Pixie Hollow saying, Come join me. Like, I’m like ferry number 24601. We’re going to play a tick tock from Christina, underscore em, which is pretty representative of this genre of tick tock. And this tick tock currently has 2.2 million views. So this is the music from the Pixie Hollow game. And so in this video, Christina is making their fairy. You’ll see the opener. It asks you which server you want to be on. There’s three servers currently. Apparently, they’re actually overcapacity right now because they’ve had an influx of new users. But basically, with the Pixie Hollow game, it’s kind of like call Penguin and that you can dress up your fairy and make them have different capability issues, different affinities. And then you go out into the world and there’s a little to do list, but it’s just this old school graphics that are so deeply familiar to anyone who spent any amount of time on the Internet between the years, like 2005 and 2010. It’s just yeah, it’s a nostalgia bomb.

S1: It is so cute. Like, a big part of this is all nostalgia. I never played Pixie Hollow, but seeing these tiktoks and seeing how people are reacting makes me wish I did, or at least wish that more games that I used to play, like browser games or games like Club Penguin would come back because I miss them. I miss them so much. What comes to mind for you when you think of like old school girls games?

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S2: Listen, 6 to 5 Sandwich Stacker on Disney Dotcom. Actually, don’t know if that’s the era. Well, I don’t even know how I found this game, but it was this game based off of the Lilo Stitch franchise. So it’s just like you’re dodging and weaving like bad ingredients, trying to create this tall sandwich. And I loved it. I loved it so much. I spent hours on this game.

S1: It’s super it was super fun. And also, like, kind of challenging, which I like.

S2: Yeah. Yeah, it was it was hard. It wasn’t easy. Like, it wasn’t just like, you know, pressing two or five buttons. Like you have to have dexterity.

S1: Did you ever play any of the games on the Cartoon Network site, namely the Powerpuff Girls snowboarding game?

S2: Actually, yeah, I definitely play it that one, I think. I don’t like it because it was too hard for me.

S1: That one. I mean, talking about hard games, that was a hard game. And I remember my friends and I would play it all day, like at each other’s houses or during recess in the computer lab. And we’d be competing to see who would, you know, get to stay on the slopes the longest before wiping out. And it was so fun.

S2: And you mentioned like a really important element of this game that I think maybe points to like why they were so ubiquitous is they were perfect for like even if you had, as most people did at the time, just one computer in a room, you could like rotate through your turns when your friends would hear, like at your house and you’d be like, It’s my turn now. Like it’s my turn. I just remember that that visual of being in my little computer chair with two friends in my back watching me play, and it was just such a good time. And the thing is, these games are free to play. But they, they made money. They were just chock full of ads. But we were children. We didn’t care about that. The athletes concern for free. And maybe this is just me looking back with like rose colored glasses, but I feel like the ads were much less intrusive experience than I get even clicking on Newsweek today, you know.

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S1: On Newsweek. Screw you, Newsweek.

S2: The ad experience is really intrusive.

S1: Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely much more insidious now or, you know, there’s just like insidious in the sense of we all accept that ads are going to be in our lives. And so they’re not at all trying to be compromising about how it affects our experience. Like, they’re very much in-your-face, they’re very repetitive. I would play games on Neopets that were basically just spawn con and you know what? It was fine. Like, whatever. I know this is the Coca-Cola meerkat game or whatever, but at least it’s not like throwing ugly Coca-Cola ads in my face, like it’s just part of the game design. So definitely like, people aren’t paying as much attention to how ads can be integrated into that experience. And it’s just really disappointing to see things like Club Penguin Rerun shut down because they too are making money.

S2: Yeah, I mean, it’d be great if, you know, Big Daddy Disney could do something like work with these fans who clearly want to create a sustainable version of this. But these unofficial, unsanctioned Disney projects wouldn’t exist if Disney just actually used their IP. I think that’s what’s so frustrating about the Club Penguin rewrite is that the official Club Penguin is shut down. Why are you so upset that you’re getting three people arrested? To London over it.

S1: If they do care so much, which clearly they care to some degree Disney like, why not just take these games and release them maybe on our phones, like make them a bundle?

S2: I mean, the thing is, they’re actually we’re kind of dancing around the fact there are versions of the games that we keep talking about online. We’re not really pointing you to them because in case Disney is actually listening, I don’t want this game to go away. But what we’re saying is, yeah, fans are going to keep banning. They’re going to keep making spaces for themselves out of somebody else’s IP until basically the end of time when that need isn’t being served.

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S1: Disney isn’t destroying anything, really. It’s just forcing fans to migrate to another iceberg or another island.

S2: But all right. That is the show. We’ll be back in your feed on Saturday. So definitely subscribe. It is the best way to never miss an episode and never miss us. Giving a free idea to Disney. Please leave us five star rating review an Apple or Spotify. Tell your friends about us. Tell your friends who are building rewrites of games about us. You can follow us on Twitter. I feel I might add a score pod and you can always drop us a note. I see why. Maya at Slate.com.

S1: I see. I’m Ives, produced by Daniel Schrader, Rachael Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher were edited by me like Frank Harlow and Alicia montgomery is executive producer of Slate Podcasts. See you online.

S2: Or in Pixie Hollow.

S1: Second this fucking cat. I’m sorry she’s being so loud. And then I will start over.

S2: Can you.

S1: Are you not sending her friggin takedown notice? You’re done.

S2: Honestly, give her DMCA.