Other Choices: Club Penguin, LEGO, Webkinz
Education: Hero Up is primarily a place for entertainment, but kids can learn how to behave and communicate respectfully in an online community. They also can acquire a sense of accomplishment about completing missions and cooperating with others to help complete theirs.
Synopsis: Marvel heroes give kids a safe intro to virtual worlds.
Common Sense Rates It:
Parents need to know
Parents need to know that HERO UP is a virtual community and gaming site based on the Super Hero Squad Show from Marvel Animation. It's a fun-filled world full of super-powered crime fighters hailing from the Marvel Comics universe. Many are familiar (Thor, Storm, The Hulk, Nick Fury) from the movies and comic books, but these particular mini-heroes are scaled down for the younger set and animated in a way that's less imposing than what you'd find on a movie screen. Kids choose an avatar, get a superhero name, and can engage in a number of activities and adventures. They can wander around Super Hero City, safely chat with other superheroes, go on missions, play an interactive adventure game or card game, fight villains, hang out at "headquarters," and shop using virtual currency. The site is free and kids earn gold or silver coins the more they stay and play -- but there's a strong push to upgrade to a paid account that unlocks more cool features.
- Families can talk about staying safe in a virtual world and the importance of chat etiquette, reporting bad behavior, and keeping personal information private. Read over the "Hero's Code" and discuss what it means and how it helps keep kids safe.
- Talk about why many virtual world websites try to keep kids on their sites for as long as possible. Discuss why it's important to limit how much time is spent there, despite the strong incentives to stay.
- Talk about why virtual worlds such as Hero Up and Club Penguin use pretend money and encourage kids to upgrade their accounts. How does upgrading benefit the website? What do they do to entice kids?
What's the story?
This safe virtual community and gaming site is based on the Super Hero Squad Show from Marvel Animation and is full of super-powered crime fighters who play games, complete missions, decorate their "headquarters," and win virtual prizes. Virtual currency is used to buy items and new heroes, but it's the real currency (courtesy of a parent's credit card) that unlocks access to many of the bigger and better features. Hero Up is entertaining and engaging -- especially for kids who like superheroes -- and it offers a safe introduction to virtual worlds.
Is it any good?
Marvel Comics knows kids connect with superheroes, and this web-based virtual world is a spin-off of their television cartoon "The Super Hero Squad Show," where good crime fighters go against evil villains such as Dr. Doom. Animated avatars allow kids to become the heroes, engage in activities and games individually or with others, collect virtual cash to spend along the way, and safely chat in common areas. There's a sense of adventure kids will love. It's kind of exciting and cool to see superheroes dash across the screen to complete missions when you're hanging out in Super Hero City, and the interactive game lets kids move around in search of seedy villains to battle. Fighting is tame and animated, and the missions start simple and get progressively more difficult, but the game play and interaction is kid-friendly and fun. There is, however, money to be made by Marvel, so there's a steady push toward pricey upgrades (one month is $7.95; a full year is $79.95) to unlock more goodies. Kids may see parents as heroes for letting them linger on this safe, fun-filled virtual world.
The Good Stuff
Messages: Hero avatars can communicate non-verbally (click on an "emote" and your superhero will respond with a smile, wave, etc.) to engage other superheroes and find new online friends. Kids can help others by teaming up to complete missions.
Educational Value: Hero Up is primarily a place for entertainment, but kids can learn how to behave and communicate respectfully in an online community. They also can acquire a sense of accomplishment about completing missions and cooperating with others to help complete theirs.
What to watch out for
Violence & scariness: This is a site centered around superheroes and villains, so there's naturally some animated conflict, fighting and battles during the gameplay.
Sexy stuff: Not an issue
Language: The strictly filtered safe chat system effectively keeps the conversation safe, and menu chat lets kids choose only from a list of existing safe messages.
Consumerism: There aren't any outside ads, but it's important to remember that Hero Up is essentially a perpetual promotion for Marvel Comics, its characters, products, movies, and television shows. In every nook and cranny there's a heavy push to get kids (through their parents) to upgrade their accounts so they can access more cool things.
Drinking, drugs & smoking: Not an issue