There's something essential about the superhero that can be easy to overlook in today's cultural climate, and that's the idea that these heroes can inspire us to become better people, by setting an example, striving to do the right thing and using their gifts to create a better world for everyone. While we don't always see it in our comics these days, this fundamental superhero ideal is alive and well in Herotopia, an award-winning MMORPG where kids can design their own superhero identities, travel the world and fight the bad guys.

I'm betting that some of you either have kids or at least care about them growing up to become decent human beings, and so you may appreciate the goals of the game, which go beyond just creating awesome alter egos and involve not only learning about geography, math, and the environment. Perhaps most importantly, the game helps kids learn and practice the best ways to deal with bullies.

Founded by New York parents Wade and Caryn Teman, Herotopia is an award-winning MMORPG for kids that incorporates many of the aspects that have made social gaming so successful, like the in-world currency that kids can use to upgrade their superhero hideouts. And while anyone can join for free, upgrading to a paid membership opens up additional features, including the opportunity to take on an orangutan sidekick.

Put simply, Herotopia is a world where anyone can have a monkey, and truly, that is the best of all possible worlds.

Unlike games like Farmville where the only goal seems to be continuous play, Herotopia is all about positive growth and learning for children. Instead of simply flying around and busting out fight combos, kids actually spend time being intellectually engaged, learning about geography and foreign languages. And the villains users take on aren't evil masterminds or ultra-violent psychopaths; they're akin to bullies they might encounter in real life.

The enemies that players face aren't a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but rather the Bully Bunch, which reflects the real-life challenge of dealing with bullies, one of the biggest issues in schools today. Kid heroes of Herotopia learn skills for confronting real-life bullying situations from their encounters in the game, but also learn that "the best way to defeat a bully is to get them to change. Bullies can actually become superheroes if they learn to use their powers in positive ways that can make them leaders without hurting others." The redemption of the supervillain who becomes a superhero is a common theme in comics, and a great mindset to use when approaching bullies.

This element of the game is informed and guided by the work of bullying expert Dr. Joel Haber, a clinical psychologist who is part of the Herotopia team as the Bully Coach. Let it be said, however, that Herotopia's efforts to create a "Bully Free World" do not include our dear friend Bully the Little Stuffed Bull, who is a friend to everyone.

Most of us probably spent some time creating our own personal superheroes when we were kids, so it's pretty great to see something like Herotopia provideing kids with meaningful ways to channel that imagination. It's often assumed for that the Internet is a dangerous place where kids might turn into terrible people, but it's important to recognize that the Internet can be used as a tool for for the greater good. Or as Herotopia co-founder Caryn Teman puts it, "We wanted to empower kids to be heroes both online and in the real world."

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