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Connected Play

Connected Play: Tweens in a Virtual World

Yasmin B. Kafai
Deborah A. Fields
foreword by Mizuko Ito
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Connected Play
    Book Description:

    Millions of children visit virtual worlds every day. In such virtual play spaces as Habbo Hotel, Toontown, and Whyville, kids chat with friends from school, meet new people, construct avatars, and earn and spend virtual currency. InConnected Play, Yasmin Kafai and Deborah Fields investigate what happens when kids play in virtual worlds, how this matters for their offline lives, and what this means for the design of educational opportunities in digital worlds. Play is fundamentally important for kids' development, but, Kafai and Fields argue, to understand play in virtual worlds, we need to connect concerns of development and culture with those of digital media and learning. Kafai and Fields do this through a detailed study of kids' play in Whyville, a massive, informal virtual world with educational content for tween players. Combining ethnographic accounts with analysis of logfile data, they present rich portraits and overviews of how kids learn to play in a digital domain, developing certain technological competencies; how kids learn to play well -- responsibly, respectfully, and safely; and how kids learn to play creatively, creating content that becomes a part of the virtual world itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31784-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    In recent years, digital media and networks have become embedded in our everyday lives and are part of broad-based changes to how we engage in knowledge production, communication, and creative expression. Unlike the early years in the development of computers and computer-based media, digital media are nowcommonplaceandpervasive, having been taken up by a wide range of individuals and institutions in all walks of life. Digital media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development. Now they have been taken up by diverse populations and...

  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Mizuko Ito

    Those of us who study young people and the Internet repeatedly encounter a set of well-meaning concerns voiced by colleagues, parents, and educators. Is online activity good or bad for kids? Does it make them antisocial or violent? Does it disconnect them from their bodies and environments? These concerns, which have been widespread ever since young people started taking up social, mobile, and gaming media, echo earlier concerns over media such as television and radio. As digital and networked technologies make their way into the hands of ever younger children, the need for careful research and balanced perspectives on these...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. 1 Playgrounds for Millions
    (pp. 1-20)

    When twelve-year old Zoe (username “bluwave”) goes online in the virtual world of Whyville,¹ she checks her bank account for new deposits, shops for clothes for her avatar, tries on new outfits, plays games of checkers, goes to a virtual trading post to exchange clothes, and hangs out with others at the beach. She plays science games to earn some clams, Whyville’s virtual currency. She chats with friends from school and meets new people. She flirts a little. She even tries to cheat people out of their clams for a couple of weeks. Her interest in these activities will change...

  7. 2 Digital Footprints
    (pp. 21-38)

    When I first joined Whyville, I dressed my face the way I liked it. “Realistic” proportions. It looked good to me! I started exploring, and soon found out all the action happened in South Beach. So I went, thinking, ‘I hope I’ll fit in.’ But, I was shunned my first day. Someone just came up to me when I was minding my own business. By nature, my first approach was a friendly, “Hi! What’s up?” Guess what the reply was? “Wow! You’re ugly!”

    That was the last of me. I clicked that life saver red x. I’m done, that’s all...

  8. 3 Identity Play
    (pp. 39-56)

    Hello I’m Tami324 reporting live at Whyville. Over 1/2 of the Whyville avatar population is white faced, but 1/3 of the population have a black face. But what’s interesting is that most black faces don’t have bodies or if they do have bodies, they are white. Now I’m not saying that anyone in Whyville is exactly racist, but we do have the tendency to only make bodies for white faced avatars. What I’m saying is that there are faces other than white ones and we shound remember that. I am trying to produce a whole line of products for black...

  9. 4 Social Play
    (pp. 57-76)

    In recent years, the role of computers in socializing has become quite prevalent,³ and nowhere more strongly than in the lives of young people. The time we spend on the computer and online has been steadily increasing over the last two decades.⁴ Virtual worlds can provide personal spaces where kids can socialize freely with peers in imaginative, fun ways. They can extend relationships with existing friends by logging in and playing from their separate homes. They can be creative—playing with different looks and imaginative tools available only in digital worlds. They can also interact with massive numbers of other...

  10. 5 Boundary Play
    (pp. 77-96)

    Most of the daily activities of thousands of players in Whyville are quite mundane—playing science games, checking banking accounts, adjusting avatar looks, hanging out with others—and not much to worry about. Occasionally though, we get a glimpse of other activities that are more questionable, particularly those that involve scamming and cheating others. The observation above by RJ, a Whyville player, about ripping off Grandma’s by selling face parts to make clams, sits on a thin line dividing the acceptable from the questionable. Lying, cheating, and scamming—all boundary play is a matter of heated debate as well as...

  11. 6 Science Play
    (pp. 97-118)

    WhyPox, the outbreak described above by self-proclaimed Whyville poet Theboy2, is a virtual epidemic that appears annually in Whyville, corresponding to the time of the actual flu season. During the outbreaks of WhyPox, infected Whyvillians show two symptoms: red pimples appeared on their avatars and sneezing interrupted their chat, with “sneezing” and the word “achoo” appearing amid their chat phrases. Numedeon intended the WhyPox epidemic for educational purposes. Players could track their disease in community graphs in a virtual CDC (a Center for Disease Control) in Whyville, post theories about its cause and transmission mechanisms, and make predictions about when...

  12. 7 Designing Connected Play
    (pp. 119-134)

    We started our examination of connected play with the premise that it is play within a designed space. Virtual worlds such as Whyville are designed spaces: companies host virtual worlds on a server, configuring the space for content and activities, while players populate these virtual worlds by interacting with each other and contributing content in various ways. In Whyville, design is an intentional, even invited part of everyday play. We have already discussed the intricate ways in which players design their avatars using face parts created by other players. The article written by Twigsy quoted above provides step-by-step instructions on...

  13. 8 Future Play
    (pp. 135-146)

    In this book about tween play in a virtual world, we set out to reimagine play in the digital publics of today’s world. Our motivations were simple—to understand what kids do in virtual worlds and how that matters for their play. Play is a fundamentally important activity for tweens, especially as they transition from childhood into adolescence. We traveled a number of paths as we traced tweens’ play and its meanings across their social worlds, avatar designs, identities, relationships of all kinds, boundaries, ethics, and even epidemics. Above all, our argument has been that play in digital publics is...

  14. Research Notes
    (pp. 147-154)

    We are obviously not the first researchers to study virtual worlds, but in 2002 when our research of started, engaging in virtual ethnography and surveying massive online communities were still relatively new approaches.¹ There was little consensus and collective experience on how to conduct research and how to participate as researchers in these worlds.² A strong divide also existed between the quantitative and qualitative methodologies to understand what, when, and why players engage in these communities.³ Researchers addressed the challenges of studying virtual worlds by either collecting logfiles and large-scale surveys⁴ or conducting in-depth observations and interviews, alongside participation...

  15. Chapter Notes
    (pp. 155-172)
  16. References
    (pp. 173-188)
  17. Index
    (pp. 189-196)