01 May 2010

[Conf] Digital Literacy and Play in MMOs and VW for Young Children

In April, Jackie Marsh gave an account of her work with children playingClub Penguin and Barbiegirls.com. Marsh talked mostly about Club Penguin.

Club Penguin is a F2P game with real-money transactions. Some kids reported playing the DS version of Club Penguin when they could not be online. The player is granted a certain amount of the virtual currency if he/she has the DS game. Similarly, players can become VIP in Barbie Girls only if they have bought the official MP3 player. Like in many other F2P online games, players can choose to pay a monthly subscription. Marsh mentioned some kids aready rejected other players who did not subscribe. The subscription system enables players to edit the background of their avatar photo. A kid reported I don't add plain background [ie non-subscribing] players to my friends, I already got plenty. Interestingly, during the interviews with Club Penguin players, Marsh noted that girls focused mostly on products and avatar appearances. Boys, on the other hand, talked a lot about the gameplay.

Kids do not type fast. Hence they often reported they preferred clicking than typing. Some said that when they wanted to write something, their interlocutor was gone in the time they finished typing. Moreover, some kids sometimes send letters to the game moderators, and some are published in an in-game journal. Surprisingly, kids were not frustrated that their letters were not published. I wonder about the affordances kids gain when they play Club Penguin. For most of them, they have just learned to read. Does playing Club Penguin train them to read faster? To type faster? Can Club Penguin develop the communication skills of kids shy in real-life?

Some kids stopped playing because they were bored. They asked adults to collect coins for them. In fact, adults are being dragged into the world by children. Mums were the most outraged when a virtual world closed. James Bower, a founder of Whyville, went in that direction as well in October 2009. He mentioned the Whyville-Walmart partnership. Mothers learn about Whyville at Walmart. Hence they let their kids play on Whyville. On the other hand, the virtual Walmart put in Whyville invites kids to go to Walmart in real-life. A win-win strategy!

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