Sunday, 24 June 2007

Children's virtual worlds

I have been observing my 5-, 8- and 9-year-old nieces as they navigate the virtual worlds 'Club Penguin' and 'Barbie Girls'. Interestingly, the social side of this 'social software' appears to take second-place to identity construction and shopping (and therefore needing to earn enough money to shop). Children's play has been embedded within commercialised practices for many years, but this engagement with a virtual labour market is novel. Some parents may no doubt quite like the idea of their children developing a work ethic, but it seems to me that this aspect of these worlds mitigates against more extensive social involvement and further entrenches children in the markets of globalised commodities. For example, the Barbie virtual shopping experience is linked to the 'real'-word purchase of a Barbie MP3 player - once you have purchased that (with 'real' $s, not 'Barbie bucks'), you can buy more, even cooler, things in the online world. I guess what is going on here is little different to some of the adult activity in virtual worlds - this is, as we know, a booming real-word economy. This analysis of virtual (or 'synthetic') world economies draws on Bourdieu's concepts of economic, social and cultural capital, concepts as relevant to these spaces as 'meat-space'. Certainly, an analysis of the interactions of these three forms of capital can help to illuminate much of the current activity in 'Club Penguin' and 'Barbie World' and is informing a current paper I am writing, which I will post here when I set up the appropriate feeder site. It will be interesting to hear about the project Guy is involved in, in which he is working with schools on constructing and using a virtual world - what form of capital becomes of most value in an educationally-orientated virtual world? Virtual cultural capital?

43 comments:

Beth Kanter said...

Jackie:

I've been involved with exploring virtual worlds, specifically second life. I did an interview with my son about it - but he's not yet in penguin club.

Anyway, not sure if you saw this research about education and virtual worlds
http://horizonproject.wikispaces.com/Virtual+Worlds

In the adult end of things, some adults are saying that virtual worlds are just a fad and hype.

What do you think?

Jackie Marsh said...

Hi Beth, nice to have you visit my new blog! I'll look up the research you mention, thanks.

In relation to your last question, I think there have always been adults who have positioned new interests/ artefacts/ discourses as 'fads' and 'hype' because they haven't yet come to grips with the social changes those new things bring along with them. I think virtual worlds are definitely here to stay and in fact will evolve in really interesting ways as the years go by, especially if young children are growing up already immersed in many of the online world practices...I can't wait to see how these children further develop these spaces in the future and guess there will be greater blurring of online/offline worlds?

DrJoolz said...

And Andrew Weeks talks about the 'cult of the amateur' in his new book about 'Web 2.0"

Winter said...

Our family plays mostly in Xivio. They do have a virtual economy that is free and you earn vio=money by staying online in the world, trading and playing interaction games. They play trivia, wordscrambles, and more but they play with the guardians and each other on the site.

The guardians are adult moderators on the site that keep the peace so to speak and play games.

The site has parental controls, premium membership for premium items and you can buy vio however, if your child is just playing for fun the free membership covers it all.

Anyone elses kids play on Xivio?

Anonymous said...

There is a new virtual world called tootsville.com, I have been following and they really seam to have it down. I enjoyed reading your blog

James Parker said...

Jackie
Yes, I would agree with you that Virtual Worlds are hear to stay. I actually witness it's power every day as much of the work we now do in our company is done virtually and just like the internet it has allowed me to do much more with my time. I use to present our products to about 4-6 new clients a week and now that I have eliminated my travel and use our virtual office space, I can achieve that in a day. Plus, my children are thrilled that I have significantly reduced my travel away from home.
My boys are 10 and 12 and they spend all of their entertainment time in virtual worlds, webkinz at first and now club penguin, along with several virtual environment games that allow for the creation of their own environment and also their own businesses (Veterinarian).
I invite you to visit our virtual environments and attend our bi-monthly events at www.virtualbeginnings.com. I am certain you will all find it very exciting.

derek said...

Please check out http://www.kidcommand.com when you get a chance. It is an educational virtual world that is packed with quests, missions, and games that deal with environmental awareness.

Anonymous said...

Jackie, that's a very interesting article. Have yout published the findings from this project?

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