Sunday, 30 September 2007

More VIPs

The latest in the 'virtual worlds linked to offline artefacts' phenomenon aimed at girls is the Littlest Pet Shop VIPs, (Virtual Interactive Pets) by Hasbro, a clear copy of the Webkinz and MyePets forumla, which is:

a) A physical artefact, a 'cute' pet that has its own individual, 'secret' code.
b) A certificate of ownership or adoption.
c) Excessive use of pastel shades in the products themselves and related artefacts and texts.
d) The physical pet can be represented on screen in a related virtual world once the owner enters the code on the relevant website and becomes a member of the 'community' of owners. Websites incorporate aspects of social networking e.g. chat, collaborative games. For example, the 'Littlest Pet Shop VIPs' marketing blurb states:

'A virtual world wouldn’t be complete without knowing what’s going on in your community. The LITTLEST PET SHOP VIPs world will include fun and informative community features such as “Breaking News” and a “Community Calendar” alerting girls to the new and exciting activities that are unfolding, “Pet of the Day” a random spotlight on a pet based on photos submitted by VIPs owners; and “High Scores” to see how you and your pet stack up against others in overall rankings of the 16 mini-games.'

e) Discourses of care and nurturing permeate the sites - owners are encouraged to house, feed, play with and pamper their pets. For example, you can 'pamper and primp your e-Pet at the Spa'.
f) Owners are able to personalise their pets, both on- and off-line.
g) There is on- and off-line marketing of a range of related texts and artefacts e.g. cards, books. This includes an area on the websites which offers a 'store locator', or guidance about how to buy the pets and related goods.
h) Membership procedures involve the company having email addresses of customers.
i) Websites include areas for parents which reassure them about safety issues (but not economic ones).

Littlest Pet Shop VIPs will be launched in the US in October, followed by a global launch in spring 2008. My colleague at the University of Sheffield, Julia Davies, wrote about a similar phenomenon, that of the virtual baby site, 'Babyz'. In her paper, she talks about how some of these site users 'barbarise' their babyz. Maybe the same will happen to these nauseous virtual pets...

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Losing pounds

As confirmation of the fact that computer games have become a major part of our lives, it seems that Halo 3 sales have exceeded £84m in 24 hours, setting a record for the first-day sales of an entertainment product, including films. That might help the fortunes of the XBox. As a latecomer to games, I, in common with older folks in retirement homes, prefer the easier Nintendo Wii. In a nice counterpoint to the 'couch potato' discourse, it seems that playing active console games can enable you to lose up to 27lb a year. The way I play the games, it is more likely to be 27lb a decade, but who's counting?

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Mi (Pink) Digi World

The latest in the pink technologies phenomenon is the Mi Digi World.
The marketing blurb states that it is "built around modern girls’ interests like make-up, fashion, friends, parties, horoscopes and blogging". Well, at least blogging is up there, I guess. Interestingly, the gadget enables users to create an avatar that can then be uploaded and used on a PC, maybe in preparation for the much-hyped ability of 'Web 3.0' , which will, allegedly, enable us to navigate the web using a consistent avatar across programs and software. So, the technology moves on but not, unfortunately, the retrogressive discourses embedded in some of these gadgets. This one enables users to 'analyse whether a boy and girl are compatible' and 'dress them up for a romantic date'. Judith Butler's notion of the 'heterosexual matrix' writ large here.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Social graph

I am currently in Melbourne and this is the first opportunity I have had to blog since I arrived in Australia. I have been learning about a lot of the exciting digital literacy work going on in Australian schools, and discussing issues that face educators both here and in England. For example, we have talked about the need to move beyond conceptualising the digital divide in terms of access to hardware and software, although that is important. What will be of significance in the future will be how well embedded individuals are in the social graph. I for one will be well out of it, as I have resisted joining Facebook for various reasons and am willing to accept the limitations that will bring. But what are the consequences for young children if they are not able to make choices about social networking because they are not aware of the options available to them? Social capital will become social networking capital, which will relate in some ways to economic and cultural capital. I was interested to read the National School Boards Association's report in the USA in which parents expressed positive views towards their children's use of social networking sites - this report adds to other work that suggests that schools embrace and not ignore these sites. Every child needs the chance to make choices about whether and where he/she appears on the social graph.