Week 4: Virtual Worlds and Socialization

This week we have read about the characteristics of interpersonal life online, including its social rewards and possible liabilities.  In her article entitled “Interpersonal Live Online“, Baym examines the interpersonal opportunities of computer-mediated communication (CMC), pointing out the capability of using web-based communication as a means to assert identity, explore new means of self presentation and create new and hybrid forms of non verbal cues via new forms of relationships and social groups.  Baym’s tone remains favorable when stating that research shows that people who use the internet are as socially active offline (i.e. in arts-related activities) as are people who use the internet less.  She explains that people who are heavy internet communicators tend to communicate heavily through other media channels, such as face-to-face conversation and telephone (Bayn et al., 2004; Copher et al., 2002; Kraut and Attewell, 1997). 

Relating this notion to children, Orleans and Laney found that children’s home use of the computer determined that online communication was usually not a substitute for interpersonal communication; rather, both often occurred simultaneously (Orleans and Laney, 2000: 65).

Baym’s article suggests that developing digital games for young children may not have a consequence of replacing traditional interpersonal communication or creating a social isolation.  In effect, it can work simultaneously as an educational tool and even provide new and exciting self exploration and self representation opportunity for the young ones, introducing a new way to socialize and build a creative expression and communication tool.  In reality, web based communication is turning into such a mainstream socialization tool, that kids who are not engaging in online social formats may feel themselves left out and socially isolated.

Myself as Waverly Nyle on SecondLife

Myself as Waverly Nyle on SecondLife

This affirmative approach was shattered when I followed up with the second reading for this week, warning educators about moral catastrophe that take place in popular virtual worlds, such as “Second Life”.  The Bugeja article “Second Thoughts about Second Life” suggests that educators may face personal or institutional liability when exploring with a virtualspace where they have no control of interpersonal interaction (Bugeja, 2007). 

Relating the two approaches to my questions about educational game design for children, I ask myself whether the role of the educator is to control and monitor the educational space, or quite the contrary – allow for self expression and self exploration through educational and technology design?   In addition, we must not overlook the large scale educational opportunities of virtual worlds, such as using it as a platform for environmental awareness through creative and proactive exploration of the self (the avatar), as shown in the video below about renewable energy (fossil fuels), a segment from the Global Kids Science project at SecondLife:

When I interacted with Second Life, initially as a doctoral student in a “Virtual Possibilities in Education” class, confronting occasional ‘indecencies’ was a part of my maturation learning experience in virtual worlds.  You may say “but you are an experienced adult, in no need of constant guardian to orient you in space”.  To that I would reply YES, video game design for children requires a different type of monitoring and closer guidance, leading into an age-specific design.  One approach that I support is enhancing the teamwork between an adult (parent, caretaker or educator) and the young child through designing games targeting the educational interaction between the child and the adult. This type of design could also decrease the technological divide between the old generation and the young “nexters”, native citizens of technological society.


September 25, 2008. Tags: , , , . Columbia University Doctorate, Media and Environmental Awareness, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.