Children's Social Participation in Virtual Worlds

Children's Social Participation in Virtual Worlds

Terhi Tuukkanen (Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland), Terhi-Anna Wilska (Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland), Ahmer Iqbal (Freelance Researcher, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland) and Marja Kankaanranta (Faculty of Information Technology, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/ijvcsn.2013100104


Virtual worlds provide an arena for children to express themselves and to interact with others. They are a natural and frequent part of children's life today. However, there is not much research on what actually happens in the online worlds and what kind of opportunities those worlds could offer to children and thereby enhance their social participation. The aim in this study is to explore the potential of virtual worlds for children's social participation. The empirical part of the study consists of interviews with 21 Finnish children, aged 11-15 years. By interviewing children, the authors examined their social practices in virtual worlds. In the study, the authors found seven types of social practice that make it possible for children to socialize with others, learn new things and skills, express themselves publicly and play in virtual worlds. Virtual worlds provide an arena for children to overcome the limitations of the real world. However, the freedom also has side effects: misbehavior.
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Virtual Worlds As Arenas For Children’S Social Participation

The way people engage in media has changed in recent years. Today, children and young people are not only consumers but also active creators of media culture (Schäfer, 2011). Some researchers see an entirely new kind of culture emerging from the use of participatory media. Jenkins et al. (2009), for example, writes about participatory culture, which refers to “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement” and “strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations” (p. 3). Cultures of participation are dictated by the result of changes in human behaviour and social organization and facilitated and supported by a variety of different technological environments, such as virtual worlds (Fischer, 2011).

Previous studies have shown that there are four basic features of virtual worlds as participatory media. First, virtual worlds provide users an arena to present their voices in public and, thereby turning their self-expression into a form of public participation. Rheingold (2008) writes about the public voice which, with other voices, is a basis of the ‘public opinion’. The expression of the ‘public opinion’ refers, according to Habermas (1974), to criticism and control which citizens informally and, in periodic elections, formally exert to influence decision-making by state. Many researchers have indeed seen the Internet and virtual communities as a new public space for politically oriented conversation (Barlas & Caliskan, 2006; Papacharissi, 2002). However, as virtual worlds are considered public spaces, children’s viewpoint on participation and political discussion has to be separated from the adults’ one. From adults’ viewpoint, it may be relevant to talk about virtual worlds as spaces for political discussion. From children’s viewpoint, however, regarding virtual worlds as public spaces refers to their potential to be children’s arena for presenting opinions about their everyday matters (see Tuukkanen et al., 2012).

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