Virtual Worlds and Online Videogames for Children and Young People: Promises and Challenges

Virtual Worlds and Online Videogames for Children and Young People: Promises and Challenges

Guy Merchant (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8310-5.ch012
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Abstract

Online virtual worlds and games provide opportunities for new kinds of interaction, and new forms of play and learning, and they are becoming a common feature in the lives of many children and young people. This chapter explores the issues that this sort of virtual play raises for researchers and educators, and the main themes that have emerged through empirical investigation. I focus on children and young people within the age range covered by compulsory schooling, providing illustrative examples of virtual environments that promote play and learning as a way of underlining some key areas of interest. Drawing on work from a range of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives the chapter emphasises how these environments have much in common with other imagined worlds and suggests that looking at the ways in which the virtual is embedded in everyday contexts for meaning making provides an important direction for future research.
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1. What Is A Succinct Overview Of The Research?

Virtual worlds and video games are high profile and popular forms of entertainment in the new global mediascape. They attract large numbers of children and young people, and this has led to interest in some quarters and concern in others as we grapple with the promises and challenges of new kinds of virtual play. Developers and entrepreneurs are designing increasingly sophisticated virtual environments, and so it seems timely to review the key findings that emerge from empirical and theoretical work, and to address those issues in meaning making and learning that are of interest to parents and educators. In what follows I contribute to this endeavour by looking critically at the specific promises and challenges of using computer-generated virtual worlds and online videogames with children and young people for educational purposes. The research base in this area is still in its infancy, but we can now draw on studies of children in the early years, of teenagers and adults – studies located in a range of different settings and jurisdictions. This body of work outlines the kinds of understandings that virtual play can foster, and points to how it is integrated into everyday lives, as well as how it might be absorbed into more formal educational practice. However, first hand experience of virtual worlds and videogames is alien to many parents and educators and the media reaction to immersive online play is often one of moral panic (Gillen & Merchant, 2013). As a result it is necessary to be clear about what constitutes or defines these environments, and to explore some of the popular myths and misconceptions that have attached to these new forms of play. I begin with a focus on these issues.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Avatar: The on screen image or character used to represent an individual player in a virtual world or online game.

Virtual Play: Onscreen activity that takes place in a videogame or virtual world (see Pearce & Artemesia, 2010 AU70: The in-text citation "Pearce & Artemesia, 2010" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

New Literacies: Communicative practices associated with new digital media, often described as new mindsets (see Lankshear & Knobel, 2006 ; 2010 ).

MMOG: Abbreviation of ‘massively multiplayer online game’ referring to a persistent Internet-based game played by large numbers.

Predation Game: A video game that involves activity related to chasing, capturing other players or game-based characters.

Social Envelope: A term used by Schott & Kambouri (2003) to describe the social activity that takes place in and around a video game.

Gamification: The use of video game principles or designs in the structuring of a learning experience (see Abrams & Walsh, 2014 ).

Virtual World: An internet based MUVE that has no prescribed structuring of activity (see White & LeCornu, 2010).

Online Video Game: A digitally-mediated game that depends on its players being online.

MUVE: Abbreviation of ‘multi-user virtual virtual environment’ referring to a persistent internet-based virtual world characterised by community and world-building activity (see virtual world).

Sports Game: A video game based on actions and activities associated with the world of sport.

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