Living and Learning on

Multiplayer games and worlds have increased in popularity with millions of players now spending dozens of hours or more online each week. We know surprisingly little about what younger players do in virtual worlds like Teen Second Life, Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, Virtual Laguna Beach, There and others. Discussions about their promises and problems have been initiated among researchers, parents, developers, and policy makers. The purpose of this blog is to make our current research publicly available about one such teen virtual world called Whyville and to solicit feedback and initiate discussion. currently has over 2 million registered players ages 8-16. In Whyville, teens are encouraged to play casual science games in order to earn a virtual salary in ‘clams’, which they can spend on buying and designing parts for their avatars, projectiles to throw at other users, and other goods. The general consensus among Whyvillians (the citizens of the virtual community of Whyville) is that earning a good salary and thus procuring a large number of clams to spend on face parts or other goods is essential for fully participating in the Whyville. Like other virtual worlds, hundreds of cheat sites have been developed outside of Whyville to reveal shortcuts and introduce new players to virtual customs.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, UCLA researcher Yasmin Kafai and her team study many different aspects of Whyville including science learning, avatar creation and virtual identity, the role of cheating, and flirting and dating through Whyville.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Designing beyond face parts: Climate change on Whyville

Today when I logged on to Whyville (it's been awhile, since we were in Japan at the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) presenting on Whyville last week) I discovered that there are now "rolling black outs" on Whyville due to the energy crisis associated with the Climate Change Center. I went there to discover what was up and one thing I found was "CLIMATE COUTURE."

What is this? Well, it appears that design on Whyville now goes beyond face parts, something that an audience member at DiGRA actually asked about. Now, you can go to Akbars and design parts for alternative energy, which are then somehow ranked with a number related to how good they are for the environment. Here are some of the options below. Note that not all parts actually rank anything at all.

Well, I don't want to be a slacker, so I bought a solar panel and put it on my face, then went back to the Climate Center, rang the bell, and my contribution to solving the energy crisis on Whyville was noted. Hooray! I noted in particular that this is yet more evidence that Whyville is working on community-based science participation that requires an investment of virtual money and time and now a visual show of support (one's avatar on Whyville is quite important - just read our avatar paper: Your Second Selves...). Here's a picture of my new solar panel in front of the Climate Center. I think we need more research on this...

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