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.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Keeping up with Fashion: St. Patrick's Day on Whyville

Well, we've been talking about identification and avatars, and March 17, aka St. Patrick's Day is a case in point for me. First, there's a Whyville party (and probably fashion contest as usual). I don't know whether I'll be able to make it, but today I spent 256 clams on my new Irish look. I have to admit, it parallels my own practice on St. Patrick's Day because it's my birthday. Being both Irish (descent on both sides), red haired (first in four generations on either side), and born on March 17, this has always been an important day for me. Before I understood genetic, I actually believed my mom, who would tell people that I got my red hair because I was born on St. Patrick's day (actually since both parents have brown hair, I was quite a surprise coming out of the womb!).

So historically I would always dress to the tee in green, shamrocks, pins, etc. on March 17. In fact, I had an entire set of shamrock jewelry (necklace, earrings, pins) from my great-aunt before it was stolen in high school. And you wouldn't believe the number of birthday cards there are for people born specifically on St. Patrick's Day! I know, because I've probably been given them ALL.

So I had to dress up not just in person (I made sure to wear all three pairs of socks with clovers/shamrocks, shamrocks & Guinness beer this week) but also in Whyville. After all, some kids took the time to make face parts special for the occasion - I'm only sporting a small percentage of them! I tried to make my own emerald necklace but it hasn't been approved yet.

Supporting the fashion economy of Whyville,

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Articles, Papers, and Books, oh my!

Journal Papers and Book Chapters

Kafai, Y. B. (In Press). Synthetic Play: Teens Gaming Together and Apart in Virtual Worlds. In Y. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner, & J. Sun (Eds.), Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Computer Games. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Kafai, Y. B. & Giang, M. T. (In Press). Virtual Playgrounds: Children’s Multi-User Virtual Environments for Playing and Learning with Science. In T. Willoughby & E. Wood (Eds), Children’s Learning in a Digital World. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Conference Papers and Presentations

Fields, D. A. (2007, April). Learning by Cheating? Investigating the science in cheat sites for informal educational mutli-user virtual environments. Paper to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Feldon, D., Kafai, Y., Fields, D. A., Giang, M., & Quintero, M. (2007, April). Mixed methods for mixed reality: Overcoming methodological challenges to understand user activity in a massive multi-user virtual environment. Paper to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Kafai, Y. B., Feldon, D., Fields, D. A., Giang, M., Quintero, M., & Peppler, K. A. (2007). Where in the World is the Science in Whyville? Symposium to be held at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Kafai, Y.B., Feldon, D., Fields, D., Giang, M., & Quintero, M. (2007). Life in the Times of Whypox: A Virtual Epidemic as a Community Event. In C. Steinfeld, B. Pentland, M. Ackermann, & N. Contractor (Eds.), Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Communities and Technology. New York: Springer.

Fields, D. A. & Kafai, Y. B. (2007, July). Tracing Insider Knowledge Across Time and Spaces: A Connective Ethnography in a Teen Online Game World. Paper to be presented at the 8th Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Kafai, Y. B. (2007, July). To cheat or not to cheat? The Purposes, Politics and Psychology of Cheating in Gaming. Symposium to be held at the Games, Learning, and Society 3.0, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Kafai, Y. B., Cook, M., & Fields, D. A. (under review). “Blacks deserve bodies too”: Design and Discussion about Race and Diversity in a Teen Virtual World. Paper submitted to DiGRA07.

Kafai, Y. B., Fields, D. A., & Cook, M. (under review). Your Second Selves: Avatar Design and Identity Play in a Teen Virtual World. Paper submitted to DiGRA07.

Fields, D. A., & Kafai, Y. B. (under review). Stealing from Grandma or Generating Cultural Knowledge? Contestations and Effects of Cheats in a Teen Virtual World. Paper submitted to DiGRA07.


Kafai, Y. B. (Accepted with Revisions). Of Monsters and Sick Computers: Children’s Folk Conceptions of Computational Viruses. Journal of Science Education and Technology.

Quintero, M. (forthcoming). Who Visits the Virtual Center for Disease Control During an Online Epidemic? A Study of Player Resource Engagement in a Multi-Player World. Unpublished Master Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dark Skin in Whyville- new popularity?

Hey, so this is my first attempt at a post on cool news and ponderings about Whyville happenings. We recently finished a paper on race and avatar design in Whvyille, and I can't help but notice some neat looks that kids have designed. I've recently noticed a lot more cornrows on dark skinned faces on Whyville, like this one above. A new trend?

*Plus*, I have to say that my "rich brown head" on Whyville (one of only two face parts that I sell) is very popular, or at least seems to be. I think I've sold over 20 of those heads in the past month. Is this a sign, as some kids have hoped for in their Whyville newspaper writings, that peach skin might not be as dominant as before? I'm trying to get a cool looking matching skin body approved too, but no luck so far.