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, March 21, 2007

Science Learning reports

Virtual Playground for Millions reviews the three categories of online science games (casual, collaborative, and community) available for users of, and examines the instructional and social significance of each in a 10-week middle school study.

Life in the Times of Whypox focuses on Whypox, a virtual epidemic that took place in Whyville, and how it impacted community life during and after its scourge.
Download PDF here

Patterns in Scientific Problem Solving reports on teens' use of the virtual simulators in during the outbreak of the Whypox disease. Results show that a select number of online players use different approaches, scientific and engineering models, to improve their prediction performances.

Of Monsters and Sick Computers looks at children's folk conceptions of a computer virus such as Whypox and what connections exists between virtual and natural viruses.

Where in the World is the Science in Whyville? Analyses many of the potentials for science learning in Whyville, including participation in science games, responses to the virtual epidemic of Whypox, uses of simulators to understand Whypox, understanding of computer viruses based on Whypox experiences, and uses and influences of player-developed "cheats" on science games.

Community Dynamics reports

Synthetic Play examines gender differences and similarities in gaming on Whyville in an after school club. It compares and contrasts the different approaches that boys and girls employ in designing their avatars and in socializing with others online and offline.
Download PDF here

Tracing Insider Knowledge Across Time and Spaces looks at how a secret command that can only be learned by talking with other people is learned by after-school club members both online and offline.
Download PDF here

Stealing from Grandma or Generating Cultural Knowledge? looks at teen-created cheat sites where kids post answers, guides, and advice about how to succeed in the games on Whyville. We discuss the impact of these sites on kids' learning and the Whyville community as a whole.
Download PDF here

Your Second Selves checks out kids' tools for building avatars (i.e., an online 'look') on Whyville and how there are social constraints to making cool looks even though there are almost unlimited options for designing parts for avatars.
Download PDF here

Blacks Deserve Bodies Too looks at how kids choose to represent race in their avatars (online images of self) and what they have to say about being white, black, or latino/a in Whyville.
Download PDF here

Methodology reports

Mixed Methods for Mixed Reality creates an integrative model to combine qualitative (interviews, observations, field notes) and quantitative data (tracking logfiles, surveys) to understand the multiple facets of avatar creation, play, and evaluation on Whyville.
Download PDF here

Monday, March 19, 2007

early results on speed in Whyville

So I finally got the ruler to work - it's pretty fun. I already had one person race for me and recorded two pieces of data. Then I went to the data upload site where they told me what I recorded "oriahsiri ran 500 pixels in 6.7 seconds" and I had to divide the distance by time to get the speed and submit it.

Then I went to the graphs - here's one. I don't think there' much of a correlation.

But here's a really nifty thing! You can see which data points you entered! In part of my other life as a graduate student I'm working on a project where kids are analyzing statistical data about socially relevant issues (race, income, crime, school 'scores'). They're not collecting their own data, but if they were, and if they were dumping it all together in a collaborative thing, how cool would it be to pick out your own contributions! I was proud of my two data points, seen in the picture here.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

new 'science' research on Whyville

This is pretty funny and kind of cool. I logged in today to find out that there's a new activity on Whyville. Why do some people (i.e. avatars) move faster than others? By collecting data on how fast you can move in different parts of Whyville, and accumulating data as a community (you're awarded 4 clams for each data point you give - i.e. 'oriahsiri moved 300 pixels in 5.4 seconds) they're trying to develop theories about why some people move faster than others. Do too many face parts weigh you down? Does a higher salary make you go faster? It's kind of science, somewhat related to real life (distance = rate x time) but totally done in the context of Whyville.

I already tried to do my part but the 'ruler' and stopwatch aren't working yet, at least not for me. The room had a bunch of people though!