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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Garlic Splats - Who Knew?

We recently decided to further study projectile throwing on Whyville - did you know that you can throw stuff at other folk on Whyville? This is a useful practice for 'reaching out and touching someone,' flirting (throwing hearts), and creating elaborate tag-like wars with your friends.

In pursuit of this fascinating topic, I though it would be valuable scholarship to buy some projectiles and throw them. I bought some oldies - blue balloons, mudballs, hearts - and some newies - maggots, garlic, spiders, and christmas lights. Now, some projectiles just stick to your target for a few seconds and disappear - like hearts. But some splat, like mudballs. Much to my delight and utter surprise, garlic splats. Who can explain the delight of throwing a head of garlic at someone and seeing it splat all over their face (see my target practice in the picture above)!

In fact, maggots also splat - a virtual and scintillating mix of body parts and blood.

In contrast, spiders mostly splat blood and little black legs.

Think about all the implications for context specific learning how to throw projectiles on Whyville - who to throw at, what to throw for what purposes, and how to respond when kids say "who did that?!"