Living and Learning on Whyville.net

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.

Whyville.net 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, May 7, 2008

Try a New Avatar Look for a Week

So based on our research on race in Whyville (see the papers section of our blog) in our *new* club this year we are currently having a try-a-new-avatar-look-for-the-week experience. We were actually surprised at how resistant the 4th-6th graders in our after school club were to this idea so we sweetened the deal by making a contest - to be judged at the end of the week. Clams, a cheat, and the chance to help me pick out my new Scion (I've been saving for awhile) are first prize.

Part of the idea is to see how having a different look on Whyville will change how people act with you. One of the leaders of the club switched from a girl to a boy and was flirted with pretty soon thereafter (and insulted as a newbie - our club members went to defend her).

So far one boy has made his avatar a girl, a girl has gone from a cute tan girl look to a green pimpled monster with gracefully tipped wide-brimmed black straw hat, and one girl slapped on a bunch of total newbie parts. I myself became Goth for a week. *Very* different from all of my previous looks. What do you think?

2 comments:

Betty said...

The Goth look is great! A very different persona for you :) Have you noticed any differences in how people respond to you?

Deborah Fields said...

Yes, Whyvillians responded differently and the kids in my club thought I was scary. But then I had a different Goth look for awhile (flowy hair and face paint) and I was complimented for a good look for the first time ever. Sigh, this kind of "participatory competency" is taking me awhile.