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.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I finally have a "cool" look

I was finally told by a Whyvillian (someone who participated in our 2008 after school club) that I have a cool look. After two and a half years of being on Whyville, I finally achieved this?! The look? A Goth body with flowing hair (flowing hair seems to be "in" these days), crossed arms and a half-smile for a little attitude, anime eyes (to contrast with the Goth look), an emerald necklace of my own design (a popular seller on Whyville), face paint from a character in the Naruto anime series, and of course my medals for long-term participation on Whyville.

Is this when ethnographers feel a measure of success - recognized as 'cool' in their society of study?

Recent Whyville Presentations 2008

This spring and summer we've presented many times about our research on Whyville. Here are a few titles - with papers being written this fall.

AERA: March 2008

Fields, D. F., Giang, M. & Kafai, Y. B. (2008, March). Girl gamers in virtual worlds: Portraits of participation and positionings in a tween gaming club. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Cook, M. S., Fields, D. F. & Kafai, Y. B. (2008, March). “Should I get this skin color for my head?” Conversations about race in a tween gaming club. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Cultures of Virtual Worlds: April 2008

Fields, D. F. & Kafai, Y. B. (2008, April). Race, gender, and trading face parts: A case study of identity construction in a tween virtual world. Paper presented at the Cultures of Virtual Worlds Conference, Irvine, CA.

ICLS: July 2008 (see for pdfs of papers)

Fields, D. F. & Kafai, Y. B. (2008). Knowing and throwing mudballs, hearts, pies, and flowers: A connective ethnography of gaming practices. In V. Jonker , A. Lazonder, & C. Hoadley (Eds.) Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Utrecht, Netherlands: University of Utrecht.

Kafai, Y. B. & Wong. J. (2008). Real Arguments about a Virtual Epidemic: Conversations and Contestations in a Tween Gaming Club Paper

Games + Learning + Society: July 2008

Fields, D. F. & Kafai, Y. B. (2008, July). How does someone become a Whyvillian? Issues of race, gender, and trading face parts in a case study of tween play in a virtual world. Paper presented at the annual conference of Games + Learning + Society 4.0, Madison, WI.

ISCAR: September 2008

Fields, D. F. & Kafai, Y .B. (2008, September). Projectile throwing as a tool to mediate relationships: A connective ethnography of a gaming practice in a tween virtual world. Paper presented at the biannual conference of the International Society of Cultural and Activity Research (ISCAR), San Diego, CA.