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.

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!


1 comment:

Melissa Cook said...

Interesting. This is different from the red tide experiment in that it is really sort of a social science question--or at least it might be looked at in that way. If lots of face parts weigh you down for instanc, then there is a sort of balance that individual players have to make between looking a certain highly valued way (the tricked-out look with tons of parts) and moving around quickly and easily!! If you consider some people's (me, for instance)readiness to wear bulky, impractical, or uncomfortable clothing in my non-virtual life as an example, you can bet there will be some Whyvillians who will wear all the trendy face parts no matter how much it slows them down! :)

Interesting that there is still the element of "getting paid to do 'science'" that most of the games include...