Connected Play: Tweens in a Virtual World

MIT Press


Millions of children visit virtual worlds every day. In such virtual play spaces as Habbo Hotel, Toontown, and Whyville, kids chat with friends from school, meet new people, construct avatars, and earn and spend virtual currency. In Connected Play, Yasmin Kafai and Deborah Fields investigate what happens when kids play in virtual worlds, how this matters for their offline lives, and what this means for the design of educational opportunities in digital worlds. 

Play is fundamentally important for kids’ development, but, Kafai and Fields argue, to understand play in virtual worlds, we need to connect concerns of development and culture with those of digital media and learning. Kafai and Fields do this through a detailed study of kids’ play in Whyville, a massive, informal virtual world with educational content for tween players. Combining ethnographic accounts with analysis of logfile data, they present rich portraits and overviews of how kids learn to play in a digital domain, developing certain technological competencies; how kids learn to play well—responsibly, respectfully, and safely; and how kids learn to play creatively, creating content that becomes a part of the virtual world itself.


“This is a terrific multimethod analysis of nine-to-twelve-year-old users of the virtual world of Whyville. It contributes substantial information about an understudied population of tween digital media users and it contributes to an expansive understanding of how play in the digital world extends real-world experiences. Connected Play is an informative and yet nuanced description of the ways digital playgrounds are being used by tweens today and how these play experiences represent educational opportunities. Both children’s media designers and those who study the role of digital media in children's development will find this a rich contribution to the literature.”
Ellen Wartella, Director, Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University

“A rich and insightful examination of the complex—and too often misunderstood—universe of tweens’ online gaming. Connected Play not only provides a comprehensive overview of the diverse relationships and learning opportunities that can emerge out of young people’s virtual world play, but also serves as a template for how to conduct a methodologically rigorous study of a digital environment and its inhabitants.”
Sara Grimes, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto


Related Resources

Tween Activism in a Virtual World | Deborah Fields | TEDxUSU

 For better or worse, virtual worlds and online sites have figured much more prominently as centers for play in kids’ daily lives. And as in reality, where there are “playgrounds,” there are inevitable and familiar social tensions. Drawing on nearly a decade of research in a popular virtual world, Deborah Fields illuminates the ways that kids responsibly confront these challenges. By speaking up for what is right, celebrating equity, fighting for diversity, and reaching out to those who are excluded, kids are stepping up to the social challenges through activism in virtual worlds.