Virtual play

Developing a baroque sensibility

Authored by: Cathy Burnett , Guy Merchant

The Routledge Handbook of Digital Literacies in Early Childhood

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138303881
eBook ISBN: 9780203730638
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9780203730638-25

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Abstract

The relatively short history of scholarship on virtual worlds and videogames is multi-disciplinary, drawing on a diversity of research traditions, paradigms and explanatory frameworks in ways that seem quite appropriate to such a new and developing phenomenon. Interests inevitably vary, ranging from concerns with possible links between aggression and videogames (e.g. Bensley and Van Eenwyk 2001), the potential of videogames for learning (e.g. Mitchell and Savill-Smith 2004) and the use of virtual worlds in education settings (e.g. Kim, Lee and Thomas 2012). Despite their obvious popularity and attraction, both virtual worlds and videogames have continued to provoke negative reactions from mainstream media (Gillen and Merchant 2013). On the one hand their immersive quality has generated the fear that large numbers of children and young people are spending endless hours online, squandering money on upgrades and accessories, and on the other that they are becoming morally degenerate through over-exposure to sex and violence. There is little evidence to support these claims, but they do build on isolated high-profile cases, and play into a more generalized moral panic in which narratives about the internet and new technology as a ‘corrosive’ force in society predominate. Popular perceptions of gaming and virtual world play as solitary activity have now been called into question by empirical research. For example, Tuukkanen, Iqbal and Kankaanranta (2010) observed how young people are socially active in virtual worlds, and Schott and Kambouri (2003) in an ethnography of gamers, argue for a focus on the “social envelope” of gaming, showing how even player-to-game interactions often take place in front of a real-time audience of peers. The increasing popularity of virtual worlds and games has led some to think of them as “new play spaces” (Kafai 2010: 4) or part of a wider multiverse or “playscape” (Abrams, Rowsell and Merchant 2017).

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