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Exploring the online playground: Understanding motivation in children’s virtual worlds

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Children’s virtual worlds attract millions of preteens. This article, which uses ethnographic methods and usability testing techniques, examines children’s interest in virtual worlds and how behaviours associated with socializing, gaming, exploring and creating influence their use of the spaces. The study, which consisted of interviews and observations of sixteen children between 6 and 11, examined how cognitive and social development influence their use of virtual worlds. Specifically, the study considers whether children behave in the spaces according to the expectations established by the rules or play on their own terms. The results suggest that children use the spaces in ways that fit their style of play, despite limits created by membership-only features and virtual wealth accumulation. They often ignore the social aspects of play and focus on arcade style games and quests. Some children cited a preference for more creative options.
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Keywords: avatars; children; commercialism; gaming; online play; virtual worlds

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Saint John Fisher College

Publication date: September 1, 2013

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  • The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds focuses on theoretical and applied, empirical, critical, rhetorical, creative, economic and professional approaches to the study of electronic games across platforms and genres as well as ludic and serious online environments.
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