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BBC: Virtual worlds beneficial for children

James Egan

The BBC recently sponsored a study on how children interact in virtual worlds, and its findings are promising. Their research reveals that virtual worlds provide a safe environment where children can try new things, largely free of real world consequences. According to the BBC, "Virtual worlds can be a powerful, engaging and interactive alternative to more passive media."

The BBC tapped Belgian game maker Larian Studios to create Adventure Rock, a virtual world filled with 'creative studios' aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 12. The research was carried out by Professor David Gauntlett and Lizzie Jackson of the University of Westminster, who looked at the ways children used the world as new explorers in Adventure Rock.

Children explore the world alone but use message boards to share information about what can be found and done in Adventure Rock. Their actions and interactions revealed that children assumed one of eight specific roles as they played in the virtual world:

  • Explorer-investigators
  • Self-stampers
  • Social climbers
  • Fighters
  • Collector consumers
  • Power users
  • Nurturers
  • Life system builders
Gauntlett stated that children were explorers at some times but were social climbers, eager to connect with fellow players, at other times. Some children were simply power users who wanted to fully understand the world and how it works.

Despite the differences in roles assumed, all of the children enjoyed content creation. They created music, cartoons, and video. Children received feedback on how others felt about their creations through tools built into the world. Peer response, in effect, established a given child's standing within the virtual community of Adventure Rock. Professor Gauntlett is enthusiastic about the first study's findings and cited the benefits of getting children involved in virtual interaction at an early age.

Via Switched

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