Digital Playgrounds: The Hidden Politics of Children’s Online Play Spaces, Virtual Worlds, and Connected Games

By Sara M. Grimes

© 2021

Digital Playgrounds explores the key developments, trends, debates, and controversies that have shaped children’s commercial digital play spaces over the past two decades. It argues that children’s online playgrounds, virtual worlds, and connected games are much more than mere sources of fun and diversion – they serve as the sites of complex negotiations of power between children, parents, developers, politicians, and other actors with a stake in determining what, how, and where children’s play unfolds.

Through an innovative, transdisciplinary framework combining science and technology studies, critical communication studies, and children’s cultural studies, Digital Playgrounds focuses on the contents and contexts of actual technological artefacts as a necessary entry point for understanding the meanings and politics of children’s digital play. The discussion draws on several research studies on a wide range of digital playgrounds designed and marketed to children aged six to twelve years, revealing how various problematic tendencies prevent most digital play spaces from effectively supporting children’s culture, rights, and – ironically – play.

Digital Playgrounds lays the groundwork for a critical reconsideration of how existing approaches might be used in the development of new regulation, as well as best practices for the industries involved in making children’s digital play spaces. In so doing, it argues that children’s online play spaces be reimagined as a crucial new form of public sphere in which children’s rights and digital citizenship must be prioritized.

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Product Details

  • Series: Digital Futures
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 400 pages
  • Illustrations: 12
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
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    ISBN 9781442615564
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Quick Overview

Digital Playgrounds makes the argument that online games play a uniquely meaningful role in children’s lives, with profound implications for children’s culture, agency, and rights in the digital era.

Digital Playgrounds: The Hidden Politics of Children’s Online Play Spaces, Virtual Worlds, and Connected Games

By Sara M. Grimes

© 2021

Digital Playgrounds explores the key developments, trends, debates, and controversies that have shaped children’s commercial digital play spaces over the past two decades. It argues that children’s online playgrounds, virtual worlds, and connected games are much more than mere sources of fun and diversion – they serve as the sites of complex negotiations of power between children, parents, developers, politicians, and other actors with a stake in determining what, how, and where children’s play unfolds.

Through an innovative, transdisciplinary framework combining science and technology studies, critical communication studies, and children’s cultural studies, Digital Playgrounds focuses on the contents and contexts of actual technological artefacts as a necessary entry point for understanding the meanings and politics of children’s digital play. The discussion draws on several research studies on a wide range of digital playgrounds designed and marketed to children aged six to twelve years, revealing how various problematic tendencies prevent most digital play spaces from effectively supporting children’s culture, rights, and – ironically – play.

Digital Playgrounds lays the groundwork for a critical reconsideration of how existing approaches might be used in the development of new regulation, as well as best practices for the industries involved in making children’s digital play spaces. In so doing, it argues that children’s online play spaces be reimagined as a crucial new form of public sphere in which children’s rights and digital citizenship must be prioritized.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: Digital Futures
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 400 pages
  • Illustrations: 12
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
  • Author Information

    Sara M. Grimes is an associate professor in the Faculty of Information and director of the Knowledge Media Design Institute at the University of Toronto.
  • Table of contents

    Introduction

    Digitizing Playgrounds and Technologizing Play
    What This Book Is About
    Why Looking Back Helps Us Move Forward
    Building a Children’s Technology Studies Framework
    Chapter Overview

    1. The Importance of Digital Play

    Conflicting Views of Children’s Play
    Conflicting Views of Mediated Play
    Licensed Toys and Media Supersystems
    Digital Game Controversies and Dichotomies
    Dangerous Games and Risky Gamers
    Games for “Good” Girls
    Bad Game(r)s, Good Game(r)s
    Moving Forward
    Looking at “Stuff” and Structures
    Resituating Children’s Play
    Conclusion

    2. Small Worlds and Walled Gardens

    A Brief History of Children’s Digital Playgrounds
    Online Games: Portals, Arcades, and Environments, 2003–2005
    Neopets
    The Virtual World Boom, 2005–2008
    Design Trends and Disparities
    Beyond the Computer Screen
    Web-Enabled Consoles
    Connected Games Go Mobile
    Toys-to-Life and Cross-Platform Games
    Conclusion

    3. Commercializing Play(grounds)

    Revisiting Supersystems and Structures
    Texts and Contexts
    Affordances and Design Limitations
    Commercializing Gameplay
    The Velvet Rope
    Cross-Promotion and Branding
    Immersive Third-Party Advertising
    Brand Ambassadors
    When Stories, Designs, and Commercial Priorities Align
    Conclusion

    4. From Rules of Play to Censorship

    The Primacy of Rules in Digital Games
    Design(ed) Rules
    Written Rules, Rulebooks, and Codes of Conduct
    Who Follows the Rules Anyway?
    Why Breaking Rules Is Important
    Negotiating Encoded Rules
    Children Bending, but Not Breaking, the Rules
    Ice Goths and BarbieBoys
    Flash Mobs and Copycats
    Playing in the Margins of Manoeuvre
    Conclusion

    5. Safety First, Privacy Later

    Children’s Data and Privacy
    The COPPA Rule Revised
    Reframing Privacy Protections as Safety Mechanisms
    Privacy Policies
    “Safety” by Design
    Safety as a Key Selling Point
    Freedom of Expression as a Collateral Cost of Safety
    Secret Spaces and “Unsafe” Places
    Unsafe and Risky Play
    Conclusion

    6. Playing as Making and Creating

    Playing and Making Digital Games
    Children’s Literacy, Agency, and Cultural Rights
    Terms of Service, Terms of Play
    Who Owns Children’s Content in Digital Playgrounds?
    New Creative Opportunities, Same Old Terms
    User Rights in Minecraft
    Fandom and Fair Use as Consumer Practice
    Conclusion

    7. The Politics of Children’s Digital Play

    Where We Are, and How We Got Here
    The (Four) Problems with Digital Playgrounds
    Privacy, Secrets, and Selfhood
    Censorship and Freedom of Expression
    Ownership, Authorship, and Copyright
    Commercial Content and Control
    The Digital Playground as Public Sphere

    Bibliography

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