Virtual-to-Real World Play Patterns; Sims Used For Solutions?

Shaping Youth Correspondent Sara Grimes (at left) our hands-on research pro in the gaming arena and a smart as a whip academic to boot, (here’s scholarly Sara at ACT Lab) has helped us ALL by distilling the findings from a new study on kids, toys and online play, which she posted on her blog Gamine Expedition. (always on our sidebar if you lose the link!)

Here’s the scoop on stats, consumption, and other trend-tracking measures, but as I always say, consider the source. In this case? The Toy Industry Association (TIA), in collaboration with the NPD Group.

Don’t let that ‘dot org’ on the TIA site mislead, as it’s a nonprofit trade association of over 500 companies accounting for about 85% of domestic toy sales in North America. Not saying there’s bias, just saying ‘always know your sources.’ (for more media literacy, check out Sara’s insightful paper on ‘Researching the Researchers’ including child subjects and the conundrum of ‘informed consent’ ) Anyway, Sara sums:

“According to Virtual Worlds News, the report, entitled Online Play: Earning Mom’s Trust and Children’s Interest, is “designed to help industry players understand what’s driving moms and kids ages 2 to 14 to social, gaming and/or entertainment” sites.

Key findings include:

* 28% of kids who use social gaming/entertainment sites have “purchased either a physical item or digital content from these sites.”

* Many kids spend upwards of 16 hours a week in virtual worlds – “creating avatars, playing games, earning and spending virtual currency, and socializing.”

* Online-offline toys offer “enhanced play value and are the glue that bonds these digital natives…to a new generation of play.”

* Kids rarely go online alone, and siblings play a large role in the online experience. (“suggesting an opportunity for content that can appeal to multiple consumers with team-oriented participation.”)

* Gaming is the primary activity driving kids’ internet use ages 2 to 14: 76 percent of all kids on the internet are “drawn” to social and gaming sites. Furthermore, 75% of 6-to-8 year olds and over 90% of kids over 8 yrs are accessing online content.

Additional findings will be presented at the upcoming Virtual Worlds Kids conference (September 3rd in LA). A big thanks to Izzy Neis for the head’s up.” –Sara Grimes

Yes, THIS Izzy Neis. One and the same…

And if it seems like all of us in the ‘do-good’ arena are talking to ourselves, we kind of are, but for all the right reasons…to glean ‘best practices’ promoting creativity in positive ways! In fact:

Izzy just wrote about a ‘whoa’ heads-up for Club Penguin parents, as there’s a similar sounding “Club THE Penguin” horrid ANTI-animal, anti-eco, anti-conservation ‘edgy/pithy/aren’t we clever’ inappropriate game floating around from VizWoz that I find to be toxic in all regards. Deride me for ‘not having a sense of humor.’ Bleh. Toxic.

Why, oh, why, do people waste brain cells creating this damaging drek brimming with vapid values and ‘aren’t we cool to be using the knock-off name of our rival’ sarcasm.

This is one case in point where I hope Disney uses their clout to ‘club’ these eggheads for brand infringement and creating market confusion to halt this crud in its tracks.

Anyway, back to ‘the good guys’ —trying to do POSITIVE things with games and virtual worlds and learning and such…

Terra Nova has a great post along these lines by Bob McGinley called, “Blending Virtual Worlds and the Real World”

He taps into the many uses and vast potential of simulations applied to human behavior patterns in order to use our creative brains to think of (quel surprise) SOLUTIONS!

We’re talking containment of global epidemics, climate change eco-reversals, as well as the pragmatic sims already in use for virtual surgeries, pilots and even lawyers.

I’m proud to say I wrote the promo/branding for the Stanford Law/CLE’s Interactive Courtroom, “Eliminate the process of trial and error, because there’s no room for error in a trial.” Heehee.

Anyway, here’s what Bob McGinley has to say on why ANY of this virtual hoo-haw even matters…taking it FAR beyond the ‘coinage and consumption’ cues being served up to kidlets from the toy grabs that irks me.

Here goes:

“Its all fun and games, until somebody gets hurt. That’s what my friends and I would say to each other when we were kids and about to do something stupid and dangerous. Like wrestling while climbing trees or using homemade bike ramps to jump over neighborhood friends. Sure virtual worlds and games are fun until something more important comes along. This is starting to change.

There is a revolution of sorts occurring, and the revolution has to do with the remarkable success of some MMORPGs and the increasing popularity of virtual communities. There is a remarkable amount of time and energy put into these the environments, and a growing number of us would rather be in the VU than the RU. The question then becomes how to get people to be productive while being virtual, and this is where the revolution takes place.

It’s all about patterns. We humans see patterns everywhere. Patterns in language, patterns in biology, patterns in design, patterns in motion, patterns in sewing. We create patterns through our behavior and how we solve problems. Because we are self-aware, we can recognize and learn how we develop these patterns, and subsequently, we can teach ways to create new patterns. We develop patterns in our virtual communities and our games. The leveling treadmill creates a very recognizable pattern in many of todays games and team combat games like Planetside create an array of attack and defend patterns.

Lets say we want to study a pandemic emergency, and try to contain the breakout of a new virulent virus strain. These types of simulations already exist to show containment speeds and mortality rates, what they lack is insight into the effectiveness of containment steps and quarantine. Introduce the simulation into the virtual world and allow communities to apply variances to the model, and patterns begin to develop. As the masses collectively think through a problem, knowledge is gained.” —cont. on Terra Nova here

Yep. And he’s just summed up some of the research going on in Second Life right now, as well as HopeLab, Stanford’s Persuasion Technology Lab, and in sims like Virtual (the humanitarian assistance training simulator)…even little ol’ Shaping Youth is doing homework in this realm…

How can this apply to kids’ solutions where they brainstorm ways to handle playground politics for example? Cyberbullying? Odd girl out relational aggression? Social status and gender issues for healthy boundaries? Could this help solve ‘date rape’ issues? Peer pressure judgments?

The canvas is vast…Paintbrush anyone? Lend us a hand…



  1. Video Gamer says

    “Lets say we want to study a pandemic emergency, and try to contain the breakout of a new virulent virus strain. These types of simulations already exist to show containment speeds and mortality rates, what they lack is insight into the effectiveness of containment steps and quarantine. Introduce the simulation into the virtual world and allow communities to apply variances to the model, and patterns begin to develop. As the masses collectively think through a problem, knowledge is gained.”

    I’m surprised he didnt mention the WoW event that happened. This actually happened in WoW. It was totally by accident and to people who were observing it it was a real eye opener as to how people react in a situation like that.
    Stuff like this is really neat. It gives us a look at something that would otherwise be impossible.

  2. Hey, VG, thanks for the great link. I have game politics in my Google reader but didn’t have the WoW case study. Why don’t you write up a guest post for us on your experience ‘in-world’ about it?

    Also, as long as we’re at it, you might be able to lend me a hand on seeking out VW situations where RL players are unable to access a community outside of a VW (e.g. illness, hospitalized, recovery, etc.) and I recall reading somewhere about a strong SL contingent (maybe WoW too?) that built community and inspired people to have a sense of an ‘outside’ even though they couldn’t physically be outside themselves?

    Any links or anecdotes on same, send ’em my way? (working on a case right now about kids ‘in-world’ that are isolated from peers due to various health/medical issues) Inspiring use of VW chat platforms for certain.

    Thanks for the link and the comment, always appreciate it when folks take the time! 🙂 p.s. Have you read Jill’s MIT/WoW reader yet on digital culture, play and identity?

  3. Also check this out!!!

    A fascinating post n the PCW blog about changing our biology altogether via gaming…

    With special kudos to the HopeLab crew for their ReMission (cancer education encouragement) game’s fabulous outcomes in the Pediatric Journal…

    p.s. VG if you are reading this, what do you know about the Watchmen (not a game, but a mobile comic) lots of buzz and we need someone to cover it?!

  4. Video Gamer says

    That book looks pretty interesting; I may have to read it some time.

    Funny you should mention that PC world blog post. It reads; “Xbox 360 controllers used to fly UAVs and Wii Remotes potentially being used in basic training.” Believe it or not, I actually just signed up for the Air Force to do that exact job. I will be flying UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan (well the planes will be there, I will be in the US.)

    I have heard quite abit about games like Re-Mission. The best part about programs like that and also, is that they may not have a physical impact, but they do have a psychological impact. At the very least the child can feel like they are helping themselves by playing the game. It puts them in a positive mind set and can help them enjoy their limited time. Terminal cancer can be hard on any one, but to expect a child to be able to deal with the inevitability is unfathomable. And Childs Play in particular has some very big industry sponsors.

    On “The Watchmen,” I can’t say much as I’ve never read it. However, from what little I do know, I know it will be very dark. It will more than likely be similar to movies like “Sin City,” “300,” and more recently “The Dark Knight.” I cant say for sure that it will be rated R, but it will be at least PG-13. Also the story around “The Watchmen” involves time travel, alternate time lines, and only vague hints as to what is really going on. It will probably be very difficult to follow for a child under 13. I would be happy to review it for you. I’m not sure when it comes out or if I will be at basic training at the time, but I will let you know.

  5. Video Gamer says

    Oh and on the WoW in-game disease, I never actually expierenced it. I had a policy of “no WoW at school” and it occured shortly after I started my junior year at college.

  6. As always, a wealth of info, VG…thanks for your input and feedback!

    Interesting that you’re doing the Air Force sim along those lines, and can say that I’d sure rather be in the US flying UAVs than in Iraq doing same…Makes me wonder how we can use virtual sim for so many different medical, social, eco damage reversal and psycho-social aspects of modern life…

    Very encouraging uses…Have you checked out the site on the sim uses? Highly recommend. You’d be an asset to the dialog.

    p.s. I’d love you to write on ANY of these VW/gaming issues from a firstperson perspective…so ping me when you ever have a minute.

    Are you in grad school now? on sabbatical? If so, I suppose our lil’ nonprofit isn’t much of a draw in offering ‘service incentives’ to pump up your resume on the academic front but I sure enjoy hearing gaming reports from ‘the inside out,’ from ALL ages…So let me know if you’re up for it.

    And thanks again for the recon on Watchmen. Best, Amy

  7. Video Gamer says

    I heard some new info on the Watchmen movie. It seems that Fox owns some kind of rights on the movie that they somehow conveniently forgot to tell WB untill after they finished filming. Now they are suing WB for a cut of the movie. Its even possible that the movie could be delayed or not released at all. But its more likely that WB will just settle and Fox will get a piece.

  8. Hi VG, yep, saw that in the Times:

    Wild how these cult comic/mobile spaces go mainstream in a flash too…guess ‘dark & damaged superheroes’ are in high demand as of late…?

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