29 December 2005

Video games as substitute play environments for children

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A long essay by Henry Jenkins explores the cultural geography of video game spaces, one which uses traditional children’s play and children’s literature as points of comparison to the digital worlds contemporary children inhabit.

Specifically, it examines the “fit” between video games and traditional boy culture and reviews several different models for creating virtual play spaces for girls. So much of the existing research on gender and games takes boy’s fascination with these games as a given. As we attempt to offer video games for girls, we need to better understand what draws boys to video games and whether our daughters should feel that same attraction.

The essay starts from a reflection on the changing spaces of childhood. In the nineteenth century, children living on America’s farms enjoyed free range over a space which was ten square miles or more; boys of nine or 10 would go camping alone for days on end, returning when they were needed to do chores around the house. Henry did spend childhood time in wild woods, but these are now occupied by concrete, bricks, or asphalt. His son has grown up in apartment complexes and video games constitute his main playing spaces.

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(via John Thackara)

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