ESRC seminar series: Children and young people’s digital literacies in virtual online spaces
Today I attended seminar 1 at Sheffield University: The nature of virtuality.
Julia Gillen’s presentation helped participants to ground the day’s discussions within a historical context by outining some of the antecedents of today’s complex online virtual worlds: prosthetic devices, video games and MUDS.
As part of this historical journey, her presentation incorporated a quote from Richard Bartle, who wrote in 1983:
“What I would like to see –and it’s a long, long way off –is some local or national network with good graphics, sound effects and a well designed set of worlds of varying degrees of difficulty. In this true meritocracy, you will forever be encountering new situations, new difficulties, new solutions, and above all new people. Everyone starts off on an equal footing in this artificial world. “
At the time, when Richard Bartle was creating the first MUDs, this comment must have seemed visionary and now in hindsight it seems perhaps phrophetic.
During this talk I was particularly interested in the way virtual worlds have been discussed and presented by the media over recent years. Julia had carefully selected examples of news coverage and used these to higlight the point that although there is still a “sustained tendency for hyperbolic and ‘moral panic’” there is “also a gradual development of more subtle understandings.” (I’m now going to trawl media archives for references to ARGs!)
This presentation also raised ethical issues related to researching in online virtual worlds.
Jackie Marsh’s presentation explored the nature of virtuality and drew on the findings of research into children’s engagement with club penguin. She drew on the work of Malpas who argued that:
‘A basic starting point for any serious discussion of the virtual must be recognition of the non-autonomy of the virtual – a recognition of the fact that the virtual does not constitute an autonomous, independent or ‘closed system, but is instead always dependent, in a variety of ways, on the everyday world within which it is embedded‘. (Malpas 2009:135)
Jackie Marsh then went on to explore the way that children interacted with the online space drawing on their economic,cultural and social capital. I really enjoyed hearing about the children involved in the case study and the children’s comments helped to bring the argument to life.
After lunch, Michele Knobel joined the seminar as a virtual participant and talked with Guy Merchant, responding to questions from the group.
The last of the presentations was by Sheila Webber who shared her personal experiences of second life. Find out more about the many adventures of Yoshikawa on her blog.
A thought provoking day. What a good start to the seminar series!