New research indicates that virtual worlds can be very useful for children to rehearse what they will do in real life. They are also a more powerful and attractive alternative to other entertainment, such as watching TV.
In this research, conducted by David Gauntlett and Lizzie Jackson of the University of Westminster, the first children to test the BBC's virtual world Adventure Rock were surveyed and interviewed, aimed at an audience between the ages of 6 and 12. This online world is a themed island built by Belgian game maker Larian for the BBC's CBBC channel.
Children explore the world on their own, but there are message boards where they can share with other children what they find and do in the various creative studios scattered throughout the virtual world.
The research has studied the various ways in which children used the world, also collecting their observations about the positive and negative aspects of it.
According to Prof. Gauntlett, research has revealed that children assumed one of eight roles when it came to exploring the virtual world and using the tools that were available to them.
Sometimes the children acted as scouts and at other times they were careerists willing to connect with other players. Some proved to be sophisticated users looking for more information about how the virtual world works.
For Prof. Gauntlett, online worlds are useful rehearsal spaces where children can try all sorts of things without worrying about the consequences of those things if they did them in real life.
For example, he added, the children who tried Adventure Rock learned many useful social skills and played with their identities in various ways, something that would be more difficult in real life.
According to Gauntlett, what the children liked the most was the ability to create content such as music, pictures and video and the tools that measured their standing in the world compared to other children.
Source: BBC Technology