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Playing by and with the rules

Public lecture, Thursday, March 25, 2010 from 4-5:30 pm Faculty of Information, Bissell Bldg (Room 728), University of Toronto

Sara Grimes

on 18 March 2014

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Transcript of Playing by and with the rules

Playing By (and With)
The Rules
Children's Digital Play
Play, Games and Rules
Rule Systems
Design Rules:
Safety Mechanisms
Narrative and Game Lore
Plot lines and themes
Performatives and make-believe
Genre and thematic conventions
Play scripts
Market Rules:
Emphasis on (Cross-)Promotion
Viral Marketing
Velvet Rope Marketing
Transmedia intertextuality
Community Norms (& Family Rules):
Player-driven social norms/hierarchies
Expectations re: behaviour
Emergent play
"Real world" household rules
Playing By the Rules
Rule Systems
& Structures

Virtual Playgrounds
Safety vs. Censorship
Cultural Rights
Immaterial Labor
Intellectual Property
Fair Use/Fair Dealings
Brave New Worlds??
Future Directions
Playing With the Rules
The Current Study
Images & Sources:
Children's digital play
Children's virtual worlds

The Current Study:
Rule systems and structures
Playing by the Rules
Playing with the Rules

Future Directions
Digital Bedroom Culture
Brave New Worlds
Implications: Social, ethical and policy
Photos: Handmade paper stars, courtsey of U.K. Ekim online catalogue, 2010.
Photo: "mix tapes" courtesy of Flickr/Landroid, reprinted in Wired, Oct. 26 2009.
Book cover: "Heather has two mommies" by Leslea Newman, Alyson Books, 1994.
Book cover: "Goosebumps Horrorland: Dr. Maniac vs. Robby Schwartz" by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2008.
Photo: Hanna Montana fan bedroom, courtesy of RafterTales.com 2008.
Gossip Girl in Second Life, courtesy of GeekSugar.com, 2007.
"Trick or Treat," photo courtesy of mrmarkrobson.com, 2009.
Cover of Televizion journal, no. 16/2003/1.
Image "Habble", Press Kit, released by Habbo Hotel, Dec. 2009.
Original screenshots of BarbieGirls.com, ClubPenguin.com, GalaXseeds.com, PixieHollow.com, Toontown.com, Magi-Nation.com, Nicktropolis.com

Bovill, M., & Livingstone, S. (2001). Bedroom Culture and the Privatization of Media Use. In S. Livingstone & M. Bovill (Eds.), Children and their changing media Environment: A european comparative study. London, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Chung, Grace and Sara M. Grimes (2005) “Data Mining the Kids: Surveillance and Market Research Strategies in Children's Online Games.” Canadian Journal of Communication 30(4): 527-48.
Ito, M. (2008). Education V. Entertainment: A Cultural History of Children's Software. In K. Salen (Ed.), Ecology of Games (pp. 89-116). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kapur, J. (1999). Out of Control: Television and the Transformation of Childhood in Late Capitalism. In M. Kinder (Ed.), Kids’ Media Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.
Kinder, M. (1991). Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Livingstone, S. (2009) Keynote Address, Digital Media Learning Conference, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, Feb. 28-21.
McRobbie, A. (2000). Feminism and youth culture. London, UK: Macmillan.
Pearce, C., & Artemesia. (2009). Communities of play: emergent cultures in multiplayer games and virtual worlds. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Sandvig, C. (2006). The Internet at Play: Child Users of Public Internet Connections. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), 932-956.
Schwartzman, H. B. (1978). Transformations: the anthropology of children's play. New York: Plenum Press.
Shade, L. R., Porter, N., & Sanchez, W. (2005). ”You can see anything on the internet, you can do anything on the internet!”: Young Canadians Talk About the Internet’. Canadian Journal of Communication, 30(4), 503-526.
Steeves, V. (2005). Young Canadians In A Wired World – Phase II. Ottawa, ON: Media Awareness Network.
Sara M. Grimes
School of Communication
Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC
Digital Bedroom Culture
Safe Chat Systems
Emergent Play
Designed Emergence
Children’s play cultures often aim to critique social worlds that are ordered and structured almost entirely by adults.
e.g. Mother May I?

(Schwartzman, 1978)
Play is a site of contention

Ideas about play reveal deeper beliefs and values about children/childhood

Children's play is too often overlooked as a site of social, political and cultural meaning
User-generated content tools that enable younger users to build & share their own digital games - levels and missions - and even entire virtual worlds.
e.g. Kodu, Scratch, LittleBigPlanet
Regulatory questions
Advertising to children
New "program length commercial?"
Existing frameworks
Policy development
"If we overestimate young people’s skills, we may underestimate their need for support" Livingstone (2009)
Legal Rules:
Privacy Policies
Terms of Use
Play is popular

- 90 per cent of North American youth play games online
(Steeves, 2005)

- Digital play makes up a significant part of children's IT use & digital culture
Play technologies/artifacts are socially constructed:

Embody & reproduce the social, political, cultural conditions within which they are constructed
Devising workarounds
Sharing knowledge ("cheats")
Reflexivity (flash mobs)
VWs can facilitate emergent play through design
Can also manipulate players for marketing purposes
Rules & Limitations
Most play follows the rules
Design rules place mostly effective limitations on behaviour
Presence of "play scripts"
If you build it....
Action opportunities used to the fullest extent
Make-believe and social interaction happens wherever/however it can
User-generated value
Users provide the content, site owners profit
Users provide the value, but access to them is commodified
Users enlisted in viral marketing
Data Mining & Market Research
Producers as Consumers
User as "Prosumer" - at once a producer and consumer of content
Usually draw heavily on existing cultural texts & contributions of other prosumer users (distributed agency)
Role as producer becomes obscured - framed as consumer relationship
The ambiguity around children’s authorship is exploited within legal documents such as TOS contracts, which are then used to further legitimize dubious business practices.

(Grimes 2006; 2008)
Multiple interests in "safety"
How is this defined?
Delegating authority to automated systems
Live moderation and self-monitoring (player populations)
Trojan horse for promotion/brand management
Many children fail to understand that websites are commercial enterprises, and often imagine that their favourite online destinations are created by benevolent individuals in order to entertain them.

(Shade, Porter and Sanchez, 2005)
Concerns about online privacy growing
Narine, A., & Grimes, S. M. (2009). The Turbulent Rise of the Child Gamer: Public fears and corporate promises in cinematic and promotional depictions of children’s digital play. Communication, Culture and Critique, 2(3), 319 - 338.

Grimes, S. M., & Feenberg, A. (2009). Rationalizing Play: A Critical Theory of Digital Gaming. The Information Society, 25(2), 105-118.

Grimes, Sara M. (2008) “Saturday Morning Cartoons Go MMOG.” Media International Australia (126), Special Issue: Beyond Broadcasting: TV for the Twenty-first Century: 120-131.

Grimes, S. M. (2008). Kids' Ad Play: Regulating Children's Advergames in the Converging Media Context. International Journal of Communications Law and Policy, 8(12), 162-178.

Grimes, S. M. (2007). Terms of Service, Terms of Play in Children's Online Gaming. In J. P. Williams & J. Heide Smith (Eds.), The Players’ Realm: Studies on the Culture of Video Games and Gaming (pp. 33-55). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

Grimes, Sara M. (2006) "Online Multiplayer Gaming: A Virtual Space for Intellectual Property Debates?" New Media & Society 8(6): 969-990.

Grimes, S. M., & Shade, L. R. (2005). Neopian Economics of Play: Children's Cyberpets and Online Communities as Immersive Advertising in Neopets.com. International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, 1(2), 181-198.

Downloads at Academia.edu http://sfu.academia.edu/SaraGrimes
Publications Referenced
2003: Toontown "1st" MMOG for kids
2006: Club Penguin & Webkinz
2008: Virtual Worlds Management announced 106 virutal worlds for kids and youth (live & in development).
2009: over 200 titles
2010: Next generation of VWs
Important continuities with larger commercial children's culture.

Same ownership patterns - primarily media & toy co.
Same cross-promotional emphasis (tie-ins, branding)
Recent Boom
Expansive, multiuser environments
Users interact with each other/environment
Simultaneously, in real time
Users visually represented as avatars
Persistent (go on without you)

Pearce (2009): Spatial, contiguous, explorable, inhabitable, consequential participation, populous, etc.
Virtual Worlds
Participatory, collaborative
Communities of practice
Social systems, markets, politics
Amenable to transformative, liminal and transgressive forms of play (emergent)
Gaming meets web 2.0?
Case Study Selection
Similar but Different
*Club Penguin: over 12 million
*BarbieGirls: over 10 million
(Ethical, Social & Policy)
More detailed and innovative customization tools allow for more creative appropriations.
Full transcript