A virtual world is described as “a computer- generated display that allows or compels the user (or users) to have a sense of being present in an environment other than the one they are actually in, and to interact with that environment” (Schroeder, 1996, pg. 25). This allows for the ‘user’ to experience a immersive sense of ‘being there’ (Taylor, 2002) and having ability to interact with each other as well as with computer-controlled non-player characters (NPCs) by assuming different personae, better known as their ‘avatar’.
An avatar is a self-imposed representation of a participant interacting within a virtual environment, and is far more then an object manipulated by a participant. It is a method in which users could embody themselves into these virtual environments (Taylor, 2002). As T.L Taylor (2002) points out, avatars are
“… the material out of which relationships and interactions are embodied: much as in offline life with its corporeal bodies, digital bodies are used in a variety of ways – to greet, to play, to signal group affiliation, to convey opinions or feelings, and to create closeness.”
This graphical representation combined with actions, communicational and social affordances brought about through a virtual world, help in developing a sense of being ‘there’ from the player (Taylor, 2002). This immersion results in avatar behaviors that mimic the social constructs of ‘real life’. An example of this is shown by how participants feel a sense of ‘personal space’ from within a virtual environment. Similar to ‘real life’, physical proximity between avatars can be used to signal friendship and aggression towards another player (Taylor, 2002).
In this paper, we will discuss how we could influence emotional engagement in children by understanding their needs, developmental abilities and experiential goals, while increasing their sense of presence in the system. These influences could then be used as a guideline for both aesthetic and mechanical design choices that may have an impact on a child’s virtual world experience.
Growth of Children Participating in Virtual Worlds
Computers have become much more accessible for children around the world, with 71% of households in developing countries owning a computer and 65.6% having internet access (International Telecommunications Union, 2010). With the increase of working households, many parents use media as “a chance to get their chores done, quiet their kids down, or just have some ‘me’ time, knowing that their kids are ‘safe’ — not playing outside, and less likely to be making trouble around the house” (Rideout & Hamel, 2006, p. 32). As a result, the popularity of virtual world registered accounts has dramatically increased for this demographic. KZero reports (2011) that the 6-10 year old demographic has grown from 77 million, to 272 million in only 2 years.
Before being able to successfully design a virtual world for this audience it is important to understand the developmental and social differences amongst the group, when compared to adults. Bellow is a brief overview of relevant literature depicting aspects of developmental and social milestones that could influence the methods in which children interacts with virtual worlds.
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