Multi-Modal Investigations of Relationships Play in Virtual Worlds

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International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations





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Millions of youth have joined virtual worlds to hang out with each other. However, capturing their interactions is no easy feat given the complexity of virtual worlds, their 24/7 availability, and distributed access from different places. In this paper, we illustrate what different methods can reveal about the dating and flirting practices of tweens in, a virtual world with over 1.5 million registered players in 2005 between the ages 8-16 years old. We compare findings from analyses of tweens’ newspaper writings, chat records, and logfile data. Our analysis demonstrates the mixed attitudes toward flirting on Whyville and the pervasiveness of flirting as a whole, as well as the breadth and selectivity of tweens’ adoption of flirting practices. We discuss how our multi-modal investigation reveals individual variation and development across practices and suggests that player expertise might contribute to the striking contrast between formal writing about dating and the frequency of it on the site. Finally, we discuss the limitations of our methodological approaches and suggest that our findings are limited to a particular space and time in the existence of Whyville and the tweens who populate it.