Safeguarding Play in Virtual Worlds: Designs and Perspectives on Tween Player Participation in Community Management
Managing problematic interactions in online communities has been a challenge since the days of early text-based, multi-user environments. Research in this area has mostly focused on adults and older teens. In this article, we examine the interactions and commentaries of tween players in Whyville.net, a virtual world with (at the time of the study) more than 1.5 million registered players ages 8–16. To understand how tween players define problematic behavior and what they observe in their own community, we draw from an archive of online postings to Whyville’s newspaper. The postings cover the period from 2000 to 2009 and consist almost entirely of player-generated content. Complementing these tween writings are observations of an after school gaming club in which, over a period of three months, about 20 youth players ages 9–12 met almost daily to play for an hour on Whyville.net. We highlight one particular incident observed in the gaming club because it illustrates how club members dealt with problematic behavior experienced online. Finally, we address the challenges and opportunities that tween player participation in community management presents for managing online behavior and player safety.