Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Regulatory Canada?!?!

While in all other areas the Canadian media seems headed toward deregulatory disaster, there have been some interesting developments over the past few months which are starting to suggest that new children's advertising regulation may not be completely out of the question. As reported last week in KidAdLaw, Rosario Marchese, an NDP member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament, has proposed a ban on all food and beverage advertising directed to kids under the age of 13 years. Earlier this month, Marchese introduced a bill, Bill 53 2008, to amend Ontario's Consumer Protection Act to prohibit commercial television advertising for food or drink directed at children under the age of 13. Here's an excerpt from the article:
"What kids see on television is high in calories and low in nutrients," he said. The proposed ban would prohibit ads for healthy as well as snack foods, Marchese conceded. "The general point is that children are very vulnerable and it's very difficult for them to make intellectual distinctions ... between good and bad."

A ban on TV advertising, however, is unlikely to be effective given today's multimedia age, and the migration of children onto the Internet, said Media Awareness Network co-executive director Jane Tallim. Providing children with media education is a better way to protect children, she said. Her Ottawa-based group has a game on its website that teaches children about advertising.

Quebec currently forbids food advertising to children, yet obesity rates have not fallen in that province, which receives TV programming-and the ads accompanying them-from other regions, Tallim noted.

Hmmmm....perhaps some background on the Quebec ban and child obesity rates is in order:

So, the ban Tallim is referring to is the Quebec Consumer Protection Act, which does indeed forbid advertising to children under the age of 13. Only a handful of studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of the ban on curbing child obesity, producing conflicting results and each drawing a fair amount of criticism. Overall, the research in this area has not produced sufficient evidence for Tallim to make the claim that the ban hasn't had any impact on child obesity rates.

One of these studies was conducted by Goldberg in 1990, testing the hypothesis that because the Quebec ban didn't apply to television originating from outside of the province, English-speaking children, who consume a greater amount of English media broadcast from other provinces as well as the US, would be exposed to more advertising than their French-speaking peers. His study revealed that not only did Anglo-Quebecois children consume more US children’s television programming than French-speaking children (1.94 hours a day, compared to 0.76 hours), but that they were also significantly more aware of advertised toys (recognizing nearly twice as many toys as the Franco-Quebecois children). Furthermore, the English-speaking children were found to purchase a significantly greater number of sugared cereals (the most heavily advertised product during children’s television programming during the period of study). Goldberg’s (1990) findings led him to conclude, “The Quebec law served to reduce children's exposure to commercials for sugared cereals and hence appears to have reduced consumption of those cereals. There is no reason to believe that comparable legislation in the US would not have comparable results." Goldberg's findings were supported by a similar study conducted by Caron in 1994.

10 years later, however, another study was conducted which seemed to refute these earlier findings. Ashton et al.'s study of the impact of advertising bans in both Sweden and Quebec found that obesity rates were not much lower in these regions than in the rest of the Western world (see Ashton 2004). It remains difficult, however, to map the trajectory of Quebec’s childhood obesity rates since the initial studies were conducted (i.e. Goldberg and Caron's studies in the early 1990s). It's therefore impossible to determine what this really means in terms of the effectiveness of the ban. For example, has its impact waned over time due to changes in children’s culture or media patterns?. On the other hand, as Livingstone and Helsper (2004) point out, “no baseline measures were taken before the ban was implemented, [and therefore] the possibility remains that the French/English difference” discovered by Goldberg and Caron were actually due to cultural factors.

Another source of confusion in Canada is found within national statistics on child obesity, and what they really mean. In 2004, a national survey was conducted by Statistics Canada (the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS)) which recorded the direct height and weight measurements of a nationally representative sample of Canadian children and adolescents -- the first such survey to be conducted since 1978 (Shields, 2005). From this survey, StatsCan concluded that incidences of overweight among Quebec’s youth (as well as those of Albertan youth) were "significantly below the national level": 23% compared to the national level of 26%. However, while StatsCan interpreted the 3% difference as significant, other sources (such as Media Awareness it seems) have presented the 3% as insignificant, causing some confusion about what the stats mean and how to interpret the difference. Furthermore, although the combined overweight/obesity rates were lower in Quebec, obesity rates (7.1%) were much closer to the national average (8.2%), an extra wrinkle that has made it even harder to figure out what's really going on.

In addition, and as many of these researchers have already pointed out, it's important to remember that even the Quebec Consumer Protection Act is not enacted under ideal conditions. The greatest limitation of the Act remains its narrow application —- namely, that it is limited to media originating from within the province of Quebec. Broadcasts originating from the rest of Canada or from the US that are retransmitted by Quebec cable television companies, for example, are not subject to the Act. As Tallim described, these exceptions, along with the rise in popularity of cross-media integration and new media technologies (such as the internet) greatly diminish the potential of provincial legislation to curb childhood obesity. It seems pretty obvious that targeting television alone is a pretty narrow approach...I'm surprised that Marchese didn't think to include all media, and wonder what the motivation was in limiting his efforts to television advertising.

It's also really important to note that these figures fail take into account other important socio-economic factors, such as the disproportionately high percentage of low-income households in Quebec (19.1%, which according to the 2001 Census represented the largest low-income rate of all the Canadian provinces, compared with a national average of 16.2%). This is a crucial oversight, seeing as income is perhaps the key factor when it comes to obesity rates. As Critser (2003) emphasizes in his excellent book Fat Land, "The point is that class almost always comes first in the equation: class confounded by culture, income inhibited by race or gender, buying power impinged on by ethnicity or immigration status." This is something that even Ashton et al. alluded to, concluding that "Childhood obesity in Quebec is not appreciably different from the rest of Canada, but it is unrealistic for any single intervention to affect such a multifactorial problem."


The article goes on to explain how the whole issue may be "moot" at this point, seeing as how major food advertisers in Canada have recently agreed to "cease advertising snack foods and drinks to children under 12, to stop licensing third-party characters to promote such foods, and to spend more marketing dollars to promote healthier food options and lifestyles." I'm not sure about the "cease" part, but as we all know, these same companies have already tried to circumvent legislation in the US and the EU by "pledging" to "curb" advertising to kids.

All of this is unfolding on the heels of a big, high profile conference held earlier this spring by the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, which examined the links between unhealthy food advertising and child obesity. The conference attendees, along with a jury of experts, concluded the conference with the agreement that a "wide-ranging ban" of these ads is a necessary part of any obesity reduction strategy.

There's absolutely no telling how it'll all pan out (as I've said many times before, the trend in Canada right now is toward deregulation), but it's exciting to finally see some movement on these issues in my own country!

Works Cited:

Ashton, B., Morton, H., and Mithen, J. (2003, November). Children's health or corporate wealth? The case for banning advertising to children. Coalition on Food Advertising to Children. Australia.

Ashton, D. (2004). Food advertising and obesity. Journal of the royal society of medicine 97(2): 51-52.

Caron, A. (1994). Children, advertising and television choices in a new media environment. In Children and Advertising: A fair game? Young Media Australia & New College Institute of Values.

Critser, G. (2003). Fatland: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World. Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Goldberg, M. E. (1990). A Quasi-Experiment Assessing the Effectiveness of TV-Advertising Directed to Children. Journal of Marketing Research, 27(4), 445-454.

Livingstone, S., & Helsper, E. (2004, May 7). Advertising foods to children: Understanding promotion in the context of children’s daily lives, a review of the literature. Prepared for the Research Department of the Office of Communications (OFCOM) (revised 6/7/04): London, UK.

Shields, M. (2005) Measured Obesity Overweight Canadian children and adolescents. Nutrition: Findings from the Canadian Community Health Survey Issue no. 1. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.

Friday, April 25, 2008

FTC Asked to Ban Behavioural Tracking / Data Mining of Children Online

In late December (2007), the FTC released a set of proposed principles to guide self-regulation within the realm of online behavioural advertising and its accompanying market research practices. It then invited the public to comment, receiving input from a variety of sources, including a very well articulated comment/brief submitted by a coalition of child advocacy groups. As reported by KidAdLaw:
The joint comments were filed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, Benton Foundation, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, Children Now and the Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ.

"[N]ot only do children and adolescents face difficulties understanding and meaningfully consenting to behavioral advertising practices based on their levels of development, they face additional hurdles from the complex and confusing language in privacy policies," the groups stated.

"[W]e believe that all data collected about the online activities of persons under the age of eighteen should be considered sensitive," the groups said. "We ... urge that the Commission's guidelines prohibit the collection of such information."

In reading through the comment document, which you can access here, I was happy to see some discussion of privacy policies and how ineffective these documents are as a "stand in" for informed consent. For example:
In addition to children and adolescents’ difficulties in understanding and consenting to behavioral advertising, online data collection practices are largely invisible because of websites’ complex, technical, and lengthy privacy policies. First, it is not always easy to locate privacy policies. Second, as town hall participants from all interested sectors discussed, many privacy policies are difficult to understand, requiring in some cases a graduate-level degree to read. A 2004 study measured the required reading levels for the top fifty U.S. websites’ privacy policies and found that the average policy required a college education, only three were accessible to persons with a high school degree, and 53 percent were beyond the grasp of 56.6 percent of the internet population. Consumer surveys have made similar findings: only 47 percent of adults say privacy policies are easy to understand and 86 percent believe that laws forcing privacy policies to follow a standard format will effectively protect information. Moreover, because privacy policies often contain vague, ambiguous, or conflicting wording, they may not successfully convey the information that consumers need.

Another absolute gem is the comment brief submitted by the Center for Digital Democracy (run by Jeff Chester) -- a 37 page research document outlining the specifics of how and why advertisers use online tracking and related market research tactics, complete with real life examples such as the Double Fusion/Habbo Hotel partnership. Here's an excerpt:
As Double Fusion explains to potential advertisers, as part of its tracking system it:

"...tracks all aspects of campaigns to provide the full visibility, accountability and optimization required to deliver advertiser return on investment. As the most accountable ad medium, videogame advertising campaigns are tracked and measured at standards above all other media including ad size, view and time. Standard and custom reports are available. Double Fusion also works with advertisers to provide advertising effectiveness studies by going directly to gamers to capture campaign results: brand awareness, recall and rating, likelihood to recommend brand, brand fit within the game, perceived brand characteristics and many other metrics."

What I especially love about this document is how cutting edge its information is...the practices and mechanisms examined include up-to-date examples (always a struggle for researchers and policymakers) such as widgets and social networking, providing an extremely comprehensive vision of how children's relationship with market research continues to be extended and intensified through online applications. Be sure to check out previous reports submitted by the CDD to the FTC, including a filing from last fall on how digital marketing violates youth privacy, and this one from last summer -- written by Katheryn Montgomery -- on digital marketing and youth obesity.

Of course, the majority of the comments submitted came from the industries themselves, and requested that the FTC's principles be relaxed even further. For example, as Mediapost reported last week:
[T]he Association of National Advertisers filed comments with the FTC asking for easier restrictions on all behavioral marketing--regardless of age--saying it could hurt a growing new media platform for marketers.

The comment period ended on April 11, and so now we must all wait and see what this process ultimately produces in terms of regulatory action.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ofcom Finds Kids "Sneaking Around Social Networking Sites"

From a recent Ofcom report, as reported by Bobbie Johnson at The Guardian, some unsurprising yet nonetheless somewhat troubling new findings about the number of kids that "sneak" around social networking sites aimed at teens and adults (and which prohibit children under 13/14 years). As Johnson writes:
Research into internet use has found that, among children with internet access, more than a quarter of eight to 11-year-olds claimed to have a profile page on a social networking website. This is despite nominal age restrictions aimed at preventing pre-teens from using such sites.

Although there are some networking sites aimed at children, most of those frequented by under-11s are targeted at teenagers and adult internet users. Since this could mean a significant number of Britain's 11.5 million children may be seeing inappropriate material, Ofcom said the findings caused concern.

"There are huge benefits to internet use, and we don't want to be too scared about the dangers," said Robin Blake, the head of media literacy at Ofcom.

"But parents who are allowing their children to go online without supervision need to recognise their children are potentially at risk."

Although social-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook say their users should be over 13 or 14 years of age (depending on the site) to create accounts and participate in their sites, but rely on truthful self-reporting when it comes to the implementation of such age restrictions. Little is in place to ensure that children, while officially "banned" from the sites, aren't actually participating under the guise of an older user. With all the data that these sites tend to collect from users - connecting in-site information to larger Internet use patterns - you would think there would be a pretty easy way to red flag certain users/computers as potentially underage. Anyway, the article goes on to describe how the current "system" relies on parental monitoring, a method which is often less effective than society (and even parents) seems to think.
[The report] outlined a disparity between the perception of social networking among adults and children. While 65% of parents said they set rules for the way their children used social networking sites, only half of children said their families had laid down restrictions. A further 43% said their parents placed no limits on what they could use sites for.

Keep your eyes open for an upcoming new study by Rebekah Willett at the the London Knowledge Lab. She's been studying young people's use of social networking sites, risky behaviours and subversive play, and will provide some much needed insight into what these trends mean for (and within) kid and teen cultures.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gamer Girls, Next Gen?

A couple of articles on girls and gaming have come out recently, providing some new stats/info into the mysterious worlds of girl (and woman) gamers. The first is an interview (conducted by Diego Vasquez for MediaLife Magazine) with Donna Hall, senior director of Solutions Research Group, a Toronto-based market research firm that recently published a study on Women and Digital Lifestyles. In addition to providing a lot of interesting information about women's use of DVRs, the study yields some juicy info about women and gaming. According to Hall (as cited in the MediaLife article),
Seventy percent of all women played a PC game in the last month. Consistent with the reasons for the appeal of PC gaming is the fact that handheld game units (e.g., Nintendo DS, Sony PSP) are very popular with women. Many take it with them for a commute or definitely when traveling.

I should point out that women are playing more console games also: 38 percent play console games, up from 35 percent one year ago. Among teen girls and young adults 12-24, 69 percent play console games. Gaming is a growing form of entertainment to be sure.

Overall, the most popular PC games with women are various versions of Solitaire, The Sims (which just hit the 100 million mark in units sold), Bejeweled, Mahjong and Pogo. But you do see some differences in the rankings based on demographic segment.

I make a lot of comments about gamer demographics being slanted somewhat by the inclusion of games like Solitaire and Mahjong, which we don't always think of as "digital games" and which tends to give people a bit of a warped perception about the state of the industry, etc. But it's definitely important to remember that although they don't get the same type of hype, coverage and analysis as best-selling (and male-oriented) console games like Grand Theft Auto IV, playing computer Solitaire is still engaging in a form of digital gaming, one that we should perhaps begin to consider a little more in our discussions...especially if we're trying to find out "where the girls are" in this expansive medium.

The second item of interest is an article by Gieson Cacho that recently appeared in the Contra Costa Times about the "games girls play". The article includes snippets of interviews with female gamers and a number of game industry types, and provides an informal overview some "girl games" that are both currently available and apparently selling quite well among a female gamer demographic. Cacho's list breaks down into two main genres:

- Games based on popular movies and TV shows, such as Disney's High School Musical and Hanna Montana games.

- "Simulator" games such as Ubisoft's Petz and Imagine game series.

According to the industry reps and market researchers cited in the article, this "new" generation of girl games are also making a dent in the marketplace. For example:
"Games in the Imagine lineup were hot sellers during the holiday season and continue to perform well beyond the holiday window," said Shara Hashemi, associate brand manager on Imagine, in an e-mail. According to the NPD Group, a company that tracks game sales, "In December 2007, the Imagine games became the fastest-growing new video game franchise on the Nintendo DS."

"High School Musical: Sing It" [has] shipped 3.8 million units worldwide and "Hannah Montana: Music Jam" cracked the top 20 in DS 2007 sales...

Just like Hall (above), Cacho links the emerging (at least in fiscal terms) girls' game market to recent innovations in gaming technology - more specifically to the Nintendo DS and Wii. For example, the tween and teen girls quoted in the article express high praise for games like Guitar Hero, which incorporate movement and multiplayer collaboration. And the industry has certainly noticed that a more intuitive interface is bringing in a broader segment of female players:
"The Wii and DS are a great fit for the demographic," [Jessica Oifer, director of marketing for Disney Interactive Studios] said. "The Wii is family-based and broader. The DS is biggest with the tween audience. If you talk to tweens, the Wii and DS are on top of tweens' interest list. You're seeing that more and more, more than you (saw)a few years ago."

The article ends with a comment that the "My Little Pony syndrome" suffered by previous attempts to create a girls game market won't fly with this new breed of girl gamers....who prefer games with "crossover appeal". Hanna Montana and Imagine: Figure Skater really have crossover appeal? I don't really see much of a difference between these games and the Mary-Kate and Ashley games of yesteryear. And it sounds like girl gamers today don't like games that stereotype them anymore than they did back in the 90s. The more things change, I suppose...

112 virtual worlds for kids

Via Gary Rusak over at KidScreen, some mind-blowing new findings about the current (and ongoing) explosion in child-oriented virtual worlds, courtesy of a new study published by Virtual Worlds Management. As Rusak writes,
The company has just released findings from a 12-month study dubbed Virtual Worlds Management's Youth World Analysis. The study in-full provides details on more than 100 worlds, of which 60 are currently live, with 52 in the conception, development or testing phases.

The general teen category (eight to 12 years old) dominates the category, with 65 worlds live or in development, followed closely by kids (seven and under) with 55 worlds live or in development.

Furthermore, the final count may actually be much higher, as the company grouped worlds owned by one company (such as Disney or Viacom) into a "single entity"...thinking about Viacom alone -- which owns Neopets, Nicktropolis, all the MTV sites, all the upcoming Nickelodeon sites -- 112 is sounding like a pretty conservative estimate. Wow!

For the full list of virtual worlds for kids (and what a list it is!), check out the press release here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

WoW Makes You Sleepy?

Another day, another study - this one showing a link between playing so-called "violent" videogames and feeling relaxed or even sleepy! Via (once again) Gamasutra, this recent study out of the UK -- led by psychologist Jane Barnett of Middlesex University, and presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Dublin -- had players (male and female) of various ages play popular MMOG World of Warcraft for two hours and then complete a questionnaire on anger/aggressive feelings. Sounds very familiar, albeit with different results/interpretations. As the Gamasutra article describes,
Although World Of WarCraft is most commonly noted for its addictive rather than violent nature the results of the test found that overall the test subjects were more likely to feel calm or tired after playing.

Barnett commented: “There were actually higher levels of relaxation before and after playing the game as opposed to experiencing anger but this did very much depend on personality type.”

“This will help us to develop am emotion and gaming questionnaire to help distinguish the type of gamer who is likely to transfer their online aggression into everyday life,” she added.

I've been playing WoW on and off for a couple of years now, and must say that it rates pretty low on the graphic violence meter - depending, of course, on how one defines "violent videogames" and what one decides to do as part of their gameplay. PvP (Player-vs-Player) servers, for example, can certainly be more frenetic and aggressive than gathering herbs for some NPC (non-playable character)-driven mission. Still, WoW is much more focused on exploration, character-building and camaraderie (not to mention accumulation of points and gold) than on the ultra-violence depicted in all those documentaries about violent videogames. I'm definitely not surprised that players felt relaxed or even sleepy after a couple of hours of gameplay - it's that kind of a game after all, especially in the beginning stages when you're just sorting it all out. I'd be interested to see at what point players get stressed out or frustrated by leveling plateaus and guild politics, but that's another matter altogether.

One thing that continues to frustrate me about these studies -- or perhaps rather it is how they are represented by industry/media/governments -- is how videogames are simply clumped together as one homogenous mass...a mass whose hyper-violent themes and imagery is often simply assumed (or, in the case of some of the industry coverage, ignored altogether). It certainly makes it easier to make sweeping claims such as "violent videogames make you sleepy," or angry, or desensitized...but the nuance, variety and diversity of the player experience is almost always lost in the mix. Anyway, I applaud Barnett for attempting to demonstrate that there is more to gaming than aggression, and I hope her ongoing work can produce a more nuanced discussion of gaming and (esp.) gamers.

Friday, April 11, 2008

NPD's New Gamer Stats

From Gamasutra, some coverage of NPD's newest report on gaming and gamers which (among other things) was the source of a much publicized stat that circulated the press earlier this month claiming that 72% of Americans play digital games. That's a lot of Srabulous! In all seriousness, though, the stat does refer to the number of Americans who report playing "online games", which does include a pretty large diversity of game forms, from World of Warcraft to BarbieGirls to Scrabulous and other mini-games. Even so, the report also shows that offline gaming is still more popular than online gaming, and that only a very small percentage of the population (2-3%) own multiple gaming consoles. Here's an excerpt from the Gamasutra article:
90 percent of online gamers said the PC was their platform of choice, compared to 19 percent for console and portable systems, and 3 percent for cell phones. Younger players make up a good percentage of online players, with 40 percent of online gamers between 2 and 17, with 18-24 year olds only making up 10 percent.

As for online console players, 50 percent were Xbox 360 gamers, who spent the most time per week playing online compared to PC and PS3 owners. Finally, NPD says only three percent of respondents said they owned two of the three next-gen consoles, and only 2 percent said they owned all three.

I'm particularly interested in the large percentage of kids and teens who play online games...but really wish that they would separate the stats for kids, on the one hand, and teens, on the other. Still, as with all the NPD reports, these findings are good stuff to know, and a nice antidote to all the "hype" about wireless and next-gen platforms.

Tinker Bell Hits the Small Screen

Via Cynopsis Kids! April 10th edition, more Pixie Hollow/Tinkerbell news, this time around Disney's cross-media plans for the burgeoning brand. As part of Disney/Pixar's recent announcement that it will be releasing 10 new animated feature films between now and 2012, the company unveiled plans for four direct-to-DVD films (to be produced by the DisneyToon Studios division) based on the Disney Fairies franchise:

- Tinker Bell (direct-to-DVD on October 28)
- Tinker Bell North of Never Land (working title) (on DVD sometime in 2009)
- Tinker Bell a Midsummer Storm (working title) (on DVD sometime in 2010)
- Tinker Bell A Winter Story (working title) (on DVD sometime in 2011)

So, one a year for the next four years. Wow. Seeing that Disney is already raking in $800 million / year from the Fairies franchise -- based almost solely on what branding it's been able to generate through a website and a book series -- this sounds like quite the potential cash cow for the kids' media giant. With a whole lot more transmedia integration (and promotion), brand expansion, and commercialization of little girls' culture through the endless licensing and spin-offs to come, as Disney attempts to reproduce the enormous success of its Disney Princesses strategy of a few years ago. Speaking of which, here are some oldies but goodies that might help to understand what's going on here:

- What's Wrong With Cinderella? by Peggy Orenstein

- Disney Reaches into the Crib to Extend Princess Magic by Melissa Marr

- Fairies to Capture Princess Magic by Jill Goldsmith

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sprockets Hits Toronto

This past weekend saw the opening of the 11th annual Sprockets Festival, Toronto's International Film Festival for Children. Featuring children's movies from Canada and around the world (this year's festival includes submissions from over 26 countries), Sprockets aims to provide children and youth with "the opportunity to learn about film and cultural perspectives from around the world. Through the power of film, Sprockets is helping to transform the way children and youth see the world." It also, as Susan Walker of The Star writes, provides a venue for children's films "that would never make it to air or into a commercial cinema in puritanical, censorious North America. Not politically correct, too frank." Included on the roster are a number of feature films, short films and television shows that defy the conventionally low standards for children's media production which currently (and unfortunately) dominate in Canada and the US. The festival also includes a a showcase (the Jump Cuts Young Filmmakers Showcase) for short films made BY children and youth, featuring works created by students from grades 3 to 12. And to accommodate different reading levels, subtitles are read out loud by a trained reader at most screenings of non-English productions. While I'm utterly confused about how that would work, I'm really impressed by their inclusive approach. Also - excellent way to introduce/normalize watching "foreign" films to youngsters.

According to Walker, last year's festival attracted an audience of over 25,000!, and the festival organizers expect an even bigger turn out at this year's events. Sprockets runs from April 12-18, 2008. If you can't make it this year, check out their site for their year-round schedule of events, learning opps. and activities.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

And the beat goes on...

More virtual worlds announcements from our friends at Neopets and Nickelodeon. As reported by Jonathan Webdale at C21 Media.Net, Nickelodeon is set to launch a series of tie-in worlds that will link back to its popular Nicktropolis MMOG, including one based entirely around SpongeBob Squarepants, one based on Monkeys (Monkey World?), and possibly an MMORPG version of Neopets (tentatively called World of Neopia). Meanwhile, as Webdale writes and as readers of Gamine Expedition are already well aware, Disney plans to launch a series of 3-D virtual worlds/MMOGs based around Cars (Radiator Springs), Disney's Fairies (Pixie Hollow), and Toy Story...branded virtual worlds which will compete with (or perhaps "synergize" with) Disney's existing MMOGs Toontown, Club Penguin and Pirates of the Caribbean Online. In terms of news that's new to us, Webdale reports that a new player will soon be joining the race to monopolize kids' online time (and $$):
Digital PlaySpace, a company set up by former Mattel software producer Jesyca Durchin, has secured an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Indie Media subsidiary Virtual Indie. The funding will be used to launch the company's first project – a virtual play experience for girls aged 8-12.

And the virtual worlds explosion least until the bubble bursts and the industries turn to other things. Then again, I also came across this today:
Announcing the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research
The Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is a online, open access, peer-reviewed, transdisciplinary, academic journal, which engages established and emerging scholars from anywhere in the world. Web site:

Statement of Purpose and Open Call for Papers
We would like to take this opportunity to invite collaborators, reviewers and contributors to participate in the development of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. We are thrilled to announce our first open call for papers. We will accept essays, papers, original research, interactive online exhibits with accompanying detailed descriptions, and other forms of scholarship on a wide range of topics on an on-going basis.

Open Calls for Papers:
1st edition’s theme: “Virtual Worlds Research: Past, Present & Future” Due date: June 1, 2008

2nd edition’s theme: “Social identity and Consumer Behavior in Virtual Worlds” Due date: August 15, 2008

3rd edition’s theme: “Cultures of Virtual Worlds” Due date: September 30, 2008

4th edition’s theme: “Pedagogy, Education and Innovation in Virtual Worlds” Due December 15, 2008

Check out the full CFP and statement of purpose here.

Meanwhile, I should have some comments and tidbits from last week's CCFC Summit up soon, as well as some more findings from my kids and mobile devices study, which I am currently doing the write up for...among other things. My internet access will be limited for the next couple of weeks, so please continue to bear with me - Gamine Expedition will be back to its regular update frequency by the end of the month, as I get re-settled in for a semester of writing and research back in my own home!!!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

CCFC Summit 2008, plus Morgan Spurlock

I just arrived in Boston this afternoon, where I'm attending and presenting at the CCFC’s 6th Annual Summit, Consuming Kids: The Sexualization of Children and Other Commercial Calamities. The bulk of the summit will take place tomorrow and Saturday at Wheelock College, but tonight we had our opening reception with Morgan Spurlock (director of Supersize Me and 30 Days), who was awarded this year's Fred Rogers Integrity Award. Very cool. Spurlock was friendly and very approachable, and gave a great acceptance speech that doubled as a bit of a preliminary opening address for the summit. And the actual award they gave him was pretty much the bomb.

Here's the schedule for the next couple of days:
Friday ~ April 4

8:30-9:00 Registration ~ Ground Lobby
Continental Breakfast ~ Upper Rotunda

9:00-9:05 Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood Media Education Foundation

9:05-9:10 Welcoming Remarks Alvin F. Poussaint

9:10-9:25 Reflections Susan Linn

9:30-10:30 Plenary Session 1
So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood
Diane Levin, Jean Kilbourne

10:45-12:00 Breakout Session A
The Case for Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World
Susan Linn, Director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Joan Almon, Alliance for Childhood

Media Literacy for the New World Order and Adolescent Girls Learn About the Importance of Being “Hot:” The Role of Dress, Media and Peers
Susan Owusu, YWCA Boston
Jessica Greenstone, Tufts University

Private Enterprise in Public Schools: Communicating School Commercialization
Gary Brunk, Kansas Action for Children
Lynn Davey, Frameworks Institute

The Well-Being of Children Deserves the Best Science Available
Brandy King, Center on Media and Child Health

Using the Power of Media for Positive Change
Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth
Alice Aspen March, The Attention Factor

12:00-1:00 Buffet Lunch ~ Upper Rotunda
Informal networking groups including:
Commercialization of Children: The Role of Belief Communities with Mary L Rothschild, Director of Healthy Media Choices Quaker and Rabbi Anne Ebersman of Abraham Heschel School

Blogging for Change with Lisa "the Corporate Babysitter" Ray and others

1:05-1:30 Plenary Session 2
Buy, Buy Baby: How the Marketing Industry Brands Infants and Toddlers
Susan Gregory Thomas, author Buy, Buy, Baby

1:35-2:25 Plenary Session 3
Branding Children's Play: Mapping the Commercial Convergence of Media, Toys and Gaming in Virtual Worlds for Kids
Sara Grimes, Simon Fraser University

Video Games: Playing with Sex and Death
Michael Brody, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

2:45-4:00 Breakout Session B
Towards Greater Health, Wealth and Wisdom: How to Have Fun, Kick (Corporate) Butts and Take Names with 21st Century ACME-Style Media Education
Rob Williams, Action Coalition for Media Educators

Who Stole the Sexual Revolution? Kids, Marketing and the Politics of Sex
Carl Bybee and Debra Merskin, University of Oregon

How to Teach Youth about their Consumer Culture
Tim Kasser, Knox College, author, the High Price of Materialism
Velma LaPoint, Howard University
Garland Waller, Boston University
Tim Rairdon, Knox College

The Wondershop: Nurturing Creative Thinkers in a Commercial World
Ginger Carlson, author, Child of Wonder

“Come In and Play!”: How Social Networks Exploit Young Children
Richard Freed, child/adolescent psychologist, private practice

Airwaves & Activism
Lynn Ziegler, author, Spongeheadz: U & Media

4:05-4:10 Welcome from Wheelock President Jackie Jenkins-Scott

4:10-4:35 Plenary Session 4

Hyper-Consumerism and Ecological Crisis
Juliet Schor, author, Born to Buy

4:35-5:00 Plenary Session 5
Come on People: African Americans and Toxic Marketing
Alvin F. Poussaint

7:30 Only Children: A Concert Reading and Roundtable: Sex Sells. Who's Buying?
The performance will be followed by an interactive roundtable discussion involving the playwrights, CCFC's Enola Aird and Diane Levin, Sophie Godley of Aids Action Committee and other experts. A reception hosted by Wheelock College will follow.

9:00 Reception ~ Upper Rotunda

Saturday ~ April 5

9:00-9:10 Welcoming Remarks Susan and Audrey Duck

9:15-10:05 Plenary Session 6

So You Thought Child Pornography was Illegal: How the Porn Industry Sexualizes Children and Encourages Child Sexual Abuse.
Gail Dines, co-author, Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality

The Impact of Pseudo-Sexualization on Boys, and Why Men Need to Challenge It
Joe Kelly, author, Dads and Daughters

10:10-11:00 Plenary Session 7
The Failure of Self-regulation, from Big Alcohol to Big Food
Michele Simon, The Marin Institute; author, Appetite for Profit

Transforming the U.S. Media: Commercial-Free at Last
Allen Kanner, co-editor, Psychology and Consumer Culture

11:20-12:35 Breakout Session C
Media Violence as a Form of Child Abuse: How Schools Can Protect Children Against it With Success
Jacques Brodeur EDUPAX

The Impact of Sexualization on Classroom Culture, Teaching and Learning...and What to Do about It
Diane Levin, coauthor, So Sexy So Soon

Children, Digital Environments, and the Law: Moving Forward to Protect Public Health
Jason Smith & Robert J. L. Moore, Public Health Advocacy Institute

Capitalism on the Couch: A Psychological Analysis of Economic Systems and Their Impact on Children
Allen Kanner, co-editor, Psychology and Consumer Culture
Tim Kasser, author, the High Price of Materialism

The Importance of Educating Parents on Kids’ 24/7 Media Lives
Laura Martinez, Common Sense Media

12:40-1:45 Buffet Lunch ~ Upper Rotunda
Informal networking groups including
Media Literacy Educators

Conference Attendees Working on Issues Related to the Sexualization of Children

Corporate America and Youth Marketing: Encouraging Change through Socially Responsible Investing and Other Strategies with Reed Montague, Calvert Group and Josh Golin, CCFC

1:50-2:40 Plenary Session 8
Capitalism, Commercialism, and Children's well-being: Empirical Analyses Across Wealthy Nations
Tim Kasser, author, the High Price of Materialism

Corporate Sleaze and Community Complacency - Waking up Australia!
Julie Gale, Kids Free 2 B Kids(Australia)

2:45-3:35 Plenary Session 9
Consumer Culture and the Obstacles Parents Face
Nancy Carlsson-Paige, author, Taking Back Childhood

Lifting Our Sights and Our Spirits: Confronting the Commodification of Children
Enola Aird, Activist Mother

3:40-3:55 Reclaiming Childhood from Corporate Marketers Josh Golin

4:-00-5:00 Book signing and reception