Friday, September 04, 2009

Delicious Summer Leftovers, Part 1

Once again, I've allowed my blog to slowly wind down as my intended posts list has piled up out of control. Now that the new semester is imminent, and I'll once again be managing two sites, I figured the best thing to do is another one of those long summary posts that briefly hits on a good assortment of "items of interest". I have so many, I predict another similar post will be in order in the very near future. For now, however, please enjoy some leftover - but still fresh and relevant - posts from the past few weeks that slipped through the cracks of my over-scheduled calendar.

Storybird Revolutionizes Collaborative Storytelling
This post was intended to be a preview of a wonderful new online resource for kids, families, friends, artists, writers and anyone else who's always dreamed of creating their own storybook. Since Storybird actually launched (or "hatched") earlier today, however, instead you can go on over and see for yourself how beautiful and intuitive their collaborative storytelling tools really are. I have high hopes for this site - it's a wonderful idea for families, a great resource for artists, and exactly the kind of responsive, user-centered cultural outlets that media literacy types are calling for. I've been exploring the site for a couple of weeks in Beta, and love what I see so far. I haven't created a Storybird myself, but have some ideas floating around that I'll surely put into e-print soon.

Sign up and start designing your own storybooks over at Storybird, and check out their Storybird Blog for more info about the site and some sense of the founding principles behind it.

Using Strawberry to Sell Strawberries
Via Emily Claire Afan over at Kidscreen, news that earlier this week American Greetings Properties and Cookie Jar Entertainment - co-producers of the Strawberry Shortcake property - are teaming up with the "Produce for Better Health Foundation" to use their iconic red-haired good girl to promote fruits and veggies. Here's an excerpt:
It's Fruits & Veggies - More Matters month in the US and the year-long partnership will see Strawberry Shortcake and friends making healthy eating fun for kids. PBH is working with US retailers to disseminate nutritional information about fruits and vegetables that features Strawberry, including columns for in-store newsletters and magazines, ad circulars, recipe cards, signage in produce and frozen foods departments and activity booklets. There will also be a free Strawberry e-card at [AND] PBH's websites are featuring new Strawberry images over the course of the year and Strawberry-themed kid-friendly, healthy recipes are part of the "get kids involved" section of and

This might seem like such a no-brainer, but it also finally remedies something that has frustrated me about Strawberry Shortcake ever since her relaunch a couple of years ago. Here, we have a perfect little group of ambassadors for better eating - characters based on fruit-based pastries that could easily be "updated" to focus on fruit instead of baked goods, but for some reason never have been. I've never met a kid who didn't love berries (though I'm sure they exist), and am encouraged by how easy it would be to promote all kinds of wonderfully healthy foods by a simple addition of blueberries or strawberry slices. The fruits themselves are jam packed with vitamins, and set a great precedent for fruit and veggie eating of all kinds. Great move on the part of both American Greetings and Cookie Jar. Now all we have to do is drop the "Shortcake" and maybe see a few episodes that don't offer "baking delicious cakes" as the only way to save the day ;)

Sesame Street Revamp
Lots of news this week about the end of Reading Rainbow, but throughout the summer the focus has been on another PBS fave, Sesame Street. The series is entering into its 40th season with all the fanfare one would expect, including a new set of Emmys to add to their collection along with a special lifetime achievement award. The Sesame muppets are currently featured in an editorial spread in Harper's Bazaar, and everyone's all abuzz about their upcoming Mad Men parody. Much less attention has been paid to the news that the show will be changing its format - for the first time in...hmmm....ever? - to a segmentized, hosted format that sounds a tiny bit like The Muppet Show. Here's the excerpt, drawn from Joel Keller's TVSquadarticle:
Miranda Barry of the Sesame Workshop...appeared here with Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, who is in charge of the show's curriculum. They talked about the show's landmark season and what kids and their parents should expect to see. A new segmentized format, a new host, Murray Muppet, who will take kids through the various segments of the show, and a new segment featuring Abby Cadabby that's the program's first foray into CGI. The curriculum will emphasize science and nature along with the usual cornerstones this year.

Should be an interesting shift, and a move away from the "television flow" template the show has followed since its inception. It will also be interesting to see how the CGI component goes, and if/how it fits in with other Sesame CGI initiatives, for example Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures.

Treasure World: Nintendo's new DS/ARG hybrid
Via Springwise, short and sweet coverage of a game that I find totally and utterly fascinating, Aspyr Media's Treasure World for the Nintendo DS. I've actually written quite a bit about this game, but I'm saving it for a longer article on ARG/digital game hybrids and how they relate to the "free range kids" movement. Through the article, I also found out about Hidden Park, an indie game/app for the iPhone that has similarly captivating features, massive potential, and will be shortly releasing tools that will allow people to create their own real-world/digital world hybrid games. Nice. For now, here's an excerpt of the article description...see if you can figure out why I'm so enthralled:
Treasure World is a game for the Nintendo DS that converts real-world wifi signals into online treasures. The story focuses on Starsweep, a space traveller who journeys through space in his ship called Haley. In the game, however, Haley has broken down and needs more stardust to get going again. A quirky robot named Wishfinder helps players find not just stardust but also treasure during their adventure by tapping the wealth of wifi hotspots available around the world. More than 2,500 in-game items and treasures such as trees, flowers, candy and clothes can be unlocked as players access the more than 200 million wifi treasure spots worldwide that are registered within the game, and those items can be used to decorate in-game environments. Some feature musical qualities; others can be used to dress up the player's unique character. Either way, the stardust uncovered helps move the spaceship along. Only some items are available at each hotspot, however, meaning that the more kids move around, the more they'll find.

Find out more and watch the trailer at the official Club Treasure World website, and be sure to check out The Hidden Park as well. After three decades of dismantling playgrounds and effacing green spaces in our urban and suburban centers, a little digital re-enchantment might be just what we need.

Fat Princess
This summer, a well-reviewed, interesting looking, tongue-in-cheek game attracted the objections of some feminists and a bit of bad media, but for the most part the Fat Princess "controversy" (if it even DID qualify as one) seems to have died down. The capture-the-flag based game plays on the whole "Save the Princess" theme that has pervaded digital games (and films, cartoons, comics and fairytales) since the early Nintendo years ("Sorry Mario..." and all that). The game graphics are cartoony, quirky, violent, and silly...but is the theme of fattening up your princess so that the enemy will have more trouble carrying her away to kidnap her really offensive or sexist? The debate unfolded over a period of several days (preceded by a few months of negative and reactionary speculation) - which you can read all about over at Game Politics and Joystiq. Two gender-politics-inclusive reviews that I particularly appreciated took somewhat oppositional stances, though both reviews were quite tempered and overall positive. The first was posted over at Feminist Gamers and included the following analysis:
Instead of running out into the forest to find cake to fatten up the princess with, why not go out and find gold (which is a lot heavier than cake) to stuff into a treasure chest. The more gold in the chest, the heavier it would be, and the harder it would be to carry. Oh, but that’s not as “cute” as cake and fat chicks. Right.

The second, and by far my fave, was written by Winda Benedetti, official "Citizen Gamer" for MSNBC, and falls more on the side of supporting the game's originality:
"I’m a pro-woman kinda woman (Go women!) who would happily pay the dues to join Club Feminist (we do pay dues, right?) And yet, there’s not a single pro-woman bone in my body that is offended by this game. (Does this mean my membership application is going to be rejected?)

As video games go, “Fat Princess” is fun, funny and well-crafted. It’s done in a playful style and has a wicked sense of humor about almost everything. And while it does star two adorable and, yes, sometimes chubby cartoon princesses and does feature buckets of cartoon blood, I can’t say that it seems particularly hurtful or harmful to anyone."

I'll have to play through the game and think about this a little more before making a firm decision, but am currently exploring the idea that the game's themes are actually quite progressive. I mean, the fact that the princess is rotund doesn't make the armies desire her any less...and we already complain so much about the limited portrayals (+stereotypes) used in representations of women in games...I feel I'm leaning toward a Bakhtinian reading, but we'll have to see.

Shaping Youth Takes on Privacy Issues
Child advocacy maven Amy Jussel has been writing up a storm over at Shaping Youth, and has some comprehensive and thoughtful things to say on the whole kids + online privacy discourse that has re-emerged this summer (in no small part because of Maine's Act to Prevent Predatory Marketing Practices Against Minors). In particular, her two recent posts on "keeping kid safe from...marketers" includes a plethora of links and resources useful to anyone interested in helping kids and parents protect their data while protecting their rights to information and freedom of expression. I highly recommend checking out Amy's toolkit/overview in Part 1 here, and her interview with Privo Privacy Vault Executive Denise Tayloe included in Part 2 here.

Kids' Virtual Worlds Continue to Mushroom
With SOE's Free Realms claiming 5 million players, Club Penguin raging on into its 4th year of operations, and new titles announced and/or launched almost weekly, it's no surprise that market analysts have recorded some massive spikes in the popularity of virtual worlds this summer. According to an article published in Virtual Worlds News this past July (2009), vw consultant K Zero estimates that the "total number of registered accounts in the virtual worlds sector totaled 579,000,000 in the April-June quarter, 2009. That's an increase of 38.6 percent from the prior quarter when the tally was 417,000,000."

Perhaps more surprising (though not to us kids' media types) is the finding that the average age of the virtual world user is now 14. As Virtual Worlds News reports:
A breakout by age bar chart...shows the bulk of users -- 334,000,000 accounts, or nearly 60 percent of all virtual world users -- are between the ages of 10-15. The second largest group are users in the 5-10 age group [WOW!!!!], followed closely by those between the ages of 15 and 25, with a steep drop-off in the over-25 age group.

The article also gives some numbers to go with the stats, which is great (remembering that these are estimates based on averages). According to K Zero there are current 114 million vw players between the ages of 5 and 10yrs, and 334 million between the ages of 10 and 15 years. Incredible. They also provide some details about where these kids are playing, listing the sites with the biggest gains in registered users this past spring:
Nicktropolis which increased registered users by 3.1 million, Moshi Monsters' jump of 3 million registered users, Stardoll which increased registered users by 8 million, Club Penguin's additional 6 million registered users, Spineworld's more than doubling of its number of registered users -- going from 1 million last quarter to 2.8 million this quarter, and Poptropica's additional 36 million registered users, according to K Zero.

Phew! That's all for now. More to come soon, including some thoughts on Disney+Mattel and driving media literacy (and media education) through comics, some resources for studying player-generated content, and some thoughts on Treasure World.


Ryan Henson Creighton said...

Re: Sesame Street news ... i believe Bert & Ernie's Great Adventures is clay stop-motion, not CGI. You might be thinking of the Twiddlebugs segments, which began as puppet shorts and are now CGI.

i know too damned much about Muppets.

- Ryan

Sara M. Grimes said...

Thanks for correction (and info!) - I've actually never seen it, and assumed from the images that it was CGI. Very good to know :)