Friday, December 07, 2012

Of Ponycorns and Empowerment

While everyone (at least everyone around here) is uber-busy with end of semester assignments, grading, various deadlines and semester wrap-up, I figured now is a great time to post about the absolutely fantastic TEDxToronto talk my pal Ryan Henson Creighton (Untold Entertainment) gave a couple of months ago. As you may remember from previous posts (or from the massive press coverage it attracted back in 2011), Ryan co-created an amazingly charming and all-around awesome digital game with his 5 year old daughter, Cassie, at TO Jam a couple of years ago. Ryan is quickly becoming a key spokesperson for teaching kids to engage with technology at a deeper level - leading Scratch workshops, promoting DIY game design and now, giving this amazing talk about kids, tech and empowerment. So - busy or not - take 10 to chill out and watch him and Cassie give a highly engaging, highly insightful, presentation on the power of kids' DIY game design:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kids Online: Report Now Published!

After many months of collaboration, writing, workshop-ing, revising, editing and polishing, my co-authored white paper/report with Deborah Fields, written for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center @ Sesame Workshop, with support from Cisco and the DML, is now

The paper, Kids online: A new research agenda for understanding social networking forums, is a first step to documenting pressing questions about children's involvement online, namely:

  • Which children are using social networking forums and what are they doing there?
  • What do we know about how online experiences influence children's social, cognitive, and creative development?
  • What kind of research do we need to do now, in order to understand more deeply who is going online, what kinds of things they are doing, and what opportunities or challenges are involved?
  • And finally, what should designers, educators, and parents be aware of as they navigate these new environments and try to help children make the most of them?
A big part of the report ended up being a discussion of how many gaps we - surprisingly - found in the large scale surveys and reports we were reviewing when it came to younger children (especially children under age 8). Another factor is that although there's lots of anecdotal and qualitative evidence that kids are using popular social media such as Facebook even when they're not supposed to (COPPA-related age restrictions, etc.), there's a lack of critical analysis on how those decisions about age restrictions are made, and what impacts outright bans might have on kids' access to important social interactions and opportunities. 

We also found that common definitions of what qualifies as a "social networking site" were quite limited, and often excluded the types of forums younger children tend to populate, and the types of social networking they engage in...including playing on virtual worlds or through gaming consoles, creating portfolios on project-sharing sites like Scratch, decorating igloos and Monster houses as an alternative to the traditional "profile page." This discussion was one of the most exciting for Debbie and I, as we used our significant experience with children's digital culture to outline a new, alternative definition - social networking forums - with a set of shared characteristics inclusive of the types of sites, platforms, activities and interactions younger kids engage in (see pp.36-47 of the report).

I'm a bit late to the game in writing about this - the report came out a couple of weeks ago, and I've been busy spreading the word in other ways. Debbie and I wrote a blog post about the report for the JGCC blog, which you can read here.

There's been some press about the report, including this recent article in the UT Bulletin by Kathleen O'Brien, as well as an article in the Huffington Post by Michael Levine. 
School Library Journal
Education Week
Barking Robot

Such great coverage so far, and it's been especially amazing to see the discussion continuing, both in public fora, as well as through the many emails (and one phone conversation) we've received from media makers and educators about the report and - awesomely - potential next steps. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CFP Alert: Childhood and the Media (UK, July 2013)

Cut and paste from the emailed announcement:

 17-20 JULY 2013 

"Papers are invited for the biennial IAMHIST (International Association of Media and History) Congress, to be held at the University of Leicester, UK, on the theme of 'Childhood and the Media'. Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

  •  Child actors and stars: e.g. Shirley Temple, Sabu, Jodie Foster (including what becomes of child actors when they are no longer children). 
  • Representations of childhood in film, radio and television including both real (e.g. Ann Frank) and fictional (e.g. Harry Potter). 
  • Children in classic cinema: e.g. Bicycle Thieves, the Apu films. 
  • Adapting children's fiction: e.g. The Railway Children, The Princess Diaries 
  • Childhood and film-makers' autobiographies: e.g. François Truffaut, Terence Davies. 
  • Nostalgia and childhood: adults remembering film, radio and television. 
  • Film, radio and television 'made for children': e.g. the Children's Film Foundation, Walt Disney, children's television drama, cartoons. 
  • Educational film, radio and television programming: e.g. Play School, Sesame Street and their international equivalents. 
  • Exhibition practices: e.g. children's matinees, film clubs, tie-in publications. 
  • Juvenile audiences and reception studies of children's media. 
  • Research into the effects of the mass media on children. 
  • Children and media censorship in national and international contexts. 
Proposals for papers should be sent to: . Please include an abstract of c.300 words, a brief biographical note, your institutional affiliation (where relevant) and your contact details (including your email address). We welcome proposals either for individual papers or for self-constituted panels of 3-4 papers. We envisage that papers will be 20 minutes plus time for questions and discussion. Closing date for proposals: 15 December 2012. You will be notified of the acceptance of your paper by 31 January 2013."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Critical Gaming Series @ Semaphore Lab

Out new collaborative lab space at the iSchool, Semaphore lab, is just about, nearly there, up and running, and so we've started holding a series of events to introduce ourselves to the community and share some of the work our members have been doing this semester. This Friday, we're launching our "Critical Gaming Series," which aims to bring together scholars, industry professionals, students and gamers in lively, open discussions focused around a specific game or current event. Each event will begin with a short, formal presentation of academic research/analysis being conducted by one of our lab members, followed by open mic style guided conversation and debate. The games in question will be on hand for demo and gameplay. The first in our series happens this Friday, and here are the details:
Promo image for Mechromancer DLC ©2012 Gearbox Software/2K Games

Girlfriend Mode: A discussion on portrayals of women 
in games and gaming 
Friday, October 26th, 4:00-5:30 pm 
Robarts Library, 130 St. George Street, First Floor Demo Room (1150) 
- Free (rsvp required)

Presented by: Mat Calverley and Tracy Munusami, iSchool MI Candidates 
Critical Gaming Series, Semaphore Lab 

Join us for the inaugural event in Semaphore's Critical Gaming Series, where we will take part in a discussion on the portrayal of women both in digital games and as gamers. The discussion will begin with a brief presentation of the "Girlfriend Mode" controversy launched a developer for Borderlands 2, one of the most anticipated games of 2012. All students, staff, and faculty are welcome to come and try the game and participate in the discussion, as we work towards a stronger understanding of current issues surrounding women in digital games. This will be a great opportunity for many for many to learn more about the exciting and trailblazing things that go on in the Semaphore lab. Please note that this discussion will be recorded for hosting on Semaphore Lab's website.

Participants should register here:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Princess Darth Vader and Pink Politics Remixed

I've been seeing a lot of these types of images lately - pink-ified, princess-ified Darth Vader costumes, presumably made at the request of the little girls depicted wearing them (although its status as an emerging meme challenges the spontaneity factor quite a bit, no?). I'm not sure what to make of first reaction was, of course, ZOMG How Amazingly Awesome!!!, but now I'm wondering where this comes from, how the idea is spreading and what interesting things it might result in. Thinking about this in relation to pink politics as well - and the use of pink for subversion and transgression, and not just for re-inscribing traditional pink/blue gender divides in kids' culture. Then again - it does that too.... Anyway - fascinating!

And, for the fairy fans out there, a Darth Vader lavender fairy:

Another Cool Conference CFP: Extending Play

Cut-and-paste in full from the notice sent out on the Exploring Childhood Studies mailing list:
©2012 Rutgers Media Studies Conference

CFP: 2013 Rutgers Media Studies Conference: Extending Play

Can we still define play as an organizing principle in today’s
technologically mediated world?

Play can be hard work and serious business, and it’s time to push beyond
the conceptualization of play as merely the pursuit of leisure and
consider how the issues of power, affect, labor, identity, and privacy
surround the idea and practice of play. The Rutgers Media Studies
Conference: Extending Play invites submissions that seek to understand
play as a mediating practice, and how play operates at the center of all

We are interested in all approaches to the traditions, roles, and contexts
of play, and hope to explore how play can be broadly defined and
incorporated as a fundamental principle extending into far-flung and
unexpected arenas. Johan Huizinga characterizes man as the species that
plays: “Law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom
and science. All are rooted in the primaeval soil of play” (Homo Ludens,
p.5). How does play operate as a civilizing function — or is it perhaps a
technology that produces order?

Play is a means of exploring and joining various disciplines: Social
media, mash-ups, and blogs have altered how we communicate and create;
game design has influenced how businesses relate to consumers; citizen
journalists have shifted the role of the professional in mediating
information and forging a public sphere.

To explore these questions, we invite scholars, students, tinkerers,
visionaries, and players to the first ever Rutgers Media Studies
Conference: Extending Play, to be held April 19th and 20th, 2013 on the
Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick, NJ. Confirmed speakers for our
keynote conversations include Fred Turner (Stanford University) & Stephen
Duncombe (New York University) and Trevor Pinch (Cornell University) &
Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky (The European Graduate School).

We invite individuals from media studies and related fields in the
humanities and social sciences to participate. Potential topics for paper,
panel, roundtable, and workshop may include, but are not limited to:

-Playing with labor: work-like games and game-like work
-Play as resistance (culture jamming, situationist art, or other contexts)
-Gendering (and gendered) play
-Music and performance
-Linguistic play
-Play and social media
-Playing with identity
-Love and play (flirtation, AI relationships, robotica, etc)
-Gamification and games in nontraditional settings
-Transgression, cheating, and “gaming” systems
-Darker side of play (trolling, gambling, or corruption)
-Game studies

The Rutgers Media Studies Conference: Extending Play promises to offer a
memorable meeting of scholarship, and to that end, we are looking to play
with standard conference conventions. One track throughout the conference
will be a series of public workshop sessions in which scholars and
practitioners will host roundtable discussions on contemporary issues that
bring together an audience of experts and interested parties. In the
academic panel track, each presenter will have a maximum of 15 minutes to
offer his or her ideas as a presentation or interactive conversation, and
will choose one of the following methods of presentation:
–material accompaniment (hand out a zine, scrapbook, postcard series, etc)
–performance (spoken word, song, verse, dance, recording, etc)
–limited visuals (a maximum of 3 slides and 25 total words)
–game (create rules and incorporate audience play)
For additional ideas on how to play with media, play with time, or play
with space during your presentation, visit our website at

The deadline for proposals is Saturday, December 1, 2012. We invite
individual proposals, full panel proposals (of four members), and
proposals for roundtable and workshop sessions. Please email an abstract
of approximately 247 words, along with your name, affiliation,
presentation method, and a short biography to If you
are interested in proposing a topic for our public workshop track, or are
interested in participating in one, please indicate that as well.
Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by mid-January 2013.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cool Conference CFP Alert: The Child's Room as Cultural Microcosm

©1963/2006 Maurice Sendak, page from Where the Wild Things Are
The following is a Call for Papers for a very interesting sounding conference taking place in Rouen, France, next April, on the children's room as "cultural microcosm." I've cut/paste key details below from the original, a copy of which you can find here.

Call for papers International conference
The child’s room as a cultural microcosm: Space, Consumption and Pedagogy 
National Museum of Education, Rouen, France, 8 – 10 April 2013
Organisers : National Museum of Education/CNDP, University of Paris 13 (EXPERICE), University of Poitiers (CEREGE) 
With the support of the ANR, research programme « Children’s possessions at home »

Summary : ‘The child’s room as a cultural microcosm’ aims at gathering knowledge on the subject of children’s domestic material culture and stimulating the development of research along three main axes. These axes were chosen to have a better understanding of the child’s room in its history as well as in the contemporary world, in its materiality as well as in its representations. The first axis will examine the child’s room from an architectural-spatial point of view, as well as a well-defined space within the house specifically intended for the child. It may be characterized by technical specificities (shape, volume, etc.) as well as cultural ones. The second axis will investigate the child’s room as a privileged place for his or her belongings. The idea will be to focus on children’s consumption and material culture, examining how objects actually belong to a child in a child’s room. Finally, the last axis comprehends the child’s room as an educational place that sits at the intersection of both pedagogical and recreational uses and, as such, of both adults’ and children’s points of view. The organisation of this room thus may contribute, in turn, to the education of taste, to an aesthetic education or to the education to consumption.

Key words : "child’s room, domestic space, material culture, children’s culture, children’s consumption, childhood objects, cultural representation of childhood, education"

More description:
"In the 19th century, the child’s room was conceptualised by french authors as a ‘place for hygiene and prudence’, a perimeter protected from the dangers of the house and from those of the street, a women’s ‘sanctuary’ (Fonssagrives 1871) as well as a ‘nest of souls’ (Hugo 1859) and an instrument for the education to social, moral and aesthetic values (Renonciat 1989, 2005). Today, the child’s room is a reality shared by boys and girls in the Western world : a place to rest and work, a place of either real or virtual games, a ‘refuge for intimacy’ (Ranum 1986), an open window on the world (be it discovered or fantasized), a learning center for autonomy, a developer of identity. As it was the case in the past, the contemporary child’s room turns out to be a complex reality which, although it has aroused researchers’ interest in various fields for over half a century, still remains an unexplored territory, especially in France.
The organisers of the conference ‘The child’s room as a cultural microcosm’ wish to study the state of knowledge on the subject and to stimulate the development of research along three main axes : these axes were chosen to provide a better understanding of the child’s room in its history and the contemporary world, through its materiality as well as through the representations which contribute to defining it as a material, social, aesthetic and cultural place."
Submission details: Paper proposals have to be related to one of three major themes or "axes" (described in detail in teh full CFP: architectural, material or educational). If not, you'll need clear justification of why not & why it fits. The three axes can be approached in various ways, for example:

  • representations of the child’s room (in literature, in films, in arts, etc.), 
  • historical, anthropological, sociological, psychological dimensions, 
  • as well as questions of gender, etc.

Proposals can be either in English or in French, and must be submitted by email to:

Deadline: 30 November 2012
Format: Word document. No more than one page (Times New Roman 12, single spaced). Must include including the following info:
  • Title of the paper 
  • Author (s)
  • Institution
  • Personal details : address, country of residence, phone number, e-mail address -
  • Abstract of approximately 400 to 500 words, summarizing the topic of the paper, methodology used, corpus/data analyzed and results.
Notification of acceptance : 1st February 2013 
Written papers must be completed by 30th April 2013, for publication of the proceedings.

Scientific/conference committee  (lots of great children's culture scholars listed here): Gilles Brougère (University of Paris Nord), David Buckingham (Loughborough University, GB) Dan Cook (Rutgers University, USA) Inès de la Ville (University of Poitiers) Yves Gaulupeau (National Museum of Education/CNDP) Michel Manson (University of Paris Nord) Roger Perrinjaquet (École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris - La Villette) Michelle Perrot (University Paris 7- Denis Diderot) Annie Renonciat (ENS Lyon, National Museum of Education/CNDP) 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Co-Play, or Skyrim for Preschoolers

©2008 sean dreilinger via flickr and GeekDad
Today's "must read" article for anyone researching and/or working in the area of kids' games/digi-culture is brought to you by Brainy Gamer's Michael Abbott, in the form of this lovely and thought provoking blog post about kids, games and fostering rich, meaningful digital play experiences. Abbott opens with the following very true, very awesome statement...:
Good teachers know something about kids that most game developers have yet to learn: don’t underestimate them. Don’t equate accessible with dumbed down. Pitch high and they will reach.
 ...and goes on to develop a couple of really key arguments about kid gamers & some good points about the current state of kids gaming too. What I appreciate most about the post is Abbott's insight into what kids want (and the implication that the industry oftentimes fails to provide them with these things, even though the things themselves are seen as pretty fundamental when games are designed for mainstream (re: teen and adult) markets). He writes:
...too many kids games rely on flash-card pedagogy that quickly wears thin.
It turns out that young kids (I’m mainly focusing on preschool and young elementary age) desire the same rich experiences that adults seek in video games: content discoverable through play, activities that feel rewarding, mechanics that offer fun things to do, and a sense of richness that suggests the game is always waiting for the player to return and continue her journey.
So true. Abbott then goes on to describe how co-playing can provide an excellent way for parents and kids to share in a richer gaming experience than currently available in many child-specific games, based on his own experience playing Skyrim with his 4-year old daughter. The key to Abbott's approach is "playing ahead" - in that he pre-screens everything in advance, so he already knows if a particular quest or area will be suitable for his daughter before their play session begins. The post is full of great tips and warnings, which are furthermore listed in a handy 8 step guide. Be sure to check it out here.

I would love to see more of these types of things getting circulated - wouldn't it be great to have a crowdsourced parents' guide to playing awesome T-rated games with your younger kids wiki somewhere???

***On a related note, while looking for the above image, I came across an older article in Wired magazine's GeekDad section by Kevin Makice (that I had seen before but hadn't posted on - oops), about recent research indicating that girls in particular benefit from co-playing videogames with their parents...definitely worth a read as well.*****

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Regulating Apps for Kids

©2011 Beeline Interactive, Inc. Smurf Village screenshot via iPad Jailbreak

This article by Stuart Dredge published in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago is definitely worth a quick read through. In it, Dredge interviews various people (attending the Children's Media Conference in Sheffield in early July) involved in making (& consulting) apps for kids in regards to the apparent lack of movement seen thus far on the controversial issue of in-app purchasing/marketing to young kids (**as you'll read below, Dredge notes that it's already been over a year since the big Smurf Village controversy). As Dredge describes:
A year on from the first high-profile controversy around children and in-app purchases (IAP) in apps – the Smurfs' Village game on iOS – some elements of the apps industry still haven't learned the lessons.
That game's developer has just released a Shrek game that offers a £6.99 IAP at the end of its tutorial – within the 15-minute window which, for parents who have not changed their default settings, means children won't have to enter a password in order to buy.
Elsewhere, games are suggesting $99.99 purchases to help children buy Chickity Puff creatures, and selling gems to cure virtual pets. Meanwhile, despite Apple improving the parental controls in iOS, there are still parents facing unexpected iTunes bills for virtual items bought by their children.
The  article includes a couple of different opinions from key industry players, as well as some discussion of government vs. industry-self regulation, though doesn't delve TOO deeply into these questions (or the ethical questions these practices - and some of the conference's speakers - raise). Still - it's good to see that the issue hasn't disappeared completely, and I'm hoping that the discussion continues and evolves into something a little more focused as these devices (& associated, emerging commercial practices) continue to spread and attract public scrutiny.

On a related note - I found a copy of the image above on iPad Jailbreak, accompanying some instructions on how to block in-app purchases on your iOS device. A potentially useful strategy for parents/kids to use while they wait for a clearer, more effective infrastructure to emerge.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Spil Games Making Adverwaves

Screenshot of ©2012 Spil Games

From yesterday's AdWeek, a short but very interesting article on Dutch company Spil Games, who are making some serious in roads into the tween - and particularly girl - demographic with a pretty standard roster of web-based causal and advergames. As Christopher Heine writes:
Tie your ad to a Selena Gomez virtual makeover game and position your brand nearer a tween girl’s heart. That’s a gender-specific version of a theory being tested by Lego, Kibbles ‘n Bits, Hollywood film Mirror Mirror and other advertisers. Working with Dutch company Spil Games, such brands are increasingly targeting tweens with “advergames” and video ads that roll before an online game starts.
Hmmm...1999 called and it wants its breaking news back? In all fairness, the article DOES mention that this strategy has been around for awhile (though it's definitely more than a decade old), though it could have done a bit more to contextualize. Anyway, what's noteworthy here is the finding that advergames are once again on the rise...not only in terms of popularity and prevalence, but also in terms of time kids are spending playing them. As Heine describes:
Spil Games, which is Europe’s answer to Zynga or Rovio, claims 43 million monthly active girl users aged 8 to 12 worldwide, with 7.6 million living in the U.S. The firm offers 4,000 games in 19 languages, targeting tweens and teens with free-to-use online properties like and games like Selena Gomez Makeover and Pet Party.
There’s games for boys, too, such as the Lego-sponsored Heroica: The Adventures. Since adding sharing features to its games during the last year, the company says that average time spent has lifted from 38 minutes to 78 minutes. 
I'm also interested in the inclusion of Lego among Spil Games' client list, and the ways in which the company is gender segregating in this online context (in conjunction and/or contrast with its widely reported offline strategies).  

Friday, June 01, 2012

Canadian Kids Get an "F" in Active Play

This week, Active Healthy Kids Canada published their annual report card on physical activity levels of Canadian children and youth, giving kids - and their parents - failing grades when it comes to engaging in active play. You can read the short report here, or delve into the longer report here. The gist was well summarized in an article written by Lauren La Rose for the Globe and Mail:
Many Canadian kids are failing to make the grade when it comes to reaching physical activity targets, with too few hours devoted to active play and too much free time fixated on TV, computer and game screens. Active Healthy Kids Canada released its annual Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth on Tuesday which paints a grim picture of the activity levels of many Canadian youngsters.

The report itself consists primarily of a broad literature review of recent studies, data and articles examining various aspects of kids' physical activity levels, so some of this is definitely stuff we've heard before. The main contribution of this type of report is in how it compiles and makes sense of the data...but in summarizing, there is indeed a bit of a risk of obscuring the source. i.e. if any of these findings or studies included in the report are of particular interest or relevance to you, be sure to track down the original source and read/evaluate it for yourself to make your own judgements about the validity and reliability of the study, generalizability of findings, whether or not the conclusions drawn make sense, etc. With that in mind - here are some items from the report that I think deserve in-depth attention and further discussion.

The report describes that research in this area has consistently found a substantial decrease in the amount of time kids are engaging in free play. The key "takeaway" that everyone studying, teaching, caring for and working with kids needs to stop and think about = 46% of Canadian kids getting "3 hrs or less of active play each week." Three hours. Or less.

So, if the big finding here is the starling lack of "active play" kids are engaged in, of equal importance are the findings on where and when kids aren't playing. Outdoor play continues to decrease, down 14% in the past decade. According to one of the studies reviewed, "At lunch and after school, kids are getting only 24 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity out of a possible 4 hours" (the minimum recommended is 1 hr/day). Another study reveals that on weekends, when kids theoretically have the most amount of free time, they are actually "less active than on weekdays."

Although the report and organization both focus on physical activity, their analysis isn't limited to questions of fitness and exercise. Throughout the report, Active Kids Healthy Canada consistently stress that there some important distinctions between physical activity and active play, highlighting the unique attributes and importance of unstructured, child-driven play in particular. I especially appreciated this aspect of it, as an over-emphasis on "good" play = fitness is just another way of instrumentalizing kids' leisure. Anyway, the report defines play as:
"generally freely chosen, spontaneous, self-directed and fun.34-35 Play allows children and youth of all ages to try new things, test boundaries, learn from their mistakes and, perhaps most importantly, enjoy being active.
According to Mark Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, who was interviewed for the La Rose article, active play is the "overlooked sibling" of physical activity. He is cited in the article as saying:
"It doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be equipment-intensive, it doesn’t have to be led by us, the parents or the playground supervisor or the coach or anyone. This is the business of childhood: let kids play or reduce the suppression of their natural desire to play.”
The report also stresses that "Not only is there value in this free time, it’s what kids want." One report showed that 92% of kids reported that they would chose playing with friends over watching tv. In another, global study, "playing with friends was the single favourite pastime of kids around the world." In addition, 74% of Canadian kids (grades 4 to 6) reported that they would like to do something active after school, while 31% would chose to play with friends at a playground. So if it's not a lack of interest on the kids' part, what's the issue?

Overprotective Parents
According to the report, the research indicates that over-structured leisure time and over-protective parenting are clearly part of the problem:
Unfortunately, over-protective parenting, plus the lure of ever-present technology, is driving kids into highly controlled environments, where they have little opportunity to let loose, run around, build, explore and interact with peers on their own terms.
This issue was also  covered in the La Rose article, who describes:
"A survey featured in the report reveals 82% of mothers cite safety concerns as reasons why they restrict outdoor play, such as worries about crime, traffic, outdoor darkness, lack of supervision and neighbourhood dangers like bullies and rundown buildings. In another poll, 58% of Canadian parents say they’re very concerned about keeping their kids safe and feel they have to be overprotective of them."
As one of my tweeps (@cogno) commented: "My fav line: "they feel they have to be overprotective of them". Isn't "overprotective" by definition too much?". Indeed!

This aspect of the report was the subject of a second, follow-up Globe & Mail article, written by Bauja and McGinn, bearing the headline: "Parental fear contributing to sedentary lifestyle of Canadian children: report." They interview Free-Range Kids author & trail blazer Lenore Skenzy, who makes the uncomfortably compelling point that "Your fear ... is putting your kid at risk of something far less dramatic, like obesity ... and something that’s more likely to happen than getting snatched off the street."

Indoor Play vs. Screen Time
Another facet of the AHKC report (and subsequent news reporting) warranting further discussion (not to mention one that gave me an initial cringe reaction) was the emphasis placed on screen time. My first thought was - here we go again, blaming the media for what is clearly a much larger problem, i.e. children's ever-decreasing access to leisure spaces...or at least, leisure spaces that aren't designed for, afford or are explicitly limited to sedentary activities.

The report describes that "63% of kids’ free time after school and on weekends is spent being sedentary," and that "seven hours and 48 minutes per day in front of screens, almost four times the guideline of no more than two hours per day." I'm a big fan of indoor play as well as outdoor play, but know that it isn't always all that fun or free. Homes have restrictions on who's allowed to do what where and when...and I'm wondering how much household rules, negotiation of space, etc., also contribute to the predominance that screen time seems to have taken in kids' indoor play lives.

Of course, screens and gadget do also offer pretty entertaining alternatives to other forms of indoor play. I'm reminded here of @davidgauntlett live tweeting a recent video-presentation by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi on creativity, who relayed the following: "In the past, Csikszentmihalyi says, childhood was boring, & you had to make your own solution to that problem. This was good thing." 

There is indeed plenty of research indicating that videogames and online environments are offering pretty appealing spaces for kids to congregate and play, where they can enjoy the "complete freedom of movement" (see Jenkins, 1999) once enjoyed by kids as they played in and explored their backyards and neighbourhoods, something that today's kids clearly no longer have access to. But it's also this very aspect of gaming and online exploration that makes it sound more like active play than something that is purely sedentary. I'm uncomfortable with many of the categorizations here, and very uncomfortable with the clumping together of all media/tech engagement as "screen time." Many of those benefits associated with active and/or free play are also associated with gaming, online creation and exploration, so the dichotomy doesn't really work for me. I'm also still dubious about this really being a cause...from kids' own reports and preferences, it sounds more like a provisional solution. That said, there is a lot in the report that I do like, not least of which is that it leaves a number of questions unanswered...the perfect context for further research and discussion. 

The AHKC also offers up some solutions as part of their report card, which I'm reproducing below because they include some pretty excellent points. But as mentioned above, I hope that this is the beginning of a renewed interest in supporting more opportunities for kids to play, and discussing some of the underlying, systematic barriers to play that have emerged over the past several decades...not just in terms of parental fears, but also in terms of playground closures, child-unfriendly public (and sometimes even domestic) spaces, funding cuts on gym classes and community events, shortened recesses, and the broader implications of hyper-risk-aversion on childhood as a whole. 

How to pRess plAy
Recommendations for increasing opportunities for active play  
[with my own italicized comments added in]

eARly yeARs 
> Provide access to safe, open areas,
either indoors or out, where kids
can move freely. 
> Add balls and toys to encourage
more vigorous play at home, and in
childcare and community settings. [Another study out this week on kids & creativity also points to the importance of having these types of objects available for kids to play with]
> Get down on the floor and play
with them!

sCHool-Age CHildRen 
> Provide access to fields, nature,
skipping ropes, balls and equipment
to facilitate active play. 
> To counter safety concerns, parents
and caregivers can take turns supervising kids at play in the park or on the block, encourage kids to play outside with a buddy and consider street-proofing courses. 
[SMG: not quite the "free range kids" approach, but one step closer, I suppose]

> Accept that tweens and teens need
free time to play without the assumption they are “up to no good.” [yes!!!]
> Increase youth-friendly play spaces
where youth can hang out and direct their own activities.

Kids of All Ages 
> If your child has no free time,
consider reducing the number of
scheduled activities. 
> To increase neighbourhood safety,
advocate for traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps and roundabouts, which have been shown to decrease pedestrian-vehicle accidents.
> To reduce screen time, encourage time spent outdoors, 
every day, instead of in front of TV or video games. [SMG = and here I really wish it said something like, "to diversify kids' play, encourage time spent outdoors...." instead of focusing on the old "all screen time is the same and equally bad" adage]

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pink Aisle Politics (Prezi)

In follow up to last week's post re: INplay 2012, here's the prezi I used for my talk about the gender, toys and the LEGO Friends controversy:
I had a really great time at the conference, BTW - and met LOADS of very nice people working on really fascinating projects (those one-on-one match-up meetings were such a great idea). Looking forward to following up with them and seeing all the cool stuff set to come out over the next few months.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Next Up: INplay 2012

Next week, I'll be speaking at a very cool sounding local annual conference that brings together professionals and academics engaged in various different facets of the children's cultural industries: INplay 2012. Taking place over two days (May 15-16), the conference schedule includes presentations, panel discussions, case studies and a number of technology ‘show and tells.’ Here's an excerpt from the official website's About page:
INplay is a unique, international event that connects kids creative industries with insights and opportunities in the interactive space. From the video game business to the broadcast industry, from toys to toons, the INplay conference brings together leaders in the kids space to learn, network and be inspired by the future of kids interactive digital media. This year, our integrated programming allows attendees to learn about different dimensions of working with properties for kids aged 2-12 in a single session. Our panelists will connect the dots in these three essential areas: inspiration, investment, insights.
I'm going to be giving a talk on the LEGO Friends controversy that erupted last Christmas, and try to give a bit of context and insight into the girls' games/play debate. This is largely based on a paper I've been working on intermittently since Jan, and will hopefully inspire me to finish it up and publish it somewhere. The talk (and paper) builds on previous work I've done on girls' digital games, and draws on some of my ongoing research on LEGO (but not just the digital versions this time!) and mediatization.

INplay 2012 boasts an extremely exciting lineup of speakers, including Warren Buckleitner (Children's Technology Review), Jesse Schell (Schell Games/Carnegie Mellon), Alison Bryant (PlayScience) and Lori Takeuchi (Joan Ganz Cooney Centre at Sesame Workshop), and including some of my usual partners in crime, Jason Nolan and Melanie McBride (EDGE Lab/Ryerson U), Jaime Woo (Gamercamp/Gamercamp Jr), Jason Kreough (Zinc Roe) and David Fono (Atmosphere Industries). I've been playing LEGO pretty steadily over the past two weeks in preparation ( ;) ), and am really looking forward to engaging with this diverse new audience.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

This Week: Pathways to Privacy Research Symposium

©2012 Sara M. Grimes
As the semester is finally winding down, I'm heading to Ottawa this week to take part in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC)'s first Pathways to Privacy Research Symposium at the National Arts Centre (May 2, 2012). The theme is "Privacy for Everyone," and I'll be talking about some of the privacy issues/privacy policy implications I've encountered in my research on kids' online games and other digital communities. The symposium will bring together a small number of academics and key stakeholders from industry, government, advocacy groups and other NGOs, to discuss a variety of privacy issues focused on youth, addressing the needs of diverse populations, emerging technologies and practices, including those focused on identification and surveillance. This will be the first in a larger Pathways to Privacy series, which aims to fulfill a number of important objectives over the coming months, including (as reproduced from the OPC website):

  • To showcase privacy-related research funded by OPC’s Contributions Program and other funders.
  • To facilitate dialogue between the people who do the research and those who apply it.
  • To enhance the relevance of research results and enable uptake and application by relevant end-users.
  • To provide an opportunity for interdisciplinary capacity-building, partnership and networking among researchers.

I'm especially looking forward to hearing talks by Dr. Valerie Steeves (University of Ottawa), Dr. Ian Kerr (University of Ottawa), and famous privacy theorist Dr. David Lyon (Queen's University). I'm also beyond delighted to be speaking on a panel with 20 Awareness' Jane Talim (not to mention hearing more about the latest phase of their Young Canadians in a Wired World research), as well as finding out what John Lawford (legal counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre) has to say about data-mining (and compiling) kids' info (at least, that what I'm guessing his talk is about based on the title).

For those of you planning to attend, I'll see you there next week!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Coming Up: TIFF Nexus New Media Literacies Conference!!

This is one of the things I'll be busy with next week: The New Media Literacies Conference at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. It takes place next Friday, April 20th 1:00 pm – 7:30 pm, and there are still tickets left. The conference includes an AMAZing line-up of speakers (that I feel very lucky to be presenting alongside), a bunch of workshops and activities, spaces/installation, and a chance to meet some of the really fascinating people involved in the kids' digital media scene. Here's the conference description, cut-and-paste from the official website:
The children and youth of today – and their families, educators and content creators – exist in a drastically evolved media landscape than those of even 10 years ago. It’s clear these emerging technologies have outgrown the critical abilities that a more traditional media literacy education can offer, but exactly what are the additional new skills necessary in order to thrive in this interactive, instant-on, internet-enabled, and mobile media ecosphere? The popular TIFF Nexus series, designed to promote cross-sector connections across film, games and new media, returns to explore and engage in these themes through inspirational presentations, creative collaboration, demonstrations and hands-on learning workshops led by creators and researchers who are committed to enriching the lives of kids, youth and families.
A key selling feature of the conference is a keynote by Dr. Nicole Pinkard:
Dr. Pinkard shares insights into the inspirational work she and her collaborators are doing with platforms like the Digital Youth Network and institutions such as the Chicago Public Library (co-founding YOUmedia), to build new media literacy awareness and skills development for children and youth. Following her keynote address, Debbie Gordon, the director of the kidsmediacentre at Centennial College, will engage Dr. Pinkard in conversation.
And, in addition to some awesome-sounding sessions and lighting talks by media creators and academics, the conference includes access to various TIFF Kids-associated things, including the digiPlaySpace:
TIFF Nexus ticket-holders can let their imaginations roam free in the TIFF Kids digiPlaySpace by engaging in interactive art installations, learning-centric games, mobile apps, new digital creative tools and hands-on production activities. COME EARLY between 11am and 12:30pm, and be mindful that the doors will be closing at 12:45 to allow time to get to the conference venue.
The Industry/Educator rates are $60, Students get in for $30 and full price admission is $99: which gets you into the workshops, the digiPlaySpace, a networking cocktail and a chance to hear wonderful speakers and panelists, such as Jason Krough (zinc Roe), Carly Shuler (Joan Ganz Cooney Centre), Jacob Blackstock (Bitstrips) and Mark Rabo (Gamercamp). Hope to see (some of) you there!

Hunger Games Post Coming Soon!

End of semester madness started a bit early this year, so I've been a bit behind on my writing - including my Part 2 follow up to last month's Grim Games and Dangerous Fairy Tales post, which will address the Hunger Games "controversy" and some of my thoughts on the film. It's almost ready, but I've got a few more things to cross off on the to do list first, so stay tuned!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Awesome Job Opportunity Alert!!! Postdoc in Adaptive Gaming, User Innovation and Inclusive Play among Elementary School-Aged Children

I'm hiring a postdoc to work with me on a new project that I'm launching this spring on Adaptive Gaming, User Innovation and Inclusive Play among elementary school-aged children (part of a much larger project on Mobile and Pervasive Computing lead by the amazing Dr. Matt Ratto, that will also encompass a new set of projects run by another of our fabulous iSchool colleagues, Dr. Rhonda McEwen). The details can be found on the University of Toronto iSchool job site, and are reproduced in full below. Interested candidates are welcome to get in touch with me directly to find out more about the position, project, what it entails, etc.

Keywords: kids, inclusive play (facilitating play between kids with and without disabilities), modding/hacking gaming consoles, and supporting user innovation.

Please spread the word (and the link):
Postdoctoral Researcher in Adaptive Gaming, User Innovation and Inclusive Play among Elementary School-Aged Children

The Faculty of Information (iSchool) at the University of Toronto seeks to employ a postdoctoral researcher for a funded project within the Inclusive Design Institute. The successful applicant will play a key role in designing and conducting research on issues of adaptive design, inclusive play, innovation and creativity within elementary school-aged children’s engagement with emerging digital game technologies. The primary goals of the project are to (1) advance knowledge of an emerging phenomenon, (2) explore potential applications for supporting inclusive play experiences among children with and without disabilities, and (3) contribute new insight into the relationships between game design, technology, user innovation and playfulness.

The research will be conducted using a mixed-methods approach that will most likely include qualitative methods such as participant observation, critical design analysis and focus groups. The project will incorporate in-depth analysis of a series of tools, titles and programs designed to enable meaningful user interventions into game designs and other content by non-specialist users, supplemented with case studies of how these tools are (or might be) used by children with and without disabilities.

  • Collaborate with the lead researcher of the Adaptive Gaming project (Dr. Sara M. Grimes), the principal investigator and other researchers within the Mobile and Pervasive Computing Cluster and the larger Inclusive Design Institute, as well as with investigators on related projects at the University of Toronto and other institutions
  • Act as liaison and coordinator for the Adaptive Gaming, User Innovation and Inclusive Play project
  • Plan and conduct ethnographic research involving child participants with and without disabilities, including assisting in the design and implementation of ethics protocols
  • Publish and present the resulting research findings in leading academic journals, national and international conferences, as well as in public forums
  • Assume an active role in shaping the research design, including introducing additional, related research questions and objectives into the project as it unfolds, and identifying additional funding opportunities
  • Assist in the daily management and administration of the Mobile and Pervasive Computing Lab
  • A PhD in a relevant area, in hand by the position start date
  • Research interests in at least one of the following: children and technology, disability studies (including adaptive design), game studies, critical technology studies and/or game design
  • Prior experience working with children is an asset
  • Proven track-record for successfully engaging in self-directed research
  • Working language is English
  • The successful applicant will be expected to be in residence in Toronto, Canada, for the duration of the postdoctoral appointment and be an active colleague within U of T as well as the IDI project.
The salary for this position is competitive in the Canadian context, and is governed in part by SSHRC practices.

Additional information : 
The contract can begin as early as 1 September 2012; it is for a two-year term, with possibility of renewal.

Apply by email:
Application deadline:  Apr 23 2012

How to apply: 
Applications comprising a brief cover letter, CV, recent writing sample, and the names and contact information for three referees should be sent electronically to Please use the subject line “Application: IDI Cluster - Adaptive Gaming” when applying for this position.

Interviews will be conducted via phone or Skype. Applications will be reviewed until the position is filled. The application deadline is Monday, April 23rd, 5PM EST.

If you have any questions about the position itself, please feel free to contact me directly. But any and all application materials must be send to the email address indicated above (which is all set up and ready to receive large files, etc.).