Katie Salen Tekinbaş: The Future of Digital Play
May 21, 2020
For the fourth part of this series, we asked experts to focus their predictions on digital play by answering the question, “How will the way children play with digital media change in the coming months and/or years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?”
A call for caring and care-full play communities
What does a child’s best play life look like now and post-pandemic? Shelter-in-place orders have brought this question into stark relief, as the realities of play in the real world have undergone significant revision. Many parents are looking for online spaces where their children can safely connect with friends, engage in free play, and explore their interests. Research has shown that online games like Minecraft, Roblox, and Wizards 101 can provide a safe and social haven for children looking to create and connect. I’d like to argue that COVID-19 has raised the stakes for these platforms: beyond offering a pandemic-free place to play with others, online play communities must become communities where children are cared for, and children learn, in turn, how to care for each other.
What might this look like? It might be as simple as children learning the value of being there for one another. Platforms—through their community governance structures, moderation practices, and codes of conduct, for example—can model and incentivize prosocial, caring behavior. Embedded tools and resources focused on providing support for children’s wellbeing, like mood meters or in-game peace spaces, can help scaffold caring and care-full play. Careful attention to moderation strategies can help children learn how to resolve conflict in ways that are creative and care-oriented through an emphasis on reflection and empathetic listening. These forms of care aren’t entirely selfless, at least not in the long run. Through participation in caring and care-full play communities, children will learn that they will also need care in the future, and others will be there for them.
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