Connected Play

From The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning

Connected Play

Tweens in a Virtual World

By Yasmin B. Kafai and Deborah A. Fields

Foreword by Mizuko Ito

How kids play in virtual worlds, how it matters for their offline lives, and what this means for designing educational opportunities.





How kids play in virtual worlds, how it matters for their offline lives, and what this means for designing educational opportunities.

Millions of children visit virtual worlds every day. In such virtual play spaces as Habbo Hotel, Toontown, and Whyville, kids chat with friends from school, meet new people, construct avatars, and earn and spend virtual currency. In Connected Play, Yasmin Kafai and Deborah Fields investigate what happens when kids play in virtual worlds, how this matters for their offline lives, and what this means for the design of educational opportunities in digital worlds.

Play is fundamentally important for kids' development, but, Kafai and Fields argue, to understand play in virtual worlds, we need to connect concerns of development and culture with those of digital media and learning. Kafai and Fields do this through a detailed study of kids' play in Whyville, a massive, informal virtual world with educational content for tween players. Combining ethnographic accounts with analysis of logfile data, they present rich portraits and overviews of how kids learn to play in a digital domain, developing certain technological competencies; how kids learn to play well—responsibly, respectfully, and safely; and how kids learn to play creatively, creating content that becomes a part of the virtual world itself.


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262019934 216 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 29 figures, 1 table


Mizuko Ito.


  • For decades, Yasmin Kafai has been an essential, careful scholar of the learning interactions and possibilities between children and technology. It is unsurprising then that this volume (written with her now graduated doctoral student, Deborah Fields) is a fantastic further contribution to the field. In the book, Kafai and Fields detail their work studying the activities and culture of tweens (nine to twelve year‐olds) in the online virtual world, Whyville. What they document provides both a compelling portrait of what virtual worlds have to offer young people as well as an atlas for where further interesting work may lie.

    Teachers College Record


  • This is a terrific multimethod analysis of nine-to-twelve-year-old users of the virtual world of Whyville. It contributes substantial information about an understudied population of tween digital media users and it contributes to an expansive understanding of how play in the digital world extends real-world experiences. Connected Play is an informative and yet nuanced description of the ways digital playgrounds are being used by tweens today and how these play experiences represent educational opportunities. Both children's media designers and those who study the role of digital media in children's development will find this a rich contribution to the literature.

    Ellen Wartella

    Director, Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University

  • A rich and insightful examination of the complex—and too often misunderstood—universe of tweens' online gaming. Connected Play not only provides a comprehensive overview of the diverse relationships and learning opportunities that can emerge out of young people's virtual world play, but also serves as a template for how to conduct a methodologically rigorous study of a digital environment and its inhabitants.

    Sara Grimes

    Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto