Guest Post: The Power of Social Play in Virtual Worlds
- October 30th, 2009
- 1 Comments
Today’s Ypulse Guest Post is from Lauren Bigelow, Chief Operating Officer for WeeWorld. We approached Lauren after she posted an interesting comment in response to Anastasia’s post about the shakeout we’ve seen with teens in the space. Here’s what she had to say.
If you work in youth media or marketing and have an idea for a guest post, feel free to email me.
The Power of Social Play in Virtual Worlds
With the U.S. virtual goods market doubling to $1B this year it seems that every day brings more industry news about the growth of all things virtual. So, who is fueling the boom? Young teens. A recent KZero report found 53% of the overall growth of all virtual worlds came from the “big eight” virtual worlds…most of whom have exploding young teen populations.
So what makes virtual worlds so interesting that young teens spend a half an hour or more a day in them? Having hosted millions of teens on WeeWorld, I can say that when you boil it all down, it has to do with social play. Of course teens wouldn’t call it that. (How lame!) They call it having fun. Meanwhile most adults scratch their heads and wonder about virtual goods… what’s the point?
Think of it this way. In the same way Legos let you build an endless variety of structures, virtual worlds give you an open ended place to create your own look, decorate your own virtual space and communicate with others without geographic boundaries. This allows for limitless combinations and interactions. By choosing the virtual goods that express their emerging affiliations (styles, causes, occupations, friends, dating, interests, passions), teens can then use these props to interact with an audience of their choosing – either with existing friends or with new people – and get instant feedback. The play extends well beyond just decorating because they create their own events, contests, compare views and interests and even develop their own site-specific language. Developmentally, teens are at a stage that is all about evolving their emerging identities and virtual world role playing gives them a fun and non-threatening way to do that.
The point is that play doesn’t end when we leave grade school. And that’s a good thing, because as it turns out, teens need it. In fact, we all do. Studies have revealed that play for all ages is a key component of human health and development. Stuart Brown, M.D. and author of the book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul has said, “If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect of life, including sleep and dreams.’’
A growing body of research indicates that play is how we build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains. So if social play is fundamental, there is no place more perfectly suited to it than virtual worlds.
Although this is new territory for many parents they should engage with their teens and be involved as a sounding board the same way they’d support schoolwork, sports or any other endeavor. Increasingly virtual worlds are a “third place” of choice for teens – not home (the first place), not school (the second place). The essence of play is endless variety and in these virtual third spaces teens socialize and “play” testing out social skills, developing their identities through expressing their thoughts, beliefs and personal styles.
Oh, and they’re also having fun doing it.