Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Childhood in the digital age

3.1 Experimentation and the virtual self

Described image
Figure 6 The avatar is a tool for experimentation.

Many developmental psychologists suggest that identity experimentation is a key focus for early adolescence (Erikson, 1968; Valkenburg and Peter, 2008). The potential for experimentation with personal and social identity in virtual worlds is obvious and becoming increasingly popular in younger and older children alike.

The exploration of identity is nothing new; many children have experimented with self-expression through cultural tools such as fashion. The difference here is that children of all ages can construct multiple alternative identities by creating an avatar, their digital self, without impinging on their real-world life (Burke, 2013).

As Palfrey and Gasser (2008) explain:

In virtual worlds, the key act of identity formation is the creation of an ‘avatar’ – a virtual representation of the computer user. In most instances, the avatar is a figure whose actions can be controlled by the user’s computer mouse and keyboard. It is through this figure that the user interacts with the virtual world – both objects and other avatars (that is, other users). In many online games, the avatar is largely determined by the kind of role one chooses to play in the game’s more or less predetermined storyline.

(p. 28)

In Teen Life, for example, older children can create and explore a wide range of social, cultural, political, educational and economic virtual activities. These opportunities offer an extension to their everyday lives. The avatar body can be customised in a practically infinite number of ways ranging through height, weight, frame and figure, skin colour, eye colour, facial structure and gender, to fantasy animal characters.

Activity 3

Read the extract Playing with Pixels: Youth, Identity, and Virtual Play Spaces [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   from Chana Etengoff.

Write down your response to what you read.

OUFL_11

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371