During December 2010/January 2011, I did fieldwork with children at a holiday club hosted at a Cape Town school. The following aspects played out when the children played games together:
- Making friends: Children with interests in similar games bonded over the games and spent time together away from the computer or TV as well during their time at the club (riding bikes together, swimming, etc).
- Managing turns: Children respected one another’s turns and the 30 minute playing time rule. Because there were so many children, the children and I put together a play schedule of who plays what and when. Needless to say, the children were quite strict to monitor each another’s turns. Many of the children observed and interacted while others were playing and ‘helping’ one another was a prominent feature.
- Gender differences: Although there is more diffusion nowadays between girls’ and boys’ access to games and preferences for particular games, gendered play patterns still persist. There were some interesting episodes where some degree of boundary crossing occurred, but this is largely due to the club setting where children assert themselves through difference, in this case mainly being a boy or a girl and playing games they see as boyish or girlish. However, discussions revealed that this is very different at school and with friends they are closer to. Girls sometimes play wrestling and racing, and boys like Sims.
- Games that are part of media franchises: Children’s knowledge about popular movies and music informs their like or dislike of certain games. How boys and girls related to some of the Sing Star songs was very interesting, choosing songs they perceived as suitable for their gender and criticising some of the artists based on their knowledge about these stars from popular media.
- Reading rules: Games are complex interfaces that involve interpreting game rules. The children negotiated these rules in interesting ways, sometimes against those set by the game and at other times to suit their agendas at the moment of play.
These aspects will be used as themes for different chapters in my PhD thesis: Understanding gendered social play with digital games, reading game rules, customization as multimodal practice, and I’ve also got some great data on cellphone games. I am currently working on a draft chapter “Beyond gaming contexts: The role of schooling and gender in children’s game play, differential access to digital games and interpretation of branded cultures in two diverse settings in Cape Town” but it’s way too multi-faceted and will probably be split up into separate chapters.
For the April holiday club I have chosen age-appropriate games with stronger storytelling (Harry Potter, etc.) and creative elements which depend on exploring the game’s interface and customizing elements of the game (EA Create where children design their own game scenes and Sims 2).