In this dissertation, I propose a new type of playful media for children. Based on field work, prototypes, and theoretical development, I define, build, and explore a distinct cross-section of existing and new digital media, tools, and communication devices in order to assess the characteristics, opportunities, and challenges concerning this new collection of media. I use the general term pervasive media systems for children (PMC), taking ‘medium’ in its broadest sense to cover aspects of communication as well as tangible interaction with the physical environment. Tracing trends in children’s popular culture and technology—especially their use of mobile phones and online games, worlds, and social networking sites—I argue that the there is a potential for a new type of medium which focuses on social construction rather than games and instrumental manipulation. I give special attention to the needs of tween girls, i.e. 7-12-year-olds for several reasons: Since they are becoming increasingly heavy users of digital technologies, technologies should be designed to suit their needs. Digital media have traditionally been used more by boys than girls, thus creating a gendered digital divide. However, within some domains, the balance is shifting, with girls using mobile phones and social networking sites more than boys. New digital media should explore and support this shift. New pervasive technologies offer possibilities to tie activities to the physical, informational, and social environment of the children. This runs counter to the narrow interaction space offered in many digital entertainment systems. I identify a set of ideals which PMCs should adhere to, most importantly should the support varying degrees of structure in socially embedded playful activities, also known as transformative social play. Through a series of three experimental prototype systems—StarCatcher, DARE!, and Pervasive Storyboard—I conduct an iterative design process leading to a formulation of pervasive narratives as the general concept which, I argue, holds promise as the core of future tools for social construction, i.e. supporting staging, performing, and sharing of playful activities involving people and artifacts. The method used is a triangulation of the problem domain—pervasive media systems for children—from three perspectives: theory, design, and empirical work. The theoretical concepts and analyses are based on theories of play and games and on the activity-based digital habitat framework. The design activities result in experimental prototypes which realize the concepts and, in turn, allow for iterative evaluation and validation of the theoretical models. The results and methods are discussed as are the limitations of the studies. Related work is reviewed with focus on experimental systems and to a lesser degree theoretical approaches. And finally, I give directions for future work and conclude with a reiteration of the central finding: the potential of pervasive media systems to support the children’s social construction.
børn; digitale medier; pervasive computing; children; digital media
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Dept. of Computer Science, University of Aarhus, 2008