Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media

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"Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures" is a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives. Read more

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Regent Park Television: Kids playing GTA

Tony Walsh’s wonderful blog Clickable Culture points us to the latest episode of Regent Park Television, which is simply unmissable for anybody interested in gamers, gaming communities, and videogames. Before you click the link, here’s some background info: according to Walsh, Regent Park is ‘one of Toronto’s most troubled inner-city neighborhoods’. Not too long ago, some of the residents started an interesting project called Regent Park Television, a video report of things happening in the neighborhood that are regularly uploaded on YouTube.

The episode 'aired' on November 27 2006 is a short “documentary produced by a bunch of youths from Regent Park which tackles the issue about violent video games.” (videogames shown in the video include GTA: San Andreas, Manhunt, also produced by Rockstar Games; 50 Cent Bulletproof, 187 Ride or Die, The Godfather, Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green, Prey, 007 Everything or Nothing, Getting Up).

The video includes short interviews of Regent Park's kids about Grand Theft Auto, a very controversial series produced by Rockstar Games. All the chapters of the GTA saga are intended for Mature audiences only. However, as Walsh notes on his blog, “None of the gamers interviewed in the piece seem old enough to purchase the game in an ESRB-compliant retail store”.

The Regent Park Television's mini-documentary is extremely interesting for a variety of reasons. Apart from the obvious fact that it enables gamers to express their feelings and ideas about a cultural artifact that has been heavily criticized by pundits from all over the world, it gives us some precious feedback on what kids think about videogames' perceived influence.

1) Kids’ perception of GTA. In the introduction to the documentary, Brandon - the young show host - states that the game does not influence kids real-life actions. From the interviews it seems clear that kids love the transgressive aspects of the game, e.g. the fact that GTA allows users to perform actions in the virtual spaces that are sanctioned in real life, such as killing “cops and civilians” and stealing (“hijacking cars”). "What makes the game good is that what you can't do in real life you can do [in the game], one kid said. "I don't want to kill a cop or jack a car, I'm just saying it feels good to be able to do it in a game.” Other comments include: “You can pick up prostitutes”; "You can use handguns” and “Ak-47” and “Baseball bats”.

2) Kids’ videogame playing habits: the kids interviewed in the video said they play GTA a few hours daily on average (Most said that they play for 2-3 hours, one kid said "4 hours per day").

3) Half-way through the video, the kids comically re-enact some scenes from the games, such as “beating up another character to get free money”, “Stealing a bike” or “Picking up prostitutes”, “killing people for respect”. This re-enactment is both funny and eerie, considering that GTA has been linked to real-life crimes in the past.

The video also features "Fred", who plays the role of the “concerned adult”. Fred argues that “kids should not be playing these kinds of games”. The host also asks the kids if their parents are aware that the game is not intended for young audiences. Responses vary considerably: some kids are pretty evasive, other argue that the parents know that they are playing GTA and do not care. One kid, however, mentioned that his parents “are disgusted by the game”. Another kid pointed out that he only plays in his bedroom and “not in the living room”. All the kids agree that the game is exciting, and all stated that they do not feel compelled to emulate in real life the scenes performed by their avatar in GTA. “It’s just a game”, one kid said to the interviewer.

link to the video: The Regent Park TV: GTA

link to an academic book on GTA: The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto: Critical Essays, an academic book published by McFarland Press that collects essays examing the meaning and cultural implications of the Grand Theft Auto video game series.

link to an article published by The Washington Post on GTA: The journalists follows two sets of gamers as they play Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. "'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' Plays To a Generation From the Streets to Suburbia".

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