Finally, a last reflection on Webkinz

So, I wanted to post up the link to the youtube video that we couldn’t quite get to work last Thursday for our presentation.  But before I do so, I wanted to blog about our presentation.

Once someone buys a Webkinz stuffed animal, they are linked to the virtual Webkinz World.  Webkinz appeals to the younger generation, with the average user being age twelve.  While it is designed for a younger target audience, it gets the attention of people of all ages.  Located only at select retail stores, Webkinz stuffed animals can be purchased for anywhere from eight to fifteen dollars.  With the stuffed animal, the customer gets a “secret code” that is unique to their pet.  This code can only be used once to activate their Webkinz account online.  Through the activation, you can officially “adopt” their pet and begin the virtual process.
After purchasing a Webkinz, individuals create a username and password and log into Webkinz World.  Users are directed to the Adoption Center where, with the help of a penguin named Mrs. Birdie, they bring their new virtual pet to life.  Each Webkinz comes attached to its own unique code that corresponds to its “species” and personality.  After adopting their pet, users get a “bio” that discusses the pet’s characteristics, favorite food, best friend, and often their most wanted toy.  Once they have completed the adoption process, users are sent to their pet’s new room.  Owners are given a medium sized room and 2000 KinzCash, the virtual money used throughout Webkinz World, each time they adopt a new pet.  This 2000 KinzCash can be used to decorate the new room or to buy food for your Webkinz.
KinzCash, the currency of Webkinz World, is the main way that Webkinz motivates users to log on daily.  KinzCash is most frequently earned by playing games in the arcade: the longer you make it through the games, the more money you earn.  The game of the day is an arcade game that gets a bonus 10, 15, 20 or 25 percent KinzCash for playing.  The Wheel of Wow and Wishing Well 2 are two arcade games that people can play once a day to gain KinzCash just by luck.  The daily activities are the most addicting way to make money.  Hourly events are listed on the events page, telling the user when they can log in to get “free” KinzCash.  In addition, every eight hours Webkinz users can go to the employment office to do a job.  Selling items in the W or Curio Shops that you have purchased is yet another way that Webkinz owners can collect more KinzCash.  Mining in the Curio Shop allows users to gain a gem collection, but if they already own the gem they have most recently found they have the option of selling it back to Arte, the shop owner, for KinzCash.  Lastly, a Webkinz pet can have a garden that they have to tend to everyday.  About once a week the garden will produce crops that can either be eaten by the pet or sold back to the W Shop for KinzCash.  All of these activities are ways to gain additional KinzCash while in Webkinz World.
Most of the purchases made in Webkinz World are done through the W Shop.  Users can buy clothing, food, toys, and games for their Webkinz.  In addition, they are able to decorate their room through purchases made in the W Shop:  appliances, electronics, decorations (such as paintings or clocks), lighting, paint, carpet, couches, chairs, and tables may be acquired here.  The W Shop offers multiple themes of room decoration.  These themes range from a country antique look to a baseball or football field image.  Each theme has unique pieces to help fill out any room.  Rare items can be purchased from the Curio Shop at higher prices.  The items available in this location change every hour.  Before making a purchase in the W Shop it is best to check the Curio Shop because some items are available at a lower price here.
Items may be purchased at the W Shop to send to friends within Webkinz World via the KinzPost.  Users may send a friend one gift per day, ranging from one to three items. Sending gifts does cost KinzCash; the more you send, the more you have to pay.  Each gift is sent with a prescribed message attached.  These messages range from “Thanks for being such a great friend!” to “For you on your special day!”  Furthermore, users can send notes (without attached gifts) to their friends for a much smaller fee.  These messages are also prescribed but can be personalized by purchasing unique stationary or stickers to attach to your note.
In addition to sending notes and gifts, users can communicate with other Webkinz World inhabitants by visiting the Clubhouse.  There are many different rooms with varying themes within this Clubhouse.  Each room has a unique purpose and a different visitor capacity. Users can meet, “talk” using prescribed messages, and play games with the other visiting individuals while they spend time here.
While Webkinz bridge the gap between really life cuddly stuffed animals and the virtual world, this is not what has given these stuffed animals the most attention.  Article headlines talk about how “Kids [are] hooked on Webkinz World”, “Toy Causes Classroom Distraction” and ask “Is the Webkinz Craze Bad for Kids?”  One article describes Webkinz as being “Beanie Babies on Steroids.”  Webkinz has several things that cause this sensation that the articles talk about.  For example, the Webkinz World has several activities that influence its users to constantly log in during the day to check and see what else they can get for “free.”  While KinzCash does not correlate directly to the dollar, there is a factor that makes its users want to keep building up the money on the account:  they can improve their niche in Webkinz World.  When users log on everyday there are certain things that they can do to make money.  The arcade is the main place where games like “The Wheel of Wow” allow people to once a day spin a wheel and get free KinzCash or goods for their room.  Every hour, there are bonus activities going on that allow users to get additional money.  These daily responsibilities and activities make kids want to log on throughout the day to avoiding missing anything.  This addictive quality is what makes Webkinz so appealing to its users, but also can be frustrating to other people.
While there are many people that find the addictive qualities of Webkinz a problem for children, there are also aspects of Webkinz that are good influences on preteens.  One article entitled, “Webkinz: Big Money Lessons for Little Kids” describes how the KinzCash in Webkinz World is a good influence on children.  The KinzCash teaches children the responsibilities of ownership.  Webkinz furthers these qualities by having an employment office where children can do jobs every eight hours to gain more KinzCash.  The employment office teaches principles based on math and English in a fast paced environment.  The Webkinz World even has a garden that needs tending everyday and produces fruit that the Webkinz can actually eat.  This not only teaches children a sense of responsibility, but also teaches them to tend and nurture something other than themselves and their pet.  These aspects help in the development of children and certainly are a vital part of the Webkinz World.
The activities performed by the inhabitants of Webkinz World relate to many of the essays discussed within our New Media Studies class.  First of all, the article written by Sherry Turkle entitled “Video Games and Computer Holding Power” relates to this virtual world.  She argues that the “most important element behind the games’ seduction [is that] video games are interactive computer microworlds” (Turkle 501).  Webkinz is, in fact, a microworld that is navigated in many ways.  The user’s Webkinz walks through their rooms.  All of the other locations can be reached through a “Things to Do” menu that is always at the lower right corner of the screen.  As Turkle argues, the individual must follow the rules governing Webkinz World, but the user is the ultimate judge of what he or she does within the World.
Secondly, Webkinz helps create the intrinsic motivation that Nelson discusses in his article “No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks.”  He writes that “education ought to be clear, inviting and enjoyable, without booby-traps, humiliations, condescension or boredom.  It ought to teach and reward initiative curiosity, the habit of self-motivation, intellectual involvement.  Students should develop, through practice, abilities to think, argue and disagree intelligently” (Nelson 310).  Webkinz achieves all of these goals.  Not only is it inviting and positive, but it insights curiosity (users are always discovering new nooks of Webkinz World) and allows for intrinsic motivation:  if users would like to purchase something in Webkinz World, they need to simply play these educational games to earn KinzCash.
Lastly, the images of Webkinz World relate very clearly to McLuhan’s argument that the “medium is the message” (203).  The ads throughout Webkinz World often relate to recommended ways of living: “Brush Your Teeth,” “Drink Milk,” “Stay Active,” and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” for example.  Instead of parents telling children what to do, the colorful characters that they interact with on a daily basis are promoting these ideas.  It is much less daunting and, probably, more effective.  A child is more likely to follow the directions of a cartoon character of which they are fond than those of a parent screaming at them.  Thus, McLuhan is entirely correct: the medium through which we receive directions has a profound impact on how we take those instructions. In short, Webkinz creates a positive environment for children to explore and learn.  They are taught many valuable lessons such as responsibility, patience, and skills for school.  The inhabitants of Webkinz World are enriched by their time spent there.

To further understand the world of the Webkinz, watch our video: here.

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on April 30th, 2008 |6 Comments »

A Vision of Today

In the last class we watched the film, “A Vision of Students Today”.  Unlike a lot of the students in class, I liked the film.  I felt that their method of showing the numbers and facts about students was very powerful.  It literally put a face to every since piece of information gathered about college students today.  While some of the things didn’t always make sense (like when the hours of the day added up to be 26.5 hours)…I felt like this made the video all the more powerful.

Since I am currently taking an introductory class in Anthropology, I really liked looking at the video from an Anthropological prospective.  What I mean by this, is that when I was watching the film I felt like I was an outsider observing a new culture.  While I am a college student, I suddenly brushed that fact a side and became an Anthropologist noting facts about this class.  While some of the pieces of information was person specific, I felt that in a way all college students can relate to the overall message being transmitted.  college doesn’t always make sense.

It might leave you in debt, stressed out, misusing technology and not knowing what you are going to do next…but at the same time, ironically, we are sitting in class, putting our money to use, ignoring our computers in front of us and watching a film about people like us.  Being a college student certainly helped the message impact me, but the film also allowed me to observe students from a different perspective.  A perspective of facts that you don’t know what to do it, but that is still different from what you used to know.

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on April 9th, 2008 |13 Comments »

Immigration

If only we could all escape to the perfect planet full of super intelligent people and everything you’d want from a planet. Not. I thought it was interesting how this story grabbed the readers attention by describing how people don’t come back from Kimon once they have arrived there. And how salaries are a hundred times better on Kimon rather than Earth. Even down to a breeze on Kimon smelling like perfume. This ideal planet has everything a person could want, like how the Bishop images the building like the Ritz. But, what I found interesting was the selective nature of who is allowed on Kimon. In order to be accepted, a specific IQ is required. This means that only the top percentile of the Earth’s population is invited to live on this super planet. This automatically makes Kimonian’s better than Earthlings. This reminded me of Anthropology when we talk about Colonialism and how certain societies feel like they are better than others. Anthropologists avoid skewing their data when they observe other societies but being unbiased outside resources. The Kimonians took an approach much like the colonial mentality, where they are better than everyone else.

Another part of this “Immigrant” story that caught my attention was the discussion of letters. I though that this was remarkable how it described the process on how letters are transported from Kimon to Earth. The tube landing on the desk of the mail clerk, just after he or she has finished a day of work. This reminded me of Santa Claus. Sounds like a great idea to have a fat man roll down a chimney to give presents to little kids just after they fall asleep. But seriously? I just thought that this was something more related to class….how letter writing became a form of new technology in its ability to travel from one planet to the next. Certainly we have discussed how e-mail and computers have changed the old fashioned pen & paper letter….but planet traveling tubes take it to a whole new level.

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On a completely unrelated topic, I wanted to discuss my final project a little bit. Yesterday and today I started liking a stop-motion film….just to see if I could do it before I began the real thing. Sure enough I made a few seconds clip of a dancing piece of clay. I’ve got some really good ideas on how I will bring the real-life Webkinz stuffed animal to life and compare it to the computer animated Webkinz on the computer. I’m hoping that the result will be a youtube video that ties ideas of the real world and the virtual world together. Now that I have the ideas in the works…I think its time to start to bring them to life.

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on March 31st, 2008 |1 Comment »

Deschooling by Destructuring

Illich made a lot of interesting comments in “Deschooling Society”.  I primarily liked his discussion about the problems with schools these day.  I agree that people learn practical knowledge and knowledge essentials just by going through everyday life.  I feel like the most difficult part about schooling is how you are forced to conform to a structure.  For example, tests that require you to spit back the information just as the teacher has taught them to you.  This prevents students from grasping the information and relating them to other things or new ideas.  I really liked Illich’s line: “we can depend on self-motivated learning instead of employing teachers to bribe or compel a student to find the time and the will to learn.”  I think that it is true that when people become interested in the material that they are learning they have more motivation.  We were actually discussing this concept in my business class today. We were talking about theories and techniques that managers use in companies to get their workers to do what they want.  In class we were discussing how one company we studied gave workers stock options after they worked for one year.  According to my teacher, this was a bribe given by the owner.  According to some of my classmates, having a say in the company helped to further motivate the workers.  Wherever people find their motivation, it is important that they find it…whether its in the classroom or at the work place.

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on March 24th, 2008 |1 Comment »

Work/Play & Dr. Seuss

I’ve thought a lot about our class discussion on work and play.  And after reading Two Tramps in Mud Time I came up with another thought.  While the enjoyment that comes from play is its suspension from the reality of the world that surrounds you and the sense of accomplishing someonething, it can also be a task that can bounce in and out from being work or play.  If you play something long enough it can become work.  If you work for a short period of time it can feel like play.  The fine line between work and play is so fine that you can find yourself bouncing between something that is fun and something that is a required task.

So, today I saw the movie for Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who with my roommates little sister (the one that started this Webkins madness).  Now it might be the fact that I’ve always loved this book or that I just saw the movie for the first time…but I couldn’t help but think about it while doing the Viola reading.  His discussion on how things are precieved, particularally with peoples existence.  My favorite part about the Dr. Seuss book is how Horton realizes this whole new microscopic world, Whoville.  Most people just believe in their own world, like Horton and his other jungle friends.  But once he hears the tiny sound from Whoville on a speck, he realizes that what seems insagnificant to him is the entire world for someone else.  Somewhere in Viola’s discussion about life as parts and being able to edit it, I thought about Horton trying to help protect this tiny speck from harm.  In his own way, Horton is editting the lives of the citizens of Whoville and suddenly creating an “individual existence that is continuous”, much like Viola stated in his first sentence.  I feel like in both the movie I saw this afternoon and the reading I got a sense of thinking about our existence in relation to others.  Somehow I find it comforting to think about.

Another fun connection that I made while reading Violas article was with the concept in holism.  The article describes holism and how we think of computer technologies in terms of a whole, as suppose to the individual structures that make them up.  In terms of cultural anthropology (as I’ve learned in my Anthropology class) holism is based on the concept of observing the pieces of a culture and putting the pieces together to drive observations about the entire culture.  Hearing someone describe holism in relation to computers is quite strange after talking about entire cultures.  It sort of makes people and cultures seem like computer systems.  It strange how we use the same word to describe such a vast range of concepts.

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on March 19th, 2008 |2 Comments »

Frames and Games

I’m posting this now since the internet in my room has decided to stop working….

After class, I was remembering things that we had discussed about McCloud’s comic. I liked how McCloud appeared directly in the comic and was talking to us. I felt like he was more personal by addressing us rather than just ignoring us. However, I feel like this made McCloud feel like a character. He is only comparable to authors that speak directly to the readers. While other authors might display a similar message regarding frames, I felt like McCould was most successful by physically putting a frame in the picture and describing it….instead of other authors who verbally just describe the computer frame. The computer frame is a hard concept because we are blocked from seeing it. We have aspects of our computers that are more relatable to other things that make the screen more relatable. For example, we have our desktop with a start or tool menu. This helps to not only direct us to other parts of the computer, but reminds us of a control panel like a television changer remote control. This whole desktop flattens everything to one image in a non-3D way that makes it hard to see the potential of the computer screen.

Compared to McCloud’s comic, article for today was not as enjoyable but still was interesting . In the article, I particularly liked how it referred to films and relates it to experiences on the computer. I also liked the section related to suspending yourself from reality through the computer. It might be because I have never played games like World of Warcraft, but I felt like this article gave me insight on why people play such games.

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on March 18th, 2008 |2 Comments »

twitter

So, I got one of those twitter things.  I figured I’d put it up here in case anyone else in the class wanted to be my friend on it:

http://twitter.com/merelanger

Published in:Uncategorized |on March 17th, 2008 |Comments Off on twitter

The World of Webkinz

As a final project, I have decided to work with Jessica Hedrick and together we will become experts of Webkinz World. The idea to work with these cute little toys that are linked to a huge virtual world sparked when my roommate was constantly playing games online to help her little sister make more “kinzcash”. Curious about what she was doing, suddenly we all found ourselves surrounding her computer and addicted to playing the games. Suddenly I found myself curious about what made this whole virtual world so addicting.

In order to gain access into Webkinz World, you have to first go to your local gift or card shop to get your dream stuffed animal. With the stuffed animal, you get a unique secret code that allows you to gain access from www.webkinz.com. Once in the website you see your stuffed animal “pet” in the virtual world. Your pet has his own room waiting to be furnished, but furnishings just don’t appear, you need money to buy your belongings. There are tons of ways to make money, known as “kinzcash”, in Webkinz World, but the main way is through playing new versions of your favorite Internet games. The over thirty-six available games include versions Solitaire, Mahjong, Snood, Collapse, Snake and Mrs. Pac Man. The further you go in the game, the more money you make and the more stuff you can buy to treat your pet. These aspects are just one of the many reasons that Webkinz are so addicting to the people that play them.

Webkinz World’s addicting nature is related to how it incorporates many different games in a successful way. The physical stuffed animal has created a sensation much like Beanie Baby stuffed animals. But what makes Webkinz more like “Beanie Babies on Steroids” is how it links onto the Internet where you have to take care of your pet, much like the Tamagotchi and Neopets. In addition to taking care of your pet, you also get to furnish its environment and give them jobs and responsibilities much like The Sims. The real catch is how Ganz, the founding company of Webkinz, has incorporated all of these games together in an educational way. The games teach kids about math, spellings and puzzles. Jobs and everyday activities in the virtual world teach children about responsibilities like brushing your teeth, taking baths and sleeping. Webkinz surely include everything that not only children but anybody could enjoy out of a game.

To help explain all of these multiple parts to the Webkinz World, Jessica and I have decided to create a www.youtube.com video following the life of a Webkinz pet and all of the things it can do. This video will flip between screen shots of the virtual world and the physical stuffed animal sitting in one of the rooms we have created online. We are also planning on doing further research from several online newspaper articles talking about the surge Webkinz have created among young children. By becoming experts about the Webkinz World, we hope to present all of our information to the class and help inform them on why this stuffed animal stands out from all the other toys in children’s toy chests.

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on March 13th, 2008 |1 Comment »

Comics

I really like McCloud’s approach to explaining time and how to express things in comic form.  The set-up like a comic telling a story not only made it entertaining to read, but also helped to clearly describe what he was trying to say.  The picture reinforced his ideas with the humor of the commentary of the other people in the strip.  McCloud made a lot of really good points about things that often go unnoticed while someone is reading a comic.  For example, I never really thought about the impact that a border has on a particular frame in the strip.  Next time I find myself reading a comic, I feel like I will notice these details that I had never observed before.

After class on Tuesday I was thinking about our discussion about how “most teachers don’t expect high performance from students”.  Most of the people in class discussed how much the expectation effects the students’ outcome.  It got me thinking about the author’s choice to use the word “expect” to gage a student’s performance.  I feel like the expectations aren’t relevent to the result of a student.  For example, I feel like people often have expectations that are different than the result….much like when people tell you “don’t judge a book by its cover”.  You can judge and expect one thing that is different from the text inside.  I feel like whatever a teacher expects from a student is not relevant from the performance of that student.  I also agree with a lot of the students in class on how each individual has a different definition of “high performance” which makes it hard to set a standard for an entire class.  The high performance outcome comes after and regardless of a teachers’ expectations and are judged based on many other factors.  This includes the environment that is available for the students to learn in, what is available to the student, how the material is presented and the interest that individual has on learning the material that is presented.

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on March 12th, 2008 |Comments Off on Comics

Think Fast

I found the Mindstorms article interesting with its approach to looking at computers specifically for their impact to children & education.  I think Papert has a good point when discusses how children learn how to think with help from the guidance of computers.  I agree when he says that by teaching computers how to think, the children are inadvertently teaching themselves different ways to think.  I believe that this is true, because children today think differently than the generations before them.  This is because of the way that they are brought up but a lot the way that they learn.  There is no question that adults today work quicker and expect things to be done faster than the generations before them.  This is realted to their upbringing and how they learn.  Children today are taught to work with computers and technology at a fast pace.  E-mail instead of writing a letter.  Text message.  AIM.  We teach computers to do things instantly for us, and in return we accept ourselves to work faster.  Monkey see, monkey do.  Or something like that…

Published in:New Media Studies Class |on March 11th, 2008 |1 Comment »
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