The changing face of
children’s play culture
A Qualitative study with children
aged 8 to 14
Table of Content
BACKGROUND ................................................................................................................................... 3
ABOUT THE STUDY .........................................................................................................................................................3
THE RESPONDENTS ........................................................................................................................................................4
BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE ABOUT CHILDREN’S CULTURE, PLAY AND DIGITAL
MEDIA ................................................................................................................................................... 5
BOYS, COMPUTER GAMES AND SOCIAL INTERACTION .....................................................................................6
MOBILE PHONES AND SIMULTANEOUS DIALOGUES ...........................................................................................8
TECHNOLOGY AS TOOLS FOR CHILDREN’S CULTURE ..................................................................................... 10
THE FINDINGS OF THE SURVEY ..................................................................................................12
GAMES .............................................................................................................................................................................. 12
Realistic and unrealistic games ............................................................................................................... 15
Mobile phone games........................................................................................................................................17
PLAY AND THE SOCIAL DIMENSION ........................................................................................................................ 18
Game partners on the Internet.................................................................................................................. 21
GRAPHICS, AUDIO AND THE PHYSICAL APPEARANCE OF THE PRODUCTS ............................................. 22
Audio .......................................................................................................................................................................... 24
The physical appearance of the products....................................................................................... 24
Practical conditions ......................................................................................................................................... 26
COMMUNICATION ........................................................................................................................................................ 26
The computer....................................................................................................................................................... 26
The mobile phone ............................................................................................................................................. 29
HOMEWORK AND SCHOOL ON THE INTERNET ................................................................................................. 32
THE APPEARANCE OF THE MOBILE PHONE ........................................................................................................ 33
INTERCHANGING THE DIFFERENT MEDIA ............................................................................................................ 34
APPENDIX 1 – INTERVIEW “PLATES” ........................................................................................ 36
What is the significance of digital and interactive technology to children’s play culture, learning and
Technological products are increasingly penetrating the everyday lives of children. Today, the use of
interactive media in play and learning is natural for children who have been quick to accept these
media into their lives. They use them to play, to access information, and to communicate with their
environment. Take the Internet for example, in the US alone the number of children using the Web is
expected to reach 44 million by 20051.
Due to the social, cultural and demographic changes that have taken place in the past two decades,
the conditions for children’s play culture and social interaction have changed, and these changes are
influencing children’s choice of media.
However, there is very little research to date that has examined how children actually use these
technologies, what motivates children to adopt or reject specific technologies, or why these products
are significant to children’s development and culture.
About the study
The study consists of two parts: a field study and a literature review. The objective of the field study
was to gain insight into children’s use of digital media, as a supplement to the existing international
research that is presented in the literature review. This report presents the findings of the field study:
a qualitative study with 8 to 14 year-old respondents, which focused on how children use a range of
technological products, and more specifically, how they acquire knowledge about the products and
how they communicate this knowledge to each other.
Children were asked to participate in a semi-structured interview. An interview guide was prepared
along with a number of “plates” with pictures of the technological products. These “plates” were
intended to support the children during the interviews2. The products discussed were PlayStation,
Nintendo, Game Boy, mobile phones, and computers. The report presents the attitudes and opinions
expressed by the children with regard to these technological products.
The most significant finding from the literature review was the impact of social and cultural changes
on children’s play culture, and thus their choice of digital media, digital toys and virtual play arenas.
Gilutz, S. Nielsen, J. (2002): Usability of Websites for Children: 70 Design Guidelines. Neilsen Norman Group, CA.
These findings are presented briefly in the ‘background knowledge’ section that follows, but the full
discussion is available as a separate report.
Both parts of the study were conducted in summer 2003 by Camilla Balslev Nielsen MSc and Carsten
Jessen PhD from The Danish University of Education, on behalf of the LEGO Learning Institute.
The survey was conducted with a group of 36 respondents aged 8–14 and drawn from two clubs and
a recreation centre in the Copenhagen area. There were approximately as many girls as boys in the
group. We did not make any demands on the children’s technical skills, as our intention was to gain
insight into the attitudes and opinions of randomly selected children to the afore-mentioned products.
In this part of the project, our intention was not to prepare an overview of the importance of
technology to children internationally, but to understand how and why it is significant to girls and boys
of different ages in a western society. The second part of the study, the literature review, has included
surveys that look at the importance of geographical differences.
Background knowledge about children’s culture, play and digital media
In the latter half of the twentieth century, a number of changes took place in children’s upbringing
and social interaction. In some cases, these changes can be classified as radical and had a
significant effect on children’s opportunities to spend time playing together. As a result, children’s
culture and the traditions associated with it have changed, and this can help to explain the
considerable importance children attach to the media in question today. Some of the most important
differences between children’s lives previously and today are:
Children’s lives previously Children’s lives today
· children often in large groups · fewer children per family
· few organised activities · fewer large groups of children
· good contact between young and older · less free time for adults
children · more organised activities, more school
· young children learned a range of games · less contact between young and older
from the older children children
· games were often played outside · children are more often together with
· numerous games involving physical children of their own age
action · children spend more time indoors,
· playmates found in the immediate games have moved into the home
neighbourhood · playmates from a much larger
· few yet well-defined social relations geographical area
· day-to-day life distinguished by changing
Seen from the perspective of play and play culture, the most important change is the fact that large
groups involving children of a wide range of ages (which we traditionally recognised from villages or
streets in larger towns, for example) no longer play the same role in children’s lives. In many places in
the industrial world, groups of this kind are almost impossible to find outside institutions and other
contexts organised by adults.
It is important to stress that the differences cited above are not caused by the media but stem from a
variety of other factors, including the demographical and social changes that have taken place in
western society during the twentieth century. For example, families now tend to have fewer children,
which means that more and more children are growing up with fewer older siblings with whom to
share their everyday lives. Other factors stem from purely political decisions. For example, the Danish
authorities have decided that there must be separate arrangements for children under and over ten
years of age (the “school leisure arrangement” and the “junior clubs”) because children in the upper
age groups do not need the same level of comfort and care as younger children and can therefore
join supervised leisure arrangements with fewer adults per child. It is also worth noting that
pedagogical theories have had an effect on the dissolution of the large groups of children. In schools,
children are thus divided up into classes on the basis of their age, as this approach is considered
most beneficial to learning.
Whatever the causes or reasons may be, the effect is that children are spending more and more time
with children of their own age and adults, and less time in the company of children from different age
groups. In reality, this constitutes a radical break with cultural and historical norms of which we do not
yet know the consequences. As far back in human history as we can trace, older children have had a
central role to play in the bringing up of young children, and large groups of children have always
been of appreciable significance for the ability of children to assimilate the culture in which they are
Children’s culture is dependent on the cultural heritage handed down from one generation of children
to the next. Children’s play culture has been most seriously affected by the changes in children’s
development conditions. When older children no longer feature in the environment of young children,
this means that the cultural teachers disappear, and with them, much of the inspiration for play and –
in particular – important information about how to set up and organise a game. The cultural heritage
that was handed down from older to younger children through the generations is thus weakened. This
is the reason why it is less usual for us to find children playing the same games that we played when
we were young.
However, this does not mean that children have stopped playing altogether, or that play culture is no
longer passed on from generation to generation. Children are simply seeking inspiration elsewhere,
and it is precisely here that the media come into the picture. The media and toys become important
to children because they stimulate the impulse to play. In a way, it could be said that they function as
a “replacement” for the cultural heritage that was previously supplied by other, older children. This
means that children today cannot do without toys and media when they play – on their own or with
other children. That is not to say that the media and toys repress traditional games and play culture,
but rather that they move in and “fill in the gaps”. Media and digital toys are often good play tools in
that they inspire children to interact socially and play together. Computer games are one illustrative
example of this principle.
Boys, computer games and social interaction
When it comes to computer games, boys seem often to enjoy games distinguished by non-stop high-
speed action on the screen. The games in this category, which have been on the market for more
than 20 years, seem simple and repetitive, and many adults are principally struck by the violent
elements to be found in many of them. However, computer games are, after all, still games, and
should be compared with other games. For example, look at table tennis. This is very frequently
played at a very fast pace, and is difficult to follow unless you know the rules. If you simply look at the
movement of the ball back and forth across the table, this game also seems boring and repetitive. But
we all know that table tennis is not just about watching a ball bouncing back and forth. Table tennis
can be very exciting to watch – especially if the players are both skilled – but it is much more fun to
play it yourself. Again, very few people play table tennis simply to win, to beat others. People play
because it is a fun way to spend time together. In other words, it is all about play. If you watch a group
of boys playing a computer game, you will see that their interaction and behaviour are not all that
different from those you will see around other games. The group closely follows the game and
comments on its development and the performance of the player(s).
In other words, playing computer games is a social activity that is closely linked to children’s social
interaction and play culture. Children sometimes play computer games on their own – in the same
way as they watch TV and read books on their own – as children often use media to pass the time
when they are bored. Just like adults. But there are very few children who would rather play computer
games, watch TV or read books than spend time together with their friends and playmates. For
children today, it is not a question of “either …, or …”. Using media does not necessarily mean
choosing to ignore friends. When boys play computer games, for example, it is typical for them to do
so in a group, and unless the surrounding environment prevents it, this group will consist of boys of
different ages – as is often the case in computer or games cafés. A part of the reason why these
games are popular is the fact that interest in them brings together boys of different ages. In this
context, young boys have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with older boys and as such,
computer games actually help to fix the place of the boys’ group in play culture. The same applies to
other media. Children arrange “video evenings” or “video nights” where they get together to watch a
stack of videos. They go to the cinema together, or they use TV programmes as an indirect reason for
social interaction when they play together on the basis of what they have each watched at home.
Media are thus more than simply things to use to keep boredom at bay. As explained above, they are
also tools for playing. The clearest example of this is the computer game – perhaps precisely
because it is a game. In the same way as other types of games, computer games can be said to be
tools created for, and best used in, social interaction.
As mentioned previously, the playing of action games is just one example of how media and toys act
as tools for play and social interaction. It is also a good example of a type of cultural quality that plays
a major role in children’s everyday lives, but which until now we have not spent much time examining.
Evaluated on the basis of standard quality criteria, action games fall well short of the mark as they are
repetitive and perhaps devoid of content (as is clearly demonstrated in older types of action games
such as Pac Man and Space Invaders). These games are almost always lacking the “good story” we
usually associate with quality culture. It is not until they are evaluated according to a different set of
criteria that their special qualities become apparent. These qualities are the ability to act as a means
to generate play or what can be called a play atmosphere. From this perspective, they resemble
countless other cultural tools to be found within play culture. These include, for example, tools that
give the body a special attitude (swinging, or simply turning around and around), tools that stimulate
fear or laughter (ghost stories and jokes), excitement (games like “tag”) or intense concentration on a
task (construction toys). Traditionally, these tools have been handed down from generation to
generation, but in step with the weakening of the cultural heritage, children are increasingly drawing
inspiration and finding tools elsewhere – in computer games, toys, video films and TV series, for
This is not to say that the media or toys constitute some kind of complete “recipe” for playing. They
also provide inspiration and tools even when children deviate from the “script”. These tools are still
dependent on an existing play culture that consists of both tools and skills in using them to create
play attitudes. For example, action games do not generate play in themselves. Children may soon find
them boring if they play them alone, but when they are included in the social interaction between a
group of boys, they are excellent at laying foundations for play. The same applies to a good horror
film when, for instance, a group of girls arrange a video evening where they can watch a number of
On this basis, it is possible to discuss the quality of a culture product in relation to play, and it can be
said that cultural and aesthetic products contain quality when they create – or contribute to creating
– a play atmosphere. Good play tools must inspire activity, togetherness and play, and today, there is
a cultural challenge in designing play tools and toys that children can use and develop in games.
Mobile phones and simultaneous dialogues
The mobile phone is the latest digital medium to have found favour with children, and it is not just a
play tool. Of course, children can play games on mobile phones and use them to exchange jokes and
stories via SMS, but they also serve another purpose that can be traced back to the dissolution of the
large group as the framework of an important part of children’s social lives.
Until now, we have primarily viewed social interaction as simultaneous presence in the same physical
area. Togetherness is all about being in the same place and being able to look one another in the
eye. In this context, we often view the new communication media as disruptive and detrimental to
close social relations in the present as these media cause disturbance, distract and lead attention
away from the actual physical interaction. In fact, it is often claimed that the new media constitute one
of the most significant reasons why children and young people today can only concentrate for very
Children are described as “zappers” who focus briefly on one thing before turning their attention to
something else. This is an obvious, but not necessarily correct, assumption based on a superficial
interpretation of the behaviour patterns of children and young people. However, it is not surprising
that this behaviour is interpreted as superficiality and volatility in social relations, because it is here
that a central generation difference is in effect.
A great many (but not all) children and young people display particularly finely developed skills in
creating continuity and coherence in their social relations precisely by using the new communication
media. The mobile phone is the best example, because it allows children and young people to master
contemporary everyday life, which is often distinguished by constant changes in social relations and
physical space. For example, children move between their homes with their parents, brothers and
sisters, their school with its classes and different learning groups, and their leisure time with a range
of activities, and, possibly, a part time job. It is quite demanding to maintain continuous social contact
and group membership under these conditions.
Traditionally, we have viewed this everyday life as a “diversified” life that makes high demands on
children and young people as regards their ability to adapt to different circumstances and function
appropriately in different social contexts – a process that starts as soon as they enter a day-care
programme. Until now, these social contexts have been separated both temporally and spatially, and
seen from the perspective of the individual, everyday life has been a series of moves from space to
space. The new communication media make a fundamental change that alters the serial connections
to parallel connections. Individuals can participate in several social groupings at the same time. For
example, people can be home with their families while simultaneously sending and receiving SMS
messages and thus participating in their social lives with their friends.
The way children and young people use these media is generally not distinguished by confusion and
zapping, but by something else that older generations may have difficulty in identifying and
understanding – namely, simultaneous processes. It is not unusual for children and young people to
watch TV, participate in Internet chatrooms, send and receive SMS messages and do their homework
– all at the same time. This simultaneous behaviour applies in particular to social relations and
communication distinguished by what we could call “simultaneous dialogues”. Individuals are not
simply zapping from one thing to the next, rather they are running multiple interactions in parallel.
It is primarily in this way that children and young people use the new digital communication media.
They increasingly participate in simultaneous dialogues back and forth across physical and temporal
boundaries. These dialogues are extremely varied in intensity and duration. They cover everything
from quick SMS messages, which are used to co-ordinate activities and arrange physical meetings,
through chatroom participation, which often leads to intensive personal conversations, to long-term e-
mail correspondence, which can stretch out for years, but still maintains social relations.
Participation in so many conversations simultaneously demands finely developed concentration skills,
overview and an ability to adapt and change. These are qualities that most children and young
people seem to be able to develop with relatively few problems, and it should be stressed that this
development does not automatically strip children of the ability to enter into close, concentrated
social relations with a limited number of people at other times. It is true that the stereotype of
confused, restless and constantly zapping children and young people does apply in some cases, but
these constitute the exception rather than the rule. Those children who cannot cope with the new
type of social life involving numerous changes make up a new group of socially disadvantaged
people in our society. Moreover, if these children cannot cope with using digital technology to solve
the problems caused by the numerous changes in their daily lives, they will be severely
disadvantaged in the future as they risk being excluded from an important part of the social
interaction with their colleagues.
Technical development will make it increasingly simple and increasingly common to maintain
dialogue across physical boundaries, and this will naturally expand in scope and come to include
other age groups because, as mentioned above, it solves a problem for children and young people.
However, it simultaneously creates other problems. It may be that attempts are made to prevent
pupils in schools from using the new communication media during teaching by banning mobile
phones and blocking chatrooms and surfing on the Internet. In itself, this will be a difficult struggle
which will probably not solve the actual problem. It will not change the fact that pupils will feel a kind
of “social claustrophobia” if school classrooms become “closed rooms” from a social perspective.
In this regard, the education system is facing something of a challenge which, in particular, makes
high demands on our ability to break with convention. For example, convention states that teaching
and learning must take place in closed communicative systems, and that the advantage of teaching
is that it can close itself in, shut the world out and thus stimulate concentration and focus on the
matter in hand. Naturally, such situations are necessary when children are to learn – but not all the
time, and not as the only option.
Correspondingly, the current development may mean that children’s play culture will be distinguished
by virtual games at an increasingly early stage as these are not dependent on long-term physical
interaction. It is difficult to develop good games if interaction between children is short-term and
varied, but mobile technology can help to maintain contact across the changing physical boundaries
and contexts in the same way as is already happening with communication between children.
Technology as tools for children’s culture
While it is true that the phenomenon of large groups of children in the same physical space is under
pressure, this is being matched by the simultaneous development of the virtual relationships which
children and young people are starting to use. The “virtual” often functions as a support in and for
social relations because when children and young people move and interact in various physical
spaces, there is a need for contact that is not dependent on physical location. By way of extension,
there is also a need for the ability to co-ordinate actions. Mobiles are often used during transport from
one place to the next – i.e. in situations where friends have been separated. Mobile phones are used
to keep contact lines open and particularly to keep information flowing through the groups of friends
and acquaintances. It may well be that the members of the group are physically distanced from one
another, but SMS messages and the like help to maintain the flow of information about large and
small events and social arrangements.
Without mobile communication technology, children and young people today would be much more
isolated than they actually are. In other words, mobile phones provide a solution to a problem and
keep groups together, even though their members may have been split up on account of the social,
physical and cultural changes that have taken place in society. On the other hand, this means that
children and young people today are dependent on mobile phones if they are to participate in the
communication and social life of the group. However, this dependency is not solely attributable to the
invention of the mobile phone.
Media, toys and digital technology are playing an increasingly major role in children’s lives in the form
of tools which, in a range of guises, are woven into the fabric of everyday life and play culture. These
tools are given to children in the form of commercial products rather than as a part of the cultural
heritage. Naturally, this cannot but give rise to problems that are relatively new in children’s play
culture, but which we already know from more-or-less all other areas of society. Play and games are
now more linked to consumption and a commercial market than ever before. To an ever-increasing
extent, children have to buy access to games and groups of playmates. This development cannot be
changed by the fact that adults do not approve of – or are morally outraged by – the consumption
habits of children and young people. This does not remove their need for the products. Similarly, it is
too simplistic to claim that this need has been created by the toy and media industries. The growing
market for toys and media products for children is an indication of significant and fundamental
changes in children’s personal development and play culture. It is not the cause in itself.
The findings of the survey
Children use technological products for many different things. For example, mobile phones are not
just communication tools, they are games machines as well. We therefore found it necessary to divide
the findings of the survey into sections so as to present a clearer overview of the way children use the
Children play on their computers, Game Boys, PlayStations and mobile phones, but they have
different expectations and requirements of the media.
(Interviewer) When you play Counter-Strike, what do you like best about the game?
(Peter) It’s a sort of police, FBI against terrorists game, so the best thing is that there’s lots of blood in
it – and it sprays everywhere.
(Thomas) The best thing is that you can join together and that it’s got a police force instead of war.
(Peter) Multiplay is really good. That’s the best thing about it.
(Hans) But there are some bad things in it, too. Because people can sometimes just get blasted
straight through walls, so all I can see is legs sticking out.
(Thomas) Yes, that’s not so good. But it’s a really old game.
(Interviewer) Why is it bad to see legs sticking out of a wall?
(Hans) Because that couldn’t happen in real life.
(Thomas) I think it’s pretty feeble.
(Peter) The more realistic it is, the cooler it is. We’re really into the graphics.
A great many aspects come into the picture when children are asked to explain what they like about
a game, and why they choose to play it. In the example above, three 9-year-old boys talk about the
“gameplay”, the graphic effects and the social dimension of the game. This means that the boys look
at the different aspects of the game as a coherent whole when giving their evaluations.
To gain broader understanding of the importance of the different aspects to the children, we have
chosen to divide this section up into the following sub-sections: gameplay, the social dimension,
knowledge sharing, graphics and functionality. Some overlaps may appear in some of these sub-
sections, as it is not always practically possible to separate the different aspects. For instance, in the
example above, the boys think that both the graphics and content of the game were weak as the
dead person’s legs stuck out of the wall. This has to do with the fact that the graphics make the game
seem unrealistic as the graphic expression does not match the boys’ experience from real life. Even
though the game is unrealistic and weak in this area, the boys do not simply drop the game as in
other areas it does live up to their expectations or can fit into a context that makes sense to them. For
instance, the boys like the game because it gives them the chance to play together in groups through
the multiplayer function. This means that in this case, the social dimension is of greater significance to
the value of the game than its graphic expression.
We will take a closer look at this in the following sections, where we will start by examining the
attitudes and opinions of the children about the gameplay aspect of the game.
The children switch between a number of games. Some prefer a specific type of game such as sports
games, while others would rather play strategy games or “shooter” games. In addition, many of the
children switch between types, either because they want to or because situations arise that prevent
them from getting to their preferred medium or game. For example, the children we asked from the
clubs are only allowed to use the computer for half an hour at a time. This means that some children
choose to play other games on a PlayStation or mobile phone while they wait for their turn.
One of the 12-year-old boys explains that he prefers strategy games because he finds that these
games provide more of a mental challenge than shooter games.
I like strategy games because … you have to use your brain a lot more. It’s not about destroying and
killing all the time.
(Kasper, aged 12)
Kasper thus thinks it is important to play games that challenge his mind. The strategy games live up
to his expectations, which is the reason why he often chooses to play games of this kind. During the
holidays, when he does not have access to the computer, he plays the platform game Super Mario on
his Game Boy. In contrast to Kasper, Karen (aged 9), Sanne (aged 11) and Sofie (aged 12) all think it is
more exciting to play shooter games.
It means I can really get involved in the game. If it’s this kind of shooter game, then I’m almost really
afraid of getting shot. I think it’s so exciting if you really get involved in the game.
(Karen, aged 9)
(Sanne) Yes, and shooter games. Counter-Strike’s great.
(Interviewer) What makes Counter-Strike great?
(Sanne) It’s got good graphics.
(Sofie) I think it’s fun to run around shooting each other.
(Sanne) Yes, and is really fun with the sort of “Look, I won”.
(Sanne) I guess it’s just the desire to … just sort of shoot people, but not do it in reality. And there’s all
that about people saying that it’s the game’s fault. That’s just a bad excuse because you don’t react as
much if you have tried playing it. Just look at all those kids down in Iraq or on the other side of the
Sanne and Sofie play a lot of different games on the computer, the Game Boy and the Internet. They
think shooter games are fun because they allow them to act wild and shoot people. This is rather
surprising, as previous surveys constantly stated that girls did not enjoy shooter games. The girls are
well aware that the game world is not real life, and that there are all kinds of prejudices against
games of this kind. This is an aspect we will examine more closely in the second phase of the project.
Shooter games are new and exciting for Karen, who really becomes involved in them. She is not an
experienced player as she does not have access to such games at home. This means that she can
only play shooter games at the club or at her friends’ houses. The “Pixeline” and “Fætter BR” games
were her favourites for many years. She likes them because they are packed with lots of little tasks.
Like Karen, Marie (aged 9) has just started coming to the club. Marie has more games at home than
Karen. She likes platform games such as “Donald Duck” and “Buzz Lightyear” where you have to
overcome all kinds of obstacles and find hidden paths.
(Marie) There are lots of exciting things, and there are lots of things that you can find out. For example,
you can come in through a bookcase over there by the door. It’s really fun to find out what you can do.
(Interviewer) How do you find out?
(Marie) When I used to play it (referring to the “Buzz Lightyear” game) you went into the living room,
and you could jump up on a chair if you pressed a certain key. I think it’s the one with C something or
other on it. If you press that one, then you fly all the way back and end up on a bookcase. Then you
have to … there are all sorts of coins and things up there you have to collect.
According to Marie, it is fun to have to look all over a room to find new things and new trails. She has
played the Buzz Lightyear game a lot, but always stops at the same point in the game and then starts
again from the beginning. This is because she meets an obstacle she cannot get past. In addition,
she does not know how to call up a game she has saved.
(Marie) Here, you’re up against a plane, and I really don’t know what to do. Anyway, it’s normally time
for dinner when I get there.
(Interviewer) Can’t you save the game?
(Marie) Yes, but I don’t know how to go in and get it again once I’ve saved it. I’ve saved lots and lots of
This means that Marie has often tried to save a game and then open it again later, but she has still not
found the solution to this problem. Marie is an only child and her parents cannot help her with the
computer. This is why she has to start from the beginning every time.
(Marie) My mum and dad don’t understand it, and I’m an only child.
(Interviewer) So it’s better to play on your own than with your mum and dad?
(Marie) Yes, because they don’t understand games.
Marie has found that her parents cannot help her to find the solution to her problem with the game,
and as she does not have any brothers or sisters, she chooses to deal with the problem as best she
can. This means starting from the beginning every time.
Marie wants a skateboarding game she has seen in a video shop. The club has the game, but Marie
never plays computer games at the club so she has not tried it yet. According to Nik (aged 11) and
Lars (aged 13), the skateboarding games “Tony Hawks” and “Air Blade” are fun to play because they
are all about doing skateboarding tricks. We will return to this in more detail later. Christian is about
the same age as Lars and Nik, but he is not as enthusiastic about sports games such as Tony Hawks,
Air Blade and FIFA (a football game). He thinks that these kinds of games are boring.
It’s too much of the same thing, and it never really changes.
(Christian, aged 13)
According to Christian (aged 13) the games are boring because there is too little variation in them.
Instead, he prefers to play Warcraft and Diablo, which involve building towns and troops. Nik and Lars
also play Diablo and Warcraft, but when they are waiting to play on the club computer, they play Tony
Hawks and Air Blade on the club PlayStation. Christian and his friend Søren think that the gameplay in
Diablo and Warcraft is more interesting than the sports games.
It’s fun because you have to build your own town, then get your troops together and then fight each
other. It’s fun that you can get better and better at it.
(Søren, aged 11)
According to the boys, these games are interesting because you can become better and better at
building towns and accomplishing missions. Sanne (aged 11) also plays Warcraft because it is related
to her interest in role-play.
The game I usually play is Warcraft and things like it because I love role-play more than anything. And
that Warcraft game has a lot of role-play type stuff in it. And I really love The Lord of the Rings.
(Sanne, aged 11)
Many of the children from one of the clubs play role-play games at home and in the club. In Sanne’s
case, this also affects her choice of computer game (Warcraft and the like). As well as playing
Warcraft, she plays www.neopets.com just like the boys, Christian and Søren. At www.neopets.com,
players have to look after a “neopet”, i.e. a virtual animal. They have to design the animal, feed it, look
after it and build up its strength. By playing a lot of little games, players collect points that can
strengthen the animal and ensure its survival.
(Christian) What’s fun about it is that it’s almost like having a baby – you have to remember to feed it
and play with it.
(Søren) You can also fight against others. It’s fun to train the animal and then fight battles and go on
So the boys think it is fun to look after a “neopet” which in many respects reminds them of a real baby
that has to be cared for and played with. This is also something of a departure from the conventional
boy/girl attitude. During the interviews, many of the children talked about the advantages and
drawbacks of playing games that were either realistic or unrealistic.
Realistic and unrealistic games
Let us return to the skateboarding games, where the boys were talking about the advantages and
drawbacks of realistic and unrealistic games. Tony Hawks is the old version of a skateboarding game
where, according to the boys, the game is more realistically built up than the more recent game, Air
(Interviewer) What are the good points of the Air Blade game?
(Nik) I don’t know really – it’s just fun. You can do all kinds of tricks that you can’t do in Tony Hawks.
This is because Tony Hawks is on a real skateboard, you know. Do you know what I mean? It’s not an
(Interviewer) Okay – so you think Air Blade is better than Tony Hawks?
(Lars) I think Air Blade’s better than Tony Hawks, too. It’s easier as well.
(Nik) Yes, you don’t keep falling off all the time in this game. Only if you do something really wrong.
(Lars) In Tony Hawks, if you make any kind of mistake – you’re on the ground.
(Interviewer) Is that a bad thing?
(Lars) Well, it’s more realistic, but …
According to these boys (aged 11 and 13), the more unrealistic game – Air Blade – is more fun than
Tony Hawks because it is easier to control and there are more options. The boys showed us how in
Air Blade they could make their figure swing on the lampposts without losing the air-skateboard – a
trick that would be impossible in Tony Hawks. The player cannot “die” in either game, but in both
games the player has to perform a lot of good tricks to collect points and win the game.
When it comes to the skateboarding games, the boys prefer the more unrealistic Air Blade, but when
talking about “The Sims”, they highlight the realistic aspect as a major advantage.
(Interviewer) So it’s good that games are sometimes realistic?
(Lars) It’s also good when they aren’t realistic. For example, look at this – I think this is really great
(demonstrates the Air Blade trick mentioned above). But it’s totally unrealistic.
(Nik) But it’s fun at the same time.
(Lars) So was The Sims – completely realistic, but also fun to play.
(Interviewer) What’s good about The Sims?
(Lars) The whole idea was to make the family function. Just when everything is going fine, the phone
rings … and you’re asked if you want to adopt a baby. And then the child grows up, and then you have
helped a child to grow up. And then … you can do on, like, missions, where you have to make your
own figure when you’ve grown up. You make the figure to look like what you think you’ll look like when
you’re grown up. And then you play that figure … and you live with your mother. You do that until you’re
18, and then you have to move out. And you have to get your mother to give you some money so you
can move out. You need £100 to move out. When you move out, you get a house. But if you don’t pay
rent for two months, you get evicted. That’s what makes it realistic, because that’s what happens in
According to Lars, The Sims has a good gameplay because you can form your own family and the
game is realistic in a lot of areas. That does not mean that the game is realistic through and through,
but it does have some aspects that Lars can relate to his own everyday experience. The boys like
both realistic and unrealistic games, judging the different games on a combination of the gameplay,
the graphics and the functions.
Marie (aged 14) two boys of approximately the same age – and Niels and Magnus – also play The
Sims. Marie thinks that sometimes the game can be a bit boring as nothing really happens.
The Sims, for example, can get a bit too cutesy – a whole day goes by and nothing really happens.
Then it’s really boring – so sometimes it’s a boring game. But it’s fun when you get promoted at work.
(Marie, aged 14)
So Marie thinks that the game can sometimes be a bit monotonous when she has to stick to practical
tasks. This also applies to Nik (aged 11) when he plays Pop Stars on his mobile phone. Pop Stars
resembles The Sims in that it also has to do with creating and developing a person. However, the
gameplay in Pop Stars is a lot more limited.
(Interviewer) What’s good about Pop Stars?
(Nik) You have to try and make someone popular. You buy … you go on a tour and play, so you get
money. Then you can buy things like a guitar or a bass and some drums. I had one figure that was 99
years old. She had a drum, a bass and a keyboard – she had everything. Then I sent her on a tour
again, and then she turned 100. Then she was 105, then 110 and then she died. Her drums broke 21
(Interviewer) How long did it take you play that game?
(Nik) 20 minutes. You just have to press that button all the time. Just do that (Nik demonstrates how he
repeatedly presses the same button on his mobile phone). That sends her out on tour, and she gets
(Interviewer) So you don’t even have to look at the game?
(Nik) No, I just keep pressing the button. I don’t really know what the fun is – OK, sometimes I have to
have a look to see how old she is, how much money she’s got, and so on.
So even though the Pop Stars gameplay resembles that of The Sims, the opportunities and
challenges are so limited that according to Nik you can play it almost without looking at the phone.
Children often play games on their mobile phones while they are waiting for someone or if they are
Mobile phone games
According to many of the children – mainly boys – who play games on their mobile phones, the
games are poor and only something they use to pass the time.
There’s no real quality or anything. It’s just something that’s there. It’s just a way of killing time
because these games are ancient. You have to be really bored to play them. There aren’t any good
graphics or anything. It’s just some kind of time capsule stuff – real Amiga-type stuff.
(Søren, aged 11)
So children choose to play games on their mobile phones when they are bored or waiting for
someone at school. The boys compare the games to those available on the old Amiga computers –
games that often had limited gameplay and poor graphics. Some of the children do not play games
on mobile phones because they do not have one. This applies in particular for the slightly younger
ages (8–11). The older children choose not to play the games because they are monotonous.
You soon get tired of the games because they are so repetitive.
(Marie, aged 14)
According to Marie, the games are repetitive and – like many of the other children who participated in
this survey – she hardly ever plays games on her mobile phone. In contrast, Ali (aged 14) plays a lot
because he has just got a new mobile phone that contains games with good graphics. We will return
to this area later. The children explain that they generally only play the games on their mobile phones
just after they have received a new phone.
One of the more popular mobile phone games is Snake, which features a snake that slides around
eating and growing all the time. Both boys and girls of different ages play Snake. Another reason why
the children only rarely play mobile phone games may be that they cannot play the games together in
groups. A lot of the children give priority to playing together using multiplayer functions on computer
games or linking their Game Boys together with cables.
Play and the social dimension
Children often put their Game Boys to one side if they have the opportunity to play on other media
such as a PlayStation or a computer. The Game Boy is, however, good to have, because it lets
children play together with others.
I never play with them (Game Boy and Game Boy Advance) – I just keep them in my drawer. It’s boring
to play with them. I only play with them when my friends come to visit. Then we sit and play Pokémon
and swap Pokémons, and play the tennis game. We can play against one another. I have two, so we
can play against one another.
(Nik, aged 11)
So Nik thinks that his Game Boy is interesting when he can play with other children. Nik’s parents are
divorced and he no longer lives with his little sister and his father. When he goes to visit his little sister,
he takes his Game Boys with him so they can play Pokémon together. He thinks this is fun, but usually
his Game Boys stay in their boxes in his drawer.
Children like to play with other children because playing on their own can get to be lonely and boring.
(Thomas) When they have gone, I think you get a bit lonely, and so it gets boring. And you don’t want
to carry on.
(Peter) You want them to come, but when they want to have a go, you don’t want to let them. You want
them to watch, but they mustn’t do anything else.
(Hans) It’s also good to have someone to talk to.
(Thomas) Sometimes it’s also fun to watch.
(Peter) Yes, and you can have a laugh, because you’re sure to hit someone with a hand grenade and
then they go flying.
(Thomas) If you haven’t tried it before, you can see how to use it. Then you’ll know how to do it later on.
(Peter) But he was really good at that game we played.
(Thomas) Not really, because I don’t play it that often any more. I play the other game more.
According to these three 9-year-old boys, it is fun to play with other children because then there is
someone to talk to and watch. The boys learn tricks off each other, and in many cases one of them is
an expert at a game. It is not always the same boy who is the expert. For example, Thomas was the
expert for a while because he played the game often. This subsequently changed because Thomas
began to play a different game and therefore did not keep up his skills at the first game.
Espen and Kasper (both aged 12) like to watch other people play computer games, mainly because
the think it is fun, but also because it helps them to work out strategies and tactics.
And I can learn how they play. So when I get to play against them, I know what their strategies are.
(Espen, aged 12)
Espen thus uses the social dimension to decode different players’ tactics. He can then use this
knowledge when he plays against the person he watched before.
The children enjoy being watched by others while they play, but they often prefer to be the one
actually playing the game. Amanda (aged 11) also thinks it is fun to play together with others because
this helps the group to find more opportunities in the game.
It’s fun because you can take turns so that it isn’t always the same one sitting and waiting. And you
can play differently, with someone finding other levels and stuff. For example, there was a time when
there was a trapdoor underneath and I didn’t know about it, but she did, and she found it. And it’s
sometimes fun when someone says: “you’re really good at that” …
(Amanda, aged 11)
So when children play games together with other children, they learn about new functions in the
game, and, at the same time, they give one another complements, which can help to reinforce their
self-confidence. Amanda is really happy when her friends give her complements.
It makes me happy. For example, if I’m not feeling very happy, we can go in and play, and then I get
really happy – happy inside – if someone tells me I’m good at it.
(Amanda, aged 11)
Amanda says that she feels happy inside when her friends praise her skills. In contrast, Nana felt
upset by the comments from her brother and his friends when she was playing PlayStation. This is
one of the reasons why she prefers to play on her own.
I hate just standing around and watching. I also get annoyed if someone is standing and watching me.
I get all confused and bump into everything. When my friends come to visit and they want to watch me
play, they fiddle with everything and so I just sit there like this (Nana demonstrates how she sits and
turns her head to keep an eye on what her friends are doing while she is playing).
(Nana, aged 10)
So Nana becomes confused when she has to play in front of her friends because they cannot sit still
while she plays. The two other 9-year-old girls, Marie and Karen, also prefer to play alone because it
helps them to concentrate.
I concentrate best when I use the computer on my own. I also like to do things myself. If I can’t then I
want someone to help me.
(Karen, aged 9)
Even though the girls prefer to play on their own, they all want help from other people if they
encounter something they cannot understand. In such cases, they often ask children of their own age
rather than adults.
The children we asked were not particularly interested in the Game Boy and the games available for
this medium. Nevertheless, at one of the clubs we did see two groups of three boys each sitting on a
sofa playing with Game Boys. The boys were playing the Pokémon game, and while they sat playing,
the talked to each other and occasionally looked at one another’s screens. The children we spoke to
said that the Game Boy games were bad because the graphics and gameplay were poor. Another
significant reason for their dislike of Game Boys was the attitude that Game Boy is outdated.
(Charlotte) I’ve played that game (Harry Potter) a few times, so it is not so much fun now. I can just
press the button without reading the text because I already know it.
(Interviewer) Why don’t you think the Pokémon game is fun any more?
(Charlotte) It’s not new any more.
(Interviewer) What does it mean that a game is new?
(Charlotte) Everyone wants it. So they go out and buy it – and if you have it, then you’re just so lucky.
According to Charlotte (aged 10) a game is interesting if it is new and if other people think you are
lucky to have it. In addition, Charlotte has completed the Harry Potter game so many times now that
she no longer needs to read the text because she knows the story. Many of the children were looking
for new and exciting games for their old Game Boys, and according to them it was a problem that the
only new games being made were for Game Boy Advance. The games for the old Game Boy can be
played on Game Boy Advance, but the opposite does not apply.
Nana is approximately the same age, and she, too, is no longer interested in playing Game Boy. The
fact that she does not know how to play may have something to do with this.
(Interviewer) Why don’t you have a Game Boy?
(Charlotte) Because they’re mainly for boys.
(Nana) I won’t buy one because I can’t be bothered to sit around with it in my hand. But I did play
when I was going to Norway. Rasmus, one of my good friends, was playing … so I asked him if I could
have a go. After I’d played for a few minutes I couldn’t be bothered any more.
(Interviewer) You couldn’t be bothered any more?
(Nana) No, but he sat there playing all the way.
(Interviewer) Why didn’t you want to play any more after just a few minutes?
(Nana) Because I didn’t think it was very exciting. And there were all those buttons to press – you
know … “er … what do I press to move up … whoops! I pressed down … oh, I died …”
So according to Charlotte, Game Boys are for boys – a view shared by Nana. Nana has tried playing
Game Boy for a couple of minutes, but found it too difficult to keep track of all the different buttons.
This meant that her figure died too quickly, so she didn’t find the game all that entertaining.
In contrast, Sanne (aged 11) likes playing Game Boy sometimes, even though this is not well-thought-
of in her class.
Sometimes it’s a bit embarrassing if someone sees that I’m playing Game Boy. That’s because in my
class, there is a sort of race to grow up fastest. They say things to you if they see you sitting and
playing. It doesn’t bother me – I sometimes play on the bus.
(Sanne, aged 11)
So in Sanne’s experience, it is embarrassing to be seen playing Game Boy. This fits in with the other
children’s attitude to Game Boy. According to Sanne, what is most important in her class is to grow up
quickly. In this context, Game Boys are seen as being something for children – which makes the
games themselves outdated, and anyone seen playing them, childish.
Game partners on the Internet
Children often play on their computers or PlayStations when their friends come to visit, but there are
also many children who find game partners on the Internet. The three 9-year-old boys Thomas, Peter
and Hans go onto the Internet from their computers at home and play Counter-Strike with other
players from all over the world.
(Interviewer) What’s good about multiplayer games?
(Thomas) They let you play with and against each other.
(Peter) Yesterday, Thomas came to my house and we played multiplayer ( – on the Net. Comment
from Thomas) – and suddenly there was someone there – he was called Denmark. So we asked: “Are
you from Denmark?” “Yes” (he answered). So we ‘spoke’ Danish with him. Sometimes, we play people
from China, the United States and Great Britain.
So it is clear that even though the boys may already be playing with a partner who is in the same
room as them, they sometimes choose to play with other people via the Internet. As regards
language, the boys help each other, look words up in the dictionary or ask their parents for help.
(Interviewer) And you have no problems writing English?
(Peter) I’m a bit better.
(Thomas) Yes. He’s really good at English.
(Hans) I can only write my own name and “yes”.
(Peter) I’m the second-best in my class at English.
(Interviewer) How is it that you’re so good at English?
(Thomas & Hans) He’s learnt it from playing so many games.
(Peter) I play a lot of games and I ask all the time. I ask my dad every day – what does that word
mean? And that one? And I play a bit more than the others. I play all the time and then I ask what it
means when they say something.
According to the boys, Peter is the best at English partly because he plays more than the others and
often asks his father for help. When he is playing, Peter asks his father about English words every day.
Hans is not so good at English, but he often pays together with Peter, who helps him or shows him
how to play.
In connection with online play, the boys often use what is known as the “friend list”, which allows them
to find a partner who matches their skill level – players often have an online name for ease of
recognition. This means that to start with, the boys play with a whole range of different players, and
gradually get to know some players who are at about the same level as they are.
If I want to play a decent game I often use the friend list. There’s no real point in losing after 10
minutes – it’s a bit of a drag. So you just find someone who is about as good as you are.
(Søren, aged 11)
The good thing about Counter-Strike, for example, is when you play against someone good on the
Internet – and beat them. But when you play against a really good player and lose – it’s not as much
(Ali, aged 14)
According to the boys, games get better if they are playing an equally skilled partner so they do not
lose straight away. Therefore, the boys think the friend list is good. The boys play to win the game, so
they do not find it as much fun to play against a player who is too good, because this means they are
more likely to lose.
Graphics, audio and the physical appearance of the products
During the interviews, the children referred several times to the importance of the graphics to the
games. We have already seen some examples of this in previous quotes. The children prefer games
with good graphics, but they are willing to compromise if the games have a good gameplay or
contribute to the social dimension.
(Nik) If the game is really good, I don’t mind too much if the graphics aren’t all that great. But if the
game is poor and the graphics are bad, too, then it’s out straight away.
(Nik) Tennis is good. It’s so unrealistic and so badly made – but that is what makes it so great.
(Interviewer) Why is that game good, when the Tony Hawks game, which was also badly made, is bad?
(Nik) You see a hand, and you see a racquet. That’s all you see. And then there’s this ball thing, and all
you have to do is shoot, shoot, shoot. Just press A, A, A and A. That’s what makes it fun – it’s so bad
and so boring.
(Lars) It’s easier to control. That’s what makes it fun when it’s boring.
According to these boys – aged 11 and 13 – a game needs a good gameplay and good graphics for
them to think it is good. However, there are exceptions to this rule, because the boys also sometimes
play games where the opposite applies. One of the reasons for this is that the children have different
expectations of the games. For example, they differentiate between “big” and “little” games. This is
something Christian (aged 13) talks about with regard to www.neopets.com
Well, the graphics are OK. This isn’t really a “big” game. You could say that there are a number of
small things that have been put together in a world. In that way, its OK. That’s why the graphics aren’t
so important here, but in other games that are more focused on one thing, then the graphics have to
(Christian, aged 13)
In other words, the boys do not have great expectations of small games on the Internet that can be
part of a larger context. On the other hand, larger games such as Warcraft have to have good
graphics is the boys are to play them.
When the graphics are poor, the games aren’t such fun to play. The graphics in Warcraft are mega.
(Christian, aged 13)
According to Christian, it is less fun to play games with poor graphics. Games such as Warcraft are
fun because the graphics are good. When the boys talk about graphics, they are not simply referring
to the number of pixels or the art lines, they are also taking into account the visual angle on the levels
or rooms in the game. The boys talked about this area when asked about the game “Grand Theft
Auto” (GTA) versions 2 and 3 for PlayStation.
(Peter) 3’s better. I don’t think that 2’s so good because you see everything from above. The graphics
are bad. When you see everything from above, there’s no variety. Anyway … we’ve played it for so
many years that it’s just boring now.
(Thomas) 3’s really good. The graphics and stuff are great.
(Interviewer) So you think version 3 is much better than version 2? Is that because of the graphics?
(Peter) Yes, because you see everything from ground level. In the old game, you see everything from
The boys think that the game is better when the view presented shows a ground-level perspective, as
this helps to makes the game more varied. The boys have played GTA 2 for a long time, but they are
now interested in the new version – partly because the graphics offer them other options. Children
can lose interest in a game for a number of reasons. According to Charlotte (quoted earlier), the Harry
Potter game became boring when she could play it without looking. In addition, according to the
three boys, new versions of a game featuring technological innovations can make older versions of
the same game appear obsolete.
In the same way as the boys, the girls are also interested in the game graphics. In addition, they
attach significant importance to the audio aspect.
Games with a bit of music in them are better than the ones that are silent. It’s good if they say things
in a more scary way.
(Charlotte, aged 10)
According to Charlotte, a game becomes better when its visual aspect is reinforced with sounds and
music. Charlotte finds it exciting to play games where a scary voice speaks to her from time to time.
In this regard, it is a matter of varying intensity. The player’s attention to the sounds depends on both
the aspect that the player is concentrating on, and the specific nature of the sound in question – i.e.
its volume and frequency – as well as the general audio profile of the game.
For Sofie (aged 12) the audio profile is very important when she is playing the “Rocker Game” on
www.dr.dk/skum. In this case, the humorous slant of the audio profile gives the game value.
(Sofie) Then I play the Rocker Game – it’s fun.
(Interviewer) What’s good about it?
(Sofie) You have to throw … There’s the person throwing bottles, and he says: “Hey, d’you want to
throw some bottles?” And then you throw some bottles. Then some rockers turn up, and you have to
aim and stuff … How hard to throw. And then you throw bottles, and if you hit … And if he dies, another
one appears. Then, for example, there’s one called Mini who fires a shotgun or rockets. And he says
different things. And then there’s one that fires bowling balls and things like that. And they say funny
(Interviewer) So it’s a good game?
(Sofie) Yes, it’s not … it’s not the game itself, it’s more about what they say in the background. That’s
According to Sofie, it is not so much the gameplay that gives the game value, rather the audio profile
that generates an entertaining atmosphere. Even though the game is about taking out rockers by
hitting them with bottles and rockets, the audio profile prevents the situation from becoming intense
or strained. This is because the voices remain at the same volume and therefore do not break up the
audio profile. In this case, the audio aspect is interesting to Sofie on account of its content – i.e. the
funny things the characters say.
The physical appearance of the products
The children not only have expectations of the content of the different media, they also make
demands on the physical appearance and robustness of the technological products.
According to the children, the products are bad if they break easily as in the case of Game Boys –
(Game Boy and Game Boy Advance) – mobile phones and PlayStation.
(Nik) Ericsson and Nokia make good phones because they are the toughest.
(Lars) Yes, a kid in my class dropped his phone out of a third-storey window and it didn’t break. Only
the battery broke. It was a Nokia 3310.
According to the boys, mobile phones must be able to withstand a fall from a third-storey window –
although the manufacturers may see this as a rather unrealistic demand. If the phones can withstand
such treatment, they are considered really good. The boys had a complete list of things they used to
back their evaluations of Game Boys and different kinds of mobile phone. The stories were often not
drawn from personal experience but rather repeated stories the boys had heard from their friends. It
is clear that the children have a communicative relationship in which they exchange experience about
the different products, and they can be influenced by the experience of their friends with different
mobile phones (and other technological products) without having to have experienced the same thing
Just like the boys, the girls seem to expect that certain mobile phones must be able to withstand
It’s good that my mobile phone is shock resistant, because I often chuck it about.
(Sanne, aged 11)
Sanne says that her mobile phone is shock absorbent, a conclusion she has drawn from the her own
experience with the phone. There is nothing about shock absorbing qualities on the Nokia Web site3,
which provides a description of the Nokia 3310 mobile phone. Even though the girls throw their mobile
phones about, this does not mean that they do not like them.
(Sofie) I love my mobile, I like everything about it.
(Sanne) Too right.
(Sanne) It’s like a little baby – when you go to bed, you almost have to tuck it in, too.
(Sofie) I actually do that – but I don’t mean I put it in a bed with a duvet and stuff. But I put it on top of
the speakers next to my bed.
The same girls who just explained that they throw their mobile phones around also think of the
technological products as small children that have to be tucked in at night. Mobile phones mean a
good deal to the girls, who place them next to their beds when they go to sleep. This is partly
because they use their mobile phones as alarm clocks. In addition, they need to have their phones
close to them in case someone sends them an SMS. It is important to the girls that they stay in touch
with their friends and this is a function that their mobile phones can fulfil.
We have previously mentioned that the Game Boy is the preferred medium when children are
travelling. This has to do with the fact that the Game Boy console is small and handy, although
according to the children this also has its drawbacks.
(Mark) You have to sit with it in the right light if you want to see anything. Otherwise you can’t see
anything on the screen.
(Niels) When you’re at home with a 24-inch screen, you don’t want to sit and play on such a little
According to these two 14-year-old boys – and some of the younger boys – the Game Boy screen is
too small. That makes it difficult for them to see the content of a game unless the lighting is just right.
The Game Boy is up against a host of other technological products in the battle for children’s
attention. For example, the boys would rather play on their computers when they are home because
the computer has a bigger screen and better games. In contrast, Hanne and Louise (who are
approximately the same age) prefer to watch television.
I think it’s OK to play on it when we’re going on holiday, but back at home there are other things to do.
I would rather watch television because there are so many exciting and interesting programmes.
(Anna, aged 14)
In other words, children mainly use their Game Boys when there are no other options. So the children
take their Game Boys with them on holiday, where they are a practical option on account of their size.
At home, the girls would rather watch various serials on television. The 14-year-old boys also watch
cartoons such as The Simpsons and The Flintstones. In addition, they think that it has become fun to
watch the Danish children’s programme “Bamse & Kylling” again. This is because there is a Danish
comedian who has brought Bamse & Kylling into his show. This trend can be seen in relation to the
resurgence in popularity of the Danish singer Poul Kjøller among young people a few years ago, when
he was booked to play his repertoire of children’s songs at concerts, town parties and festivals.
The mobile phone and the Internet are two of the media that children use to communicate with their
friends from both the real and virtual worlds. In this context, some of these acquaintances are more
flighty – for example, in the case of the boys who play and chat with a lot of different people when
they play games online.
When it comes to the computer, the children primarily use e-mails and chatrooms to communicate
with other people. It is mainly the girls who send e-mails to their friends, parents and other family
(Esther) Sometimes I write e-mails.
(Interviewer) Who do you write to?
(Esther) Mainly to my cousin. I don’t write to many others because I’m not very good at it.
(Interviewer) At writing?
(Esther) No, I’m good at writing – but I’m not very good at sending them.
(Interviewer) Do you get it wrong?
(Esther) Yes, I do something wrong.
(Interviewer) Why do you write to your cousin?
(Esther) Because she writes to me, and then I write back to her. But I usually send proper letters and
Esther (aged 11) sends e-mails to her cousin even though she has problems with the technology. As a
result, she prefers to send letters by post or SMS messages from her mobile phone. Like Esther, Pia
(aged 9) has problems with technology. She also finds it difficult to differentiate between a home
page and an e-mail account. Pia said that she had a home page, but it transpired that she was
actually talking about an e-mail account.
(Interviewer) You say that you have set up your home page in Thailand? How can that be?
(Pia) It was because when I was over in Thailand, my dad said: “It could be fun to have your own home
page”. So I made one.
(Interviewer) So you made it in Thailand? How did you do that?
(Pia) It’s just … You just write your name, then you have to write a code, and then you write what you’re
called and … no, I already said that. You just have to write all sorts of things, and then you have to
write where you live, your address and your phone number. Then at they end, you have to write your
(Interviewer) What code?
(Pia) The code you have to use to get into your home page. Then you can just write home pages and
stuff, and then you go in and there’s your code. And then you have to write your codeword.
(Interviewer) Can I see your home page?
(Pia) What home page?
(Interviewer) The one you made.
(Interviewer) What’s the address?
(Pia) I can’t remember.
(Interviewer) Do you sometimes go in and change your home page?
(Pia) Yes, and I also write letters to my dad because he lives so far away.
(Interviewer) So you send e-mails to your dad? Does he live a long way away?
(Pia) Yes, he lives right out in Frederiksberg.
Pia has not understood the difference between a home page and an e-mail account. Nor does she
talk about e-mails; she calls them letters. This may be because she has not been using the Internet
long, and because she only uses it when she is with her parents who can help her. Pia sometimes
sends e-mails to her father, who lives in Frederiksberg, which, according to Pia, is a long way away. In
fact her father lives no more than 10 km away. Even though this is not far from Pia’s home
geographically, it feels far away to her because she has been used to having her father at home with
It is quite different for Marie (aged 14) who uses e-mails as part of her job as Web editor of the DR
(the Danish TV and radio station) home page for girls at www.dr.dk/zild. Marie receives questions by e-
mail and then has to answer them. These questions mainly come from girls who need advice about
things such as problems at school, with their boyfriends or with their parents. When Marie has
answered the questions, she sends them back to the DR editing team that posts her answers on the
home page. Marie has no problems sending e-mails and doing her job.
The boys, on the other hand, do not send many e-mails as they mainly only have an e-mail account
for practical reasons.
(Christian) I don’t really use my e-mail. I use it for games, because for some games you need to have
an e-mail address – www.neopets.com. for example.
(Interviewer) When do you use your e-mail addresses?
(Christian) Well … for example, when you go in here (www.neopets.com). Then you have to set up an
account – an account of some kind (Christian then demonstrates how to fill out a form to set up an
account at www.neopets.com).
(Søren) You can also send games to your friends.
Christian (aged 13) and Søren (aged 11) see e-mail accounts as something they have to in order to be
able to go in and play games on the Internet. This is because many home pages require children to
set up an account, in which they have to enter an e-mail address. In addition, the boys can tell their
friends about good games on the Internet by sending them a link. For this to be possible, the boys
and their friends have to have e-mail addresses. These two boys have e-mail accounts with
www.sol.dk and www.jubii.dk. When Christian wanted to show us the www.neopets.com home page, he
could not remember his code. However, this was not a problem as he had saved his code on his
(Interviewer) Have you saved your code on your mobile phone?
(Christian) Yes I have. It’s good for saving things. So if I leave my code here or if I can’t remember it,
then I can just go in here and say “it’s this one”.
(Interviewer) So you have saved more than one code on your mobile phone?
(Christian) Yes, this is my e-mail code and this is … another code and … that’s all.
This means that children use mobile phones for more than just making calls and sending SMS
messages. In principle, Christian could have had his code sent to him by e-mail, but he finds it more
practical to take his mobile phone out and then look up his code there. During the interview with
Sanne and Sofie, we saw something similar when the girls were asked to say how many hours they
used their mobile phones. When asked this, the girls took out their mobile phones and used the
calculator function to work out their answers. The different technological products thus complement
each other depending on how the children choose to use the different functions they contain. In
Søren’s case, the code he was looking for was written down in the mobile phone address book.
Let us return to the boys who also use their e-mail accounts to access information about new games.
The boys have signed up for the newsletters from a number of game manufacturers. As a result, they
receive information about new games as well as demonstration versions, which the boys call “demos”.
(Søren) Sometimes I get it (the demonstration version) from the two manufacturers – I mean the ones
that make the game. So I get some of their latest games as demos. So I can try them.
(Interviewer) Is that because you’ve signed up for a newsletter?
(Søren) I’ve done something where I had to tell them my e-mail address. And said that they could send
(Interviewer) Do you think it’s fun to try the demo games?
(Søren) Yes, I think it’s great fun.
(Søren) Because it’s like, when you’ve finished with the demo, then you just have to have the full
This seems to indicate that the boys mainly use e-mail to stay up to date with the latest games,
whereas the girls use it to stay in touch with their family and friends. The boys receive demo games
that they use to decide whether to by a new game. The boys think they have to have an e-mail
account because otherwise they cannot play games on the Internet, nor can they keep up with the
latest news about games.
Instead of using e-mails to stay in touch with friends, Søren prefers to send SMS messages. This is
also the form of communication that the girls use a good deal.
The mobile phone
The children we spoke to think that it costs too much to make calls from their mobile phones, which is
why many of them prefer to send SMS messages instead. The calls that the children do make are
usually short, often limited simply to making an arrangement with their parents or friends. In order to
save their phone money, they ask their parents to call them back as soon as they have made contact
(Amanda) Actually, I manly use it to send SMS messages because I think that’s cheaper. With my
phone, it costs DKK 2.50 a minute to make calls. That’s because I’m with Telia. So I think it’s cheaper
to use SMS – because that costs only DKK 1. I want a different one where it only costs DKK 1 to make
calls and even less to SMS.
(Interviewer) You don’t have that yet?
(Amanda) No, not yet. But anyway, I think it’s better to SMS, because I think it’s more fun to have to
write to people and then get the answers back – instead of using all my time talking.
Amanda thinks it is cheaper and more fun to send SMS messages to her friends. She thinks it is fun to
write messages and then receive the answers to them. Sometimes she sends a message just to say
hello to her friends, and to ask how they are. Other times, she uses the SMS function to make
arrangements to meet her friends. Charlotte (aged 11) does the same, but she also uses SMS
messages to sort out problems with her classmates.
(Charlotte) I write … for example, yesterday I sent an SMS to Kenneth telling him that he was stupid,
because it was my turn to use the “cushion room” at the club and he smashed everything up.
(Nana) What did you write to him?.
(Charlotte) I just told him that he was stupid. But he didn’t understand that.
Charlotte used the SMS function to contact Kenneth to sort out a conflict that had occurred between
them at the club. They send SMS messages to one another, but it seems that Kenneth has difficulty in
understanding what he has done wrong. Therefore, he finally decides to call Charlotte. Using the
phones, the children sort out the problem. In this context, SMS was a means Charlotte used to get in
touch with Kenneth and deal with the episode.
It can be difficult to use SMS to deal with large problems because the messages sent are, by
definition, short, and sentences have to be abbreviated rather than written out in full. According to
Lone Audon and Ib Poulsen, the use of chatrooms and SMS messages has led to the development of
new codes and forms of language that make it possible to communicate at the high speeds
necessary to keep up4. Some of the 14-year-old boys think it is not good to send SMS messages on
account of the risk of being misunderstood. For example, Per misunderstood a girl’s intentions
because he misinterpreted her SMS messages. He thought that the girl was interested in him and that
she wanted to talk about getting together later that night. It subsequently transpired that the girl did
not want that at all. That is why the boys do not think that sending SMS messages is a good idea at
all. As a result they prefer to ring.
However, Hanne and Louise (both aged 14) think that boys of their own age are keen to exchange
SMS messages. For example, one of the boys sent a poem to Hanne.
(Hanne) At the moment, I have some poems on my mobile phone.
(Interviewer) From a boy?
(Hanne) It’s because I told him to write me some poems. It was only for fun – I don’t like him.
(Interviewer) Do you write poems back to him?
(Hanne) No, he just writes them to me. It’s just for fun.
Hanne has asked a boy from her class to write poems to her because she thinks it is fun. She does
not reply to the messages, but she has saved the poems on her mobile phone and reads them every
now and then. Hanne says that she does not like the boy – i.e. she does not want him to be her
boyfriend – but that he is a friend. Her friend Louise writes to a boy that she really likes. They do not
write poems to one another, just short messages about anything and everything.
Birgitte Holm Sørensen, “Chat – leg, identitet, socialitet og læring” [Chat – play, identity, sociality and
learning], 2001, page 65
For some of the children, it is not so much the content of an SMS that is important, simply receiving it.
I mean, it’s not, like, cool or anything – it just lets you know that you’ve got friends.
(Sanne, aged 11)
Sanne says that receiving SMS messages means that you have friends. She says that there are some
children in her class that hardly ever receive messages, and if they do, then they are usually from the
same one or two people. Sanne receives many SMS messages from different people she knows. Sofie
(aged 12) sometimes sends an SMS message to a girl because she thinks it is a shame that this girl
does not receive many messages. So it appears that girls use SMS messages to determine who, from
their circle of friends, is popular and has lots of friends. They say that they do not tease each other
about it, but they do know precisely who receives lots of messages in the classroom and at the club –
and who does not.
The younger girls (aged 8–9) hardly ever write SMS messages, mainly because they do not have
mobile phones. They also have problems with the technical side of the process. Pia (aged 8) and
Petra (aged 9) do not have mobile phones, and they have never tried sending an SMS. Marie (aged 9)
does have a mobile phone, but she does not know how to send SMS messages.
(Interviewer) Do you use your mobile phone to send SMS messages?
(Marie) No, because I don’t know much about my phone. It’s a Siemens. I don’t know much about it at
(Interviewer) Have you only just got it?
(Marie) No, I got it for Christmas.
Even though Marie has had her mobile phone for almost six months, she still does not know much
about what it can do. The young girls in particular spend little time learning about the functions of the
different technologies. This is in stark contrast to the boys who spend a lot of time investigating
different functions on their mobile phones as soon as they receive them. According to previous
surveys, there is a significant difference between the way boys and girls approach the different
media. The boys are keener to investigate what the technology can do, while the girls prefer to work
with the functions they know and find interesting5. This also applies to computer games, as we saw
The boys all said that they did not chat on the Internet. Even though when they play games and
exchange information and messages with people from all over the world, they do not consider this
“chatting”. They see it simply as a part of the game, a form of virtual network that they take for
granted. The girls do not have the same physical and virtual network around the games as the boys
do. They do not chat in the context of games, but they participate in chatroom discussions on a
variety of subjects.
The 11–14-year-old girls take part in chatroom discussions on the Internet, where they set up profiles.
Their preferred chatrooms are www.netdating.dk and www.chat.jubii.dk.
(Interviewer) What’s good about chatting on www.jubii.dk?
(Sanne) It’s good that you have a profile, and you can make smileys and all kinds of other things. I’ve
just ordered a chat package that costs DKK 120 a year and lets me do other things.
(Interviewer) Do you mainly chat from home?
(Sanne) Yes, I think it’s really great. I chat a lot – when my computer doesn’t crash.
Sanne thinks it is good to be able to set up a profile and have lots of options. These are some of the
reasons why Sanne has bought a chat package. Sanne’s profile contains information about her
hobbies, which include role-play. She has also put in pictures, poems and good advice. It is clear that
Sanne is very interested in the graphics content of her profile. She has written text in different colours
and font sizes, and she has put in a coloured background.
Hanne and Louise use their profiles very differently. Together, they have set up two profiles that
describe two fictitious girls. One of the girls is cool and likes all the right things – i.e. everything that is
“in” at the moment. The other girl is a bit of a misfit – she is two metres tall and smokes a pipe. The
girls receive a lot of messages from different people, and they reply to them together. They have
found out that the “misfit” girl receives most messages.
(Interviewer) Why is it that the “misfit” receives most messages?
(Louise) It’s because they think she is interesting. I guess they think it’s strange that she smokes a
pipe. It’s something different.
The girls are thus using the fictitious characters to experiment with identity and to find out what
attracts other chatters, for example.
Homework and school on the Internet
The children do not just use their computers to play games and visit chatrooms. They also use them
for their homework. For example, they use the Internet to search for information for projects, and then
use their computers to write the projects themselves. Two of the girls even go to a Harry Potter school
that is run over the Internet.
(Interviewer) What can you do at the Harry Potter school?
Carsten Jessen, 2001, pp. 167–185 & Birgitte Holm Sørensen, “Børn i en digital kultur” [Children in a
digital culture], 2000, p. 217
(Charlotte) Well, it’s like … do you know Harry Potter?
(Charlotte) He goes to Hogwarts. So it’s like a kind of Hogwarts. You can do homework, find things in
Diagon Alley …
(Interviewer) As it’s a school, what do you have to do?
(Charlotte) You have to do homework.
The girls say that they have to do homework at the Harry Potter school (www.harrypotter-
skolen.webbyen.dk), which is a parallel to the Hogwarts school in the Harry Potter stories. When they
have done their homework, they receive points from a teacher group made up of a 14-year-old girl
and two boys aged 10 and 13. They can then convert the points to Galleons, which they can use to
buy things in Diagon Alley. The girls have to do homework every week, otherwise points are deducted
from their scores. The homework assignments are sent to the girls by e-mail and have to be returned
in the same way. The girls think that it is fun to do homework. In some ways, the Harry Potter
resembles www.neopets.com, which also has to do with developing and improving a character. The
main difference is that the children who visit www.neopets.com have to play games to collect points,
whereas at the Harry Potter school, they have to do homework. This means that it is not always
necessary to put a game on a Web site to capture the attention and interest of the girls.
The appearance of the mobile phone
Both the girls and the boys want to have the very latest mobile phones, because, according to them,
this ensures that they receive more attention. In addition, they are very interested in having phones
with colour displays and the capacity to send pictures.
(Peter) One of main reasons I want a mobile phone is that it makes sure you get a lot of attention. And
you can use them to make calls – because I want to start going home by myself soon (so do the other
boys). I’m allowed to, but I don’t dare yet. I want to have a mobile phone first.
(Interviewer) Why is it good to have a mobile phone when you go home by yourself?
(Thomas) Because you can ring up and ask for directions if you get lost.
(Hans) And you can call 112 [the emergency services].
(Peter) I never thought of that …
(Interviewer) But you think the good thing about mobile phones is that they get you attention?
(Peter) If you have one of those big old ones, you don’t get much attention.
(Thomas) You have to have one of those new small ones. You’ve got to have one of those.
(Peter) You’ve got to have a Nokia, like the ones in the picture (see Appendix 1).
(Interviewer) But aren’t these really expensive?
(Thomas) Yes, but there are some that only cost DKK 1, and they’ve got a colour display and all that.
(Hans) Yes, but that’s the way they cheat you. Because they cost a lot of money, later on.
(Interviewer) What costs a lot of money?
(Hans) Just having it.
(Peter) It costs a lot of money to be popular.
Peter says that having one of the small new mobile phones leads to more attention. He would like to
have a mobile phone before he starts going home from the club by himself – not because he can see
any practical use for it, it is simply a part of his planning. In contrast, the two other boys can see
plenty of advantages in having a mobile phone if you have to go home by yourself. For example, you
can ring for help or tell your parents when you will be home. The boys are very price-conscious, and
they also say that it is expensive to be popular. Peter is saving up for his own mobile phone, but he
still has a long way to go because he wants one of the very latest models, one with a colour display
and the capacity to send and receive pictures. He has even thought about selling his PlayStation 1 –
which he never uses – to put together some money towards the phone.
In this area, the girls are no different from the boys. They also want the very latest phones, although
some of them think it is enough simply to have a phone that works.
(Charlotte) I’ve got the coolest mobile phone (Charlotte is not allowed to take her phone with her to
school or to the club. She mainly uses it at home, or when she is going to visit her father – her
parents are divorced).
(Nana) I’ve got mine with me. It’s not all that cool.
(Interviewer) Why isn’t it cool?
(Nana) Because everyone else has got the latest models.
(Charlotte) Yes, the (Nokia) 8310.
(Nana) I think … everyone else has got the latest ones, but … I think that as long as you can use it, it’s
good enough – but everyone always wants a much better one. So you can take pictures.
So Nana would also like a more modern mobile phone, but as that is not possible, she has learned to
appreciate the one she has. Charlotte has one of the very latest mobile phones, but she does not
carry it with her to school or to the club because it is so expensive. She mainly uses her mobile phone
when she goes to visit her father, because this lets her parents get in touch with her, and vice versa.
As we heard earlier, Charlotte also uses her mobile phone to send SMS messages to her classmates.
Interchanging the different media
We heard previously that the children use the different media as extensions of each other. For
example, some of them store home page codes on their mobile phones. Mark (aged 14) has also used
his mobile phone to access the Internet. However, he only did so once to try out the function. Mark
thinks it is too expensive to have to pay DKK 2 a minute to surf the Internet.
Nik (aged 11) uses his mobile phone to download games as long as it is free.
I use it (the mobile phone) more than may Game Boy. It is more fun to play on. If I want a new game, I
just use my phone to download it for free. You can only download five free games. Then you have to
pay DKK 30 for the others.
(Nik, aged 11)
Nik thinks it is an advantage that he can use his mobile phone to download games. He prefers to play
on his mobile phone rather than on his Game Boy because he can get better and newer games for
his phone. We have previously heard that the children think that the Game Boy games are bad or too
old, which is one of the reasons why they rarely use this medium. However, the children are still
interested in a few of the old games, such as Super Mario and Pokémon.
Appendix 1 – Interview “plates”