Spontaneous kid play activities with cell-phones

Yet another interesting reference for a project about children and mobile gaming devices (ranging from the Nintendo DS to cell phones): In the hands of children: exploring the use of mobile phone functionality in casual play settings by a swedish team of researchers: Petra Jarkievich, My Frankhammar, and Ylva Fernaeus (taken from the Mobile HCI conference 2008). The paper reports the results of a field study concerning swedish kids (10-12 y.o) and their use of mobile phones in indoor and outdoor settings. The authors mention that they were interested by unsupervised social play and "spontaneous play activities" taking kids as a particular use case of mobile devices target. The locus of their study was therefore peculiar: situations where children were able to play fairly undisrupted for a longer period of time, and in explicit social settings. This is why they chose play centres located in parks. In terms of methodology, it's a mix of observation and kids interview (focus groups) about cell phone usage over the course of 6 weeks.

A quick overview of the results (although reading the whole finding section is very important to get the sense of what happens):

"The first general observation concerns the dual nature of the phones; simultaneously being serious and important communication tools for parents, as among the children being treated and valued primarily as resources to act locally in the group (...) Sharing media content was one of the key activities that we observed and seemed to play a central role in these respects, where individual ownership of the media content was assessed and valued largely based on its social context. (...) Our second general observation has to do with the skills that the children displayed at using the different features of the technology, and how these were constantly appropriated in a variety of ways. Existing physical play activities were sometimes altered and expanded to suit the technical resources, and the discovery of new functionality also inspired entirely new play scenarios. The children thereby also made use of functions in the phones to do things that these functions were clearly not intended for. We also observed several ways to overcome, and even make use of, the technical limitations of the devices. This suggests that children at this age put much value into the freedom of creating their own play scenarios, as a way to make meaningful use of the technologies at hand. (...) Our last more general observation is related to the long-established worry that computing technology may make children less physically stimulated, often favouring passive forms of learning, and how it has tended to force children’s play environments to move indoors."

And the following "implication for design" is also intriguing:

"some of the most meaningful and interesting technical functions were those that allowed users to invent and develop their own activities. We see no reason to suspect that this would not be a much appreciated feature also among adult users, at least in certain settings"

Why do I blog this? accumulating material about kids and mobile devices for a client project about mobile gaming. I am preparing a field study about that topic and try to get both methodological/results from other researchers. Reading the findings also worth it as it shows mobile phone usage is articulated with kids games such as 'cops and robbers'.