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January 25, 2007 |

As part of Katie Salen‘s edited volume, Ecology of Games, for the Macarthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, I’ve written a chapter, Education V. Entertainment, that encapsulates the core arguments of my dissertation. It is a much shorter read than the dissertation, and I’ve updated many of the arguments and language. I’m going to turn now to converting the dissertation into a book, but this is something of a preview of what that might look like.

The dissertation and this paper is a cultural history of children’s software, looking at the history of the industry, production, distribution and play through the lens of three key genres in children’s software: academic/curricular, family-friendly entertainment, and construction/authoring. The analysis revolves around the claim that new technologies, as they become disseminated into the culture at large, become subject to genre harding, gradually domesticated and incorporated into existing institutions and discourses. In the case of children’s software, many of the radical and reform minded premises of the early development context were converted into existing models of education and entertainment as the industry matured.

In many ways, the argument is pessimistic, and stresses the conservative tendencies of social and cultural structure, even in the face of promising new technologies. This may seem at odds with the more optimistic tones that often characterize my analysis of current uses of media by kids. I think it is important though that we recognize the power of existing structures, particularly the cultural and institutional opposition between education and entertainment in kids lives. It is only through understanding and addressing these structures at multiple levels–production, distribution, play–that we have any hope of transforming the conditions of learning in kids’ everyday lives.