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Imaginative play in digital environments: designing social and creative opportunities for identity formation

Livingstone, Sonia ORCID: 0000-0002-3248-9862 and Pothong, Kruakae (2022) Imaginative play in digital environments: designing social and creative opportunities for identity formation. Information, Communication and Society, 25 (4). 485 - 501. ISSN 1369-118X

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Identification Number: 10.1080/1369118X.2022.2046128


Digital technologies afford ample opportunities for children’s development, identity formation, imagination and sociability through free play. At stake, we argue, is children’s agency. Yet free play is under threat in both digital and nondigital contexts. Recognising that different configurations of the contexts in which play occurs affect whether and how children can play on their own terms, this article draws on the long tradition of research on child-led or free play in natural or nondigital contexts to explore children’s play in digital contexts. Combining qualitative and quantitative research methods, we examine the qualities of children’s play and the factors that shape it so as to reimagine, together with children, parents and professionals working with children, a digital environment that could better serve children’s best interests. The findings show that the qualities of children’s play are strikingly similar in digital and nondigital contexts but that children find certain social-technical configurations restrictive of their agency and freedom to develop their identity through play in digital contexts. Based on children’s implicit and explicit calls for change, we propose a ‘playful by design’ approach by which designers and providers of digital products and services could urge those with the powers to redesign digital environments to prioritise digital features that promote children’s imaginative, social, open-ended, risk-taking and stimulating play while limiting the risks to children’s safety, privacy and self-determination that arise from commercial interests.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Authors
Divisions: Media and Communications
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2022 10:45
Last Modified: 07 Apr 2024 22:03

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