Virtual Parent-Child Relationships: A Case Study

Steven Downing


Studies on parenting and online gaming abound, most of this literature considering the role of parents in educating their children about online safety, maintaining boundaries and limiting time spent online. Embedded within these inquiries is often the assumption that parents live with their children and must balance the physical-virtual divide. Relatively little research has considered the role of the virtual in the lives of parents who do not live with their children. In this inquiry, I present a narrative-ethnographic account of my experiences as a father living apart from my six-year-old son, communicating daily through various online games. I draw on my own experiences over the past three years, as well as formal and informal interviews with my son. I consider how our relationship has evolved in relation to virtual constructs including spaces, characters, and stories, and the extension of the virtual worlds we inhabit into our face-to-face conversations, play, and subjective individual and collective constructions of the reality of our relationship. Ultimately, I propose broader implications for the study of virtual worlds and relationships, as well as an expansion of the understanding of parenting in a digital age, where gaming is not always a distraction from familial engagement but can in fact integrate with family life.


Virtual Relationships; Distance Parenting; Narrative Ethnography

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