Minecraft isn’t just a game

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In the 1950s, Disney hit on the idea of connecting classic folk-tales to their animation technologies, and from that creating their own books, magazine and toys. Minecraft, also started by one man with an plan — has enabled a very similar process except as a company, Mojang don’t chase down every licensing and copyright claim imaginable.

It’s another reason parents can’t compare Minecraft to other sandbox games — they are not all about the value-add sell, but of course do licence certain aspects. It must be a total nightmare to manage, but cudos to them for at least attempting it.

Online there are some amazing toys, gadgets and artwork that have emerged because of Minecraft. Mojang don’t appear to mind people adding their own creativity to their game such as this.

Crafting-1.3-Part-1-1 (1)

Now you don’t have to PLAY video games in your classroom to be able to see how this is brilliantly executed story. There is enough detail in this story for anyone who’s read a romantic story about the heroes journey to be able to figure out what is going on here.

This is simply ONE part of FIVE posted onto the website 9Minecraft. You can go read the rest yourself … and find out how it ends. That’s five comics, filled with pop-culture references that kids could EASILY relate to … and any (good) teacher could put to work.

I post this as an example of how VIDEO GAMES are part of cultural literacy. Minecraft is as embedded in today’s culture as Donald Duck was for Disney — and better still there is a massive fan-talent base producing plenty of FREE or low-cost resources that kids can relate to. Getting primary aged kids to turn their classroom into a Minecraft house would require almost zero effort on the teacher’s part. Go on, I dare you …

 

Simple XBONE advice for Xmas Morning you need to know

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This post is for those planning to buy planning to buy an XBONE to open on Christmas morning — and how to avoid the disappointment that will occur. The XBONE has already seen many changes to it’s operating environment since it went it the box. It will want to PATCH immediately. That’s 500mb right there. It will want to connect to the wireless to do it — so make sure you know the name of it and the password – and what kind of security your network uses.

Patching is not as slow as I expected, however it’s going to take a lot longer than kids have patience. Then there are the games. They too want to patch – and I’m talking GIGABYTES of patching which is also quite slow.

On Xmas morning, if your plan is to open the box and play — then it will be Boxing Day before you get going if you let it patch.

If you don’t want to deal with XBONES updates then you can skip it’s demands for WIRELESS on set-up. The downside is that you won’t be able to sign into XBOX LIVE to play the games or get to other media. So be prepared to either get patched or staff off the Internet on Christmas Day.

You also need to buy the rechargeable battery and charger. Despite the controller having Duracells, it chews them in no time. No the 360 won’t work — so that’s about $25.00 you’ll need to pay.

I was pleased to see XBONE did have a decent HDMI cable in the box — but you might want to think about getting a cheap HDMI selector box if you’re planning to keep your Xbox 360 running. A decent one will auto switch and save you a lot of TV-Input switching too.

Why gaming families are normal families.

I’ve been asking people “what is family? ” lately. Mostly people say it’s “us doing stuff together”. To be doing stuff with technology is also governed by complex rules. For example, working from home is often welcomed because it stops us falling behind at work, and work for many of us followed us home a long time ago.

Gaming is a well established popular form of media entertainment for all ages. It’s normal for parents to play games, just as once it was normal to watch tv together. It’s the one thing we do with technology we don’t associate with work.

Traditional entertainment seems expensive these days. I recently paid almost $100 for a family trip to see a movie. That seemed an extra ordinary fee for something we don’t get to own or keep.

With video stores closing, on demand television and Netflix rising, it’s less normal than ever to pay for a once off media experience that you can’t repeat, pause or later extend. Yet this it’s the myth pushed into us by fading media barons. In comparison to 160 of entertaining consumption, $80 for an interactive game is great value. Even better on black Friday.

This matters because it is more normal to game in families than not. It’s abnormal to insist video games are annexed form family life unless you own a time machine or so into fifties culture that you’re turned your entire life into a role play. It’s bizarre to say they they are an addictive substance or akin to gambling.

Statistical analysis of media use supports the idea that gaming families are simply normal families. This might not suit lobbyist groups yearning for a return to the fifties … But never the less, they are just called families … and what families choose to do with their time matters more than opinion of the twin set and pearls types, but I probably should not use media to stigmatize minorities.

What’s in your fantasy school arcade?

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By now you’ve probably worked out I’m a fan of using video-games, and see them as essential to any effort to use digital-media with school children. At the same time games  are “Vegas’ed” – meaning moved off the strip — by many school systems — in favour of media-forms they see as less controversial. This isn’t just software — we’re talking here about physical space — actual walk-in spaces in schools. In an era of open-plan, idea-paint and primary coloured cube-chairs — no ones building arcades.

Imagine you had 20 arcade cabs in a school where kids could go and choose to play one or other game. What would you include on the machines? Why would being able to wander in and play it — be educational or useful?

How hard is being a game-kids parent?

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Technology is produced faster — and with less ‘need’ than society can resolve what to do with it — beyond what marketing companies tell them. We are bomarded with media messages. Whether parents like it or not, the largest form of media which makes more money today than last week is the game-entertainment industry – and it’s made it very easy to purchase and keep purchasing it’s products (also called games).

Teachers who “like” technology have bought into the marketing circus with such enthusiasm for the same reason. Those “selling the future” online via Twitter — for profit — tell them what to buy and make it easy for them to buy it.

Let me be really clear about why this is a growing problem for parents. Educational technology is saturated with brands, and people seeking to improve their status though brands. To do that they need your children. Most of them operate on dogma and rhetoric, few know the first thing about games as a media form.

As parents, we know the BIGGEST area of  anxiety and conflict in the home is VIDEO GAME USE. At school – the solution is to ban them. This is what I’m calling “the Vegas solution” — you simply move things you don’t like off the strip. The main aim is to keep teachers buying into the same crap that people have peddling for a decade — which has no evidentiary positive impact on kids or society so far. But it keeps the Casino boss happy.

So back to games. Why are they more of a problem now that a few years ago?

No longer stuck with the burden of physical delivery or tethered to permanent power-outlets, the game-entertainment industry (don’t separate them) — has worked out not only what people like to do most with technology — interact with media socially using romantic fantasy — but how to keep them paying attention, and spending money. If they are not doing that, they are watching NetFlix or YouTube according to the statistics.

Game-kids do a tremendous amount of emotional work both in the game as a player, and in the home as consumer being bombarded with messages to consume more. When many parents themselves lack the kind of mental executive function to PUT THE SMARTPHONE AWAY for more than a few minutes (they certainly can’t ride a bus or train without one) why on earth would they think kids can manage it? When kids see one rule for them and another for adults — then lines are drawn and the war begins.

It is hard being a game-kid parent because we don’t have mental models of what to do (from their parents). We have media models of what good and bad parents are, related to commercial interests. Our friends are also conflicted on what to do — leaving mass media tell us don’t use that, but this!

Then there is the false journalism which tells them they are bad parent. For example, the ABC News yesterday said “video games were named as a factor in the Sandy Hook Shootings” … then moved on with no explanation — to another story. In case you missed the actual report, video games were explicitly ruled OUT as a factor — and indeed the shooter played Dance Dance Revolution for 4 plus hours a day when and if he could play games. When the main public-funded news can’t bother to fact check, it’s no shock that parents get false messages, and no real advice.

Games are hard to live with if you treat them as though they are akin to TV or watching a DVD. But when going for a bike ride involves putting 4 bikes the Toyota, driving 30 miles to find a decent parkway … then there’s something wrong with how we live which can’t be solved by trying to work out which are the good and bad games — they good and bad kids — or how to extract the games-entertainment agenda from our media saturated society.

How hard is it — VERY hard. What is happening in public education — nothing, unless you could the dubious claims of clinical psychologists that games are addictive – which is also a marketing message.

Making sense of media reports about games.

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I happen to believe video games are an essential media-element in the lives of Australian families, because they are pervasive in our culture. They are on mobiles, computers, tablets and in classrooms.  In the decade that saw teacher-endorsement of Web2.0, and equal amount of time, effort and millions was spent trying to protect society (which includes children) from video games – and the DER vanished into history as school leaders try to ignore the past and talk this afternoons trope.

Parents are not idiots and everyone uses a mobile these days.

Firstly, games has a classification system. Given 97% of adults have played a game and 85% are present when games are purchased, media panics over game producers pushing horror an violence on the public (which includes children) is wrong. But then, as a thinking adult, I’m sure you know that media, especially when owned by Murdoch and friends, is both selective and biased. In addition, traditional media (which includes journalism) has nothing to gain (status or economic) from people playing video games and not giving them the attention they assume they warrant, despite social media being far more open and accessible than they are. But I digress.

Schools don’t believe in video games at all – ask why.

Video games are educational.  By saying that I mean — of themselves. They are as worthy of children freely exploring them as they are given silent reading time, free play in the school yard or put on the ‘edu-game’ in the library.

Games and game players are subjected to more academic scrutiny that 99% of technology that is now assumed to be “the norm” in classrooms — yet no significant studies suggest “Web2.0″ makes any difference in the lives of children — or that games would be worse. That’s the tragedy of Web2.0 in education for me, it quickly became an unambitious trope, full of commercial dogma pretending to be scholarship in order for a few to create a conference-circus lifestyle, in the traditions of American Fairground Shows. Web2.0 is introduced at will because it’s popular – and because brands are great at getting your attention. Schools systematically and selectively represent media that they think politicians and bishops ‘like’, especially if they get to crow about it at a conference. If a game is allowed in, then it will be sanitised. The teacher must be the celebrated innovator and leader in the story — and the students emancipated from otherwise ‘dull’ teaching methods. Again, no evidence that this has any positive effects at all — where as there is plenty that a few hours alone with a game works wonders on kids – especially boys who clash with school. It works even better if adults are helping them. Kids are as BORED with mini-laptops and ‘apps’ as they are with listening to Bueller, Bueller — Beuller.

The method matters when reading about video games, not the metaphor.

When reading about what games,it’s really useful to look for the method by which the authors come to their conclusions. In academia, methods matter — and offering opinions over evidence doesn’t get you too far. Its like saying people drive cars, cars kill people therefore people are cars. It just doesn’t make sense.

In many cases the method is neither obvious or  mentioned in the popular press articles. In some domains, particularly clinical psychology it’s the wrong method, used to validate a theory — not to generate new theory of games. Rarely do they address the rich evidence available. For example, neuro-science shows video game play has numerous benefits to humans, but not all humans. Again, not all humans like TV, walking the dog or writing blog posts. Each of those need methods of approach, which can be from many angles.

Clinical psychologists turned ‘game addiction’ into a multi-million dollar business.

In this research domain, ideas in which data fits the theory “games are adductive” are commonly echoed. Somewhere they will state — less than clearly – that hundreds of studies show games are addictive and refer back to gambling addiction. Most famously, is Kimberley Young declared in 1999 that internet addiction was “akin” to gambling addiction, and has since tacked on mobile phone and video games, which she also connects with moral decay and loss of innocence. Young’s declaration has less to millions of dollars in therapy sessions to drive out the human enjoyment of interactive media. On the basis of these studies 97% of Australians are pathologically addicted to the Internet, mobile phones, computers and video games. However, try asking your health insurance if that is covered or apply for workers compensation for over use of technology at work. You see, as much as they want it to be true — it remains little more than ‘something to work on’ as far as the World Heath Association is concerned. Game addiction is right up there with Scientology when it comes to it.

Playing Black Flag: A pirate game, where feeling like a pirate allows a scarf to be a hat, and a dog to keep you company.

More cowbell

While it may be true that hundreds of studies repeat and reaffirm this negative position, there is also hundreds of academic counter positions which generate and offer better theory of games – and how to mediate them in the lives of children. You might have seen James Gee talk about this on PBS or conferences. There is significant other social research which rejects this need to validate and vilify electronic media on the basis of false theory and popular journalistic interest in whipping up parent anxiety. Why is this person saying this? What’s is they want? Why now? Mostly – what the hell to these people play?

For parents, it’s useful to remember when you read about how terrible games are that the data presented in most often there to verify and keep afloat continued assertions of clinical psychologists who’s business is — treating internet, game and mobile phone addiction — which is not a recognised pathology by any stretch of the imagination. They might as well treat you for TV addiction — which of course prior to 1999 was their previous gold mine among nervous parents. I like this quote attributed to Rod Sterling (1924 – 1975), best known as the creator of The Twilight Zone, was a seminal figure in the Golden Age of Television and became a cultural icon of the 20th century.

It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.

Today, you can’t have a serious conversation about video games without 12 dancing clinicians waving toilet paper at you – In the mean time, peoplewatch TV and play.

There no such thing as video games!

The best research generates theories of games which can be seen in examples in the real world, not simply small laboratory experiments or citing previous studies which agree with your view. This is where better understanding and approaches to social gaming emerges from. Sadly though, many educational games are not based on this research either, but on avoiding the wrath of clinicians our casing in on popular culture and parent fears. Having said that, clinicians and educators use a very broad brush when it comes to which video games hurt or help. Which games? Where are they used? What for? By whom? What did they say? How was this conclusion arrived at?

Video games are not a leap of faith. They are the most significant media firm used in society to date and part of cultural literacy.

Over 97% of people in western countries have played them. They it’s no evidence to suggest those people have any long term behavioural issues. With parent mediation, along with any other media, they are of themselves a valid media text which your child with both enjoy and learn from. They will not learn more from an educational game, though they may be able to repeat facts or patterns. They certainly won’t learn from our about them in school, which has historically done everything it could to ban and demonise them. The leap of faith comes when parents and schools recognise that playing them is healthier when they step back and don’t overlay it with their own agenda. Only then can they start to see the theories being featured in social research as game related media studies.

Let them play, learn what they play, learn how to predict and prepare kids for media. I’m sure my theory that a few hours a week of video gaming at school for the sole purpose of playing (enabling alert, orientation and executive brain networks) won’t be seen as academic, unlike copying from the board or one prison telling you about how the world is. But that’s because I have unicorn blood and I’m a parent as concerned about media as another.

You have unicorn blood and will die soon.

I think I’m going to post a ‘hater’ passage of the week. This one’s a doozie.

It is well documented that helping children develop and sustain a physically active lifestyle requires children to become motivated.  This has led to the development of “fasting camps” where individuals suffering from Internet and gaming addiction are helped by being cut off from technology completely.

If you are going to introduce games into schools, then welcome to the opposing team. The “because its popular” defence will not work on these guys.

Xbox one installing help.

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Plenty of social media reports have said how problematic Xbox one installs have been. I’ve picked mine up and fought with it most of the afternoon. Here’s my advice … I’m two frustrating hours into ownership at the time I tapped this out.  There’s seemed no real help online, just trolls in forums … So if your here because you googled for help … this is just me, telling you what I did to get playing.

First of all, don’t freak out when it demand you type in your Wi-Fi name. If it can’t find it … then it shows you those it can see. Yeah I know right? So off the bat, connect the Wi-Fi, so i can do it’s Xbox Live thing.

1. Let it install the 500mb system patch after you connect to your Wi-Fi. It’s pretty slow and took me about 30 mins (given I’m on a crappy 2mbps link).

2. Turn off your Wi-Fi before installing your game. You can’t play off the disc like you can on the 360. I don’t know why – probably because I haven’t been following all the Mashable tidbits.

Let it install the game from the disc you paid for. Feroza wanted 6gig update, Black Flag 500mb. Either way, with the Wi-Fi on, it will sit at 1% seemingly forever.

Note that the install progress can only be seen from the tiny green line that grows vertically from the “you games and apps page”. It’s tiny!. After a while, maybe 12% it will say you can play the game and the install bar now runs horizontally. It is slow. Like really slow.

3. If you turn on the Wi-Fi, you can’t do anything other than wait for the patch. Welcome to the future, there is no other option. So if you want to play, and why not as most of us handed over $800 to play … keep that Wi-Fi disconnected, while you install the discs. Of course you can’t go online at the same time.

Other issues.

Really long boot time. Yes. Especially when first running the system. Limited information. Minimal options and system feedback is annoying. As the update window is simply a numeral, it’s hard to know if it’s doing anything. If you are getting no where. Remove the game from the my games and apps list, turn of fir ten seconds, re boot and disconnect the Wi-Fi. Once it starts, it wants to pause the download and will refuse to move on.

No media studies? No future.

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Australian education has ignored academic and social arguments to introduce media-studies into school age curriculum. Australia is a media rich and media poor society where parental styles, conceptions and attitude towards media have been show as critical in how children see, understand and use media. I’ve been around “online” for a long time, and rarely if ever have I heard a book author, consultant ‘expert’ mention the role of parent mediation in how children respond to media.

Office Automation verses Media Studies

This is one example of why school systems often allow ‘dangerous experts’ to offer opinion, they can avoid topics they don’t like, and amplify those they do. It helps to cover up the trail of poor decision making over decades when it comes to the importance of media studies. Let me give a brief, snapshot. Computers arrived in schools as a mathematical science. Around 2000, curriculum bodies began to insist that children could also use office automation software. It had nothing to do with media or information studies, but a media panic over middle class wealth. At some point, children had to learn to use a keyboard and basic office tools, which is still seen as the main affordance of computers in schools today. Check the curriculum documents if you don’t believe me.

A history of avoiding media

In the mid 2000s, schools blundered their way online with an in-consistent fear-based-policy approach. On one hand they believed that kids could now search for information, which potentially saved them money — less books, less libraries, less databases — and a place to stick these computers which by then had been thrown out of science/maths because they were culturally no longer about computing at all. On the other, schools have a poor track record when it comes to using media, always favouring PROTECTION (of the system) over PREPARATION (for life). Parallel to this parents of course were told (my the media) that in the age of ‘the information worker’ knowing how to be a USER was most important to future prospects. Ironically, all that work as gone overseas. More worryingly is this idea that all kids are in a media rich home, able to select, maintain and provided BYOD devices — and agree NOT to also give kids their own network-connectivity to circumvent ‘essential’ protectionist security. 

So school has a legacy of machine-use, which suits the “web2.0″ agenda. In effect, it can fund endless speakers and pilots at a far lower cost than re-orgnising curriculum in schools and universities to provide media-studies with the same importance it does biology of geography. At the same time, it’s PR engine promoted media as the future (all be it in their own weird way) depicted by these self-styled online experts – whom seem to have little credentials towards media studies, design or adult education.

Media Studies in the curriculum, not just inferred

When media-studies becomes part of the national curriculum, then academic, institutions and commercial providers can set about building something of substance that feeds into further education and the world place. That process would of course involve public consultation — not just the Twitterarti — which shapes a romantic, status based theatre as scholarship. Even worse, games are being added into classrooms on the basis they are popular, or can be de-clawed enough to be “educational” – It’s brain missing to me.

I feel pain for those teachers who put the hours and time into learning about media, and considering it’s impacts and affordances — they carry the burden and the hopes of children — who are basically be failed by dogmatic refusal to accept media (the arts) as being of equal importance to science. But when you have power, you don’t need to explain why and how you are going to use it I guess.

 

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