Larry Johnson at the New Media Consortium (NMC) and Horizon Report has said more than once when asked about Second Life, that he has always seen it as a ‘now’ technology and in doing so is conscious that whatever they do there, needs to be transferable to some other technology that contains new opportunities. By this he means the objects are less important that what they ‘know’ about virtual worlds, they can afford to leave objects behind if the potential ‘knowing’ is greater. I call this holding your tools lightly — which is still problematic with teachers, who like to invest in heavy tools, that they a reluctant to change. You can’t blunder your way into making a virtual world successful, if you are reliant on knowledge as facts, or strategy as process – but as history has shown, millions of dollars can be wasted searching for the grail.
Anyone who has been involved in virtual worlds seriously will tell you that people bring with them knowing and knowledge — ideas, facts, experiences and skills from other domains. While anyone with a modest amount of technical knowledge can set up a Minecraft Server and set about getting kids to do tasks that can be paraded as educational, to me that misses the bigger opportunity. By this I mean not stamping ‘education’ on it. Virtual worlds have important differences from other digital environments. John Seeley Brown said “While the architecture of these worlds is distributed across the Internet, the activities within these virtual worlds create a sense of shared space and co-presence which make real-time coordination and interaction not only possible, but a necessary part of the world.” This is the sense of ‘being there’ and most significantly choosing to be there with others, not being forced in an open-world such as Minecraft is, as JSB states “culturally imagined and the practices of the participants, their actions, conversations, movements, and exchanges, come to define the world and continually infuse it with new meanings”. If we look at Huizinga (the father of game research in many ways), he said that culture is the manifestation of play, not the reverse. So learning to play is not the same as playing to learn.
What Massively Mincecraft is interested in is this idea of ‘living in shared practice’ and in providing that, liberating players from the experiences of everyday learning as ‘students’ – most obviously by re-defining their role in the world. We believe that doing this allows kids and parents to develop new practices though imagination though networked, collective action. We are interested in kids and parents ‘knowing’ rather than it being used to create knowledge both inside and outside the game. We are already seeing this, even in our youngest players. Rather than waste time defending it, my response is to ask doubters – how are you creating better ‘knowing digital communities’ and most specifically, if you are focused on knowledge (content) how do you know that what you do with technology around the edge of that is not just a novelty.
This is why Massively Minecraft isn’t about getting the game into a classroom per se, it’s about what kids and parents bring (or not) to the game-world, and what they take from it though collaboration, shared meaning and collective action. One parent told me that they went to see their kid’s teacher and challenged the results they had been given saying “clearly my child is capable of more than this, what are you doing that gives you this information as fact – as I can see this isn’t right”. Massively Minecraft isn’t just playing, it’s about creating roles for players in and out of the game, that perhaps they didn’t expect – and I see this growing everyday, and it is a good thing. To me playing Minecraft with teachers is a very useful experience for them … it’s promotes knowing in new ways.