Imagine the opposite – then play Minecraft with us

Think about the classic fairy tale, what lies below the surface? What is Hansel and Gretel about?

It’s about security/fear.

In fact most fairy tales are about binary opposites – appealing to the imagination to process the meaning behind the language.  The language of the text, long with illustrations isn’t as powerful as a child’s ability to create memorable mental images and to learn what lies beneath the text that makes them powerful. In short, it doesn’t matter if you add a spoon full of technological sugar, unless you also start to appreciate that language tools are not simply an evolution of typewriter to word processor to blog to Twitter – and if you’re in any doubt, go and read some of Judy’s posts on the Information Abyss or anything Jude’s added to her library recently. More people on Twitter doing the same thing does not make it better – nor does it make anyone more deeply engaged with learning.

Massively Minecraft is designed to draw out these binary opposites though play, as we recognise that kids at 4-16 are not particularly interested in being critical thinkers, but find it more productive to be abstract thinkers – as that’s how their brain likes to learn. It doesn’t mean books and film is excluded from their in-take – and it’s brain-missing to say that as they are being allowed (told) to write information in a wiki, it is somehow better than not using a wiki. They don’t need to be connected via Twitter, they need to be connected by shared meaning is spaces that provide vivid opportunity to explore and make meaning. When we get that wrong – it’s called Facebook bullying – and education isn’t devoid of blame for the consequences that are clearly harrowing at times. I realise my argument runs against the grain and trend – and so I’ll never sell a million copies of a PLN book, but that doesn’t mean these people are right. They are just persuasive (for now) as there is a willing audience, who for the most part, don’t play games.

The most obvious binary opposite in Minecraft (like many games ) is survive/perish mechanic. There are numerous ways the game does that using Zombies, Apples, Pork, Creepers, Lava, Water etc., These are simple mechanics that the kids learn to minimize quickly, so that they can get on with more important business – imagination. In that regard, Minecraft isn’t compelling because of it’s in game rewards or combat, because you can make models of the Great Wall of China. It’s because it allows kids to explore mental images and articulate them in personal ways – with others, in a feedback look that Hattie would be proud of.

Over the last eight months, Massively Minecraft has evolved to almost 200 adventurous imagineers – not least due to the tireless dedication of Jo Kay towards building a safe-game that is rock solid reliable and customised to deliver what I’m talking about – and being a much loved and epic play-maker.

We put binary opposites to work in our game – it’s never about right/wrong or collecting n objects to level up. Its always about mystery, irony, jokes, arguments and other things that are generally not seen as an efficient way to process learning outcomes. We  target kids’ natural attraction to imagination, play and binary opposites to make our quest lines (inc. digital citizenship) imaginatively engaging. Kids always create (and see) something more wonderful in the task than the task itself. And if they choose not to, then that’s fine too. They come back when they are ready. And they come back – almost 200 kids, from around the world, 24/7.

It’s crucial for kids to rule their world, to design their own learning and build thier own social-rules – if they are to use their binary opposite skills to work out how society and culture works. – me.

Parents have no issue with binary opposites when they they let kids read books or watch movies. For example, despair and hope, fear and release, resentments, revolt and all reflected in the daily experience of playing the game. There are fairly tales in the school library, but if you try to put one on a computer, prepare for the bleating.

Many teachers have asked me about getting Minecraft around the school-filter. Firstly, the idea that games are un-educational is ignorant at best. Anyone filtering out games needs to justify their actions. In particular explaining exactly how gossip, fantasy, taking roles, creating imaginary worlds, making social-contractual arrangements or just having a good time is some how less educational than what is happening on computer screens in the ‘game-banned-classroom’.

Games have no new case to make. Vygotsky (who educators do hark on about) argues that in play, kids function beyond their average abilities and that this experimental situation allows them to explore the rules of their society and culture (1978). Anyone not had this on their pre-teacher reading list? – if so, what happened to play?

“Shrink not from new experience; but sailing still against the setting sun” – Dante’s Inferno

10 second game: Here’s a fairly tale image from a brilliant game called Trine 2. (Mac and PC). Combine this image with that single line of classic writing and imagine the story it creates?

If you are not a game player – that is about as near to explaining the experience, feeling and emotion of game-play as I can can reasonably get. Everyone can play – but not everyone know how to put imagination to work. Research show adults don’t use binary opposites to learn, we sort of fall out of the habit in written language cultures. Go figure.

Arguing for games is arguing for imaginative learning – and that’s what Massively Minecraft is seeking to do.

Ruling games out of a kids learning means they are likely to have an unimaginative education – where they can’t take on roles, instead we bleat on about content, time and curriculum … whereas every topic in the curriculum can be conceived in such as way that kids have roles to play, and explore any topic with greater intensity and engagement. The question for game-haters is how exactly do you argue against decades, if not thousands of years of clear research AND the phenomenal rise of gaming in the home and society?. Games have little to prove now or at any time previous … they have always been a great way to learn and to teach.

For those interested in adopting games in the classroom, we designed Massively Minecraft to do just that – and at the same time ding the digital-skills for almost zero additional effort.

Play or don’t play – it’s 2012 and we’re expanding … (love to all our friends and supporters) …


One thought on “Imagine the opposite – then play Minecraft with us

  1. A few years ago, I went trekking in Romania. The mountains, the forests, the woodcutters’ cottages where we drank fresh yoghurt, the flower-filled meadows and the bear tracks in the morning outside the tents – they were all Hansel and Gretel for me. Powerful fairytales stay with you and they work at many levels – I don’t feel they have one, binary, meaning – except perhaps in the most sanitised versions. Likewise, Mary Poppins (the excellent books – not the Disney film) is interesting and engaging because of its ambiguities – you can’t ever work out who Mary Poppins is, where she comes from, what she’s doing. She doesn’t fit into a conventional storybook model.
    As you say, in Minecraft the survive/perish distinction is one that children tend to set aside quickly. It’s briefly interesting, and the monsters remain engaging, but dying and respawning are minor annoyances, rather than significant events.
    I think you’re absolutely right that games are important; they can be strong supports for imaginative learning, and any school or education authority that bans them out of hand is making a mistake. But I don’t think their power is due to binary distinctions or polar opposites. For me, the power of Massively Minecraft (to focus on a particular game environment) is more related to being able to engage authentically with issues that are typically outside children’s control, including the construction, organisation and governance of their learning environment. It’s about children having the timescale, the resources and the freedom to work together to realise their visions – with the tools, the scope and the space to as creative as they can be. And, as in most of the best fairytales, there’s a person who is wise and/or strong, who can help guide you in unexpected directions in order to realise your dreams.

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