Thanks to Stephen Elford for his comment on ‘special-powers’ for teachers using the augmented version of Minecraft in schools. He raises a really important point. In his comment, he says he doesn’t believe he would have achieved the things he did without them.
The school problem
My stance on schools and their insistence that commercial games must be ‘edu-fied’ before being allowed on to campus is that it’s irrational. It is a leadership-behavior with direct cultural links the modernist suspicion that ‘new media’ is demotic and unworthy, and that print remains the best way to educate future citizens. Media-panic is used to justify what ‘new media’ is in, and what is out, and those choices are made based on two things: the choices of others and that those choices are status based. The end result are signs (such as special power) that kids in classrooms today have less power than did decade ago. That seems remarkable, give then 24/7 feed of educational savants proclaiming otherwise. I currently believe there is less symmetry between producer/conumer now than ever – just more rhetoric, data and devices.
The narratology vs ludology problem
I’d argue that Minecraft with special powers for teachers is realist (modernist) response to cultural change, were as Minecraft itself is romantic (post modernist) agent of cultural change. Salen & Zimmerman would describe this as the emergent narrative that games can employ in unique ways to engage the player in a story.
The opportunity problem
Outside of school, MInecraft offers children three special-powers of their own, which are essential to ‘consumer entrepreneurship’ in what Squires talks about in his book “Half-Real”. Minecraft offers kids choice, agency and enterprise. Three important and compelling reasons to play and make sense of many things. I grant that if a curriculum dictates students must learn about and learn to, then stipulate the hours to do it in, then compromises will need to be made – and in doing so, I think many opportunities are lost – especially for children whom don’t get to play video games at home – or have never seen a reason to play.
The conception problem
A childs creativity (in video-games) can be understood as reflexive adaptation to unpredictable change in complex systems. Minecraft is just as complex as Warcraft in this regard – but differentiated by the lack of an romantic-episodic plot in Minecraft. The narrative in MInecraft is almost entirely autotelic. Complexity can be understood as networks-of-social-choice, and are vital to the distribution of knowledge. When a child play’s Minecraft, she will will also watch/make videos (currency) and participate in Minecraft forums (complex networks). Finally, a child’s knowledge of the real world grows because the experience of playing was not simply ‘fun’, but experiencing the dymanics of change and growth. At the beginning, she had few choices available, she had little agency against the foes in the game, and had no real enterprise in the game. Through effort and work, she learned to grow and change, she learned to overcome problems which at the beginning were in-comprehensible.
The media panic problem
So if parents begin to understand games, beginning with realising the ‘media-panic’ about new-media is now 20 years old, we’re really dealing with parental (and school) belief. Some will believe that education of children is best achieved from the modernist stance, and others from the post-modern. What I think matters in gaming right now, is that selling off opportunities for imaginative learning (Kieren Egan, David Buckingham) because of ecomonic-short-term culture is a mistake that education repeats – and not just in games. For example, the idea of MOOCs has split into xMOOCs and cMOOCs in order to once again separate ‘science’ from ‘arts’.
The pre-cultural solution signals
What’s I find really interesting about Minecraft ‘special power’ variation is that more ‘science’ teachers use it than arts (from what I can scrape from the feed). That seems strange, given much of commercial game use in schools has been towards the arts so far. Perhaps this is a signal that pure-and-literal sciences are interested in more romantic solutions, I do hope so.