Why don’t teachers use Minecraft?

Last week saw another Tweet-storm from Minecraft creator Notch. A series of unapologetic statements, replies and foul language which website The Gamer called a “melt down”. He was happy to attack fans and critics alike.

Interestingly, a number of educators, often vocal about the game were quick to distance ‘their game’ (Minecraft Edu) from Minecraft and with it, saying that Notch has nothing to do with the game. Of course, that’s true. Notch has long since sold the game, and Microsoft was been quick to further monetize Minecraft Edu, following on from Joel’s original cash-grab educational version of the game. What is also true, is that Minecraft Edu has so far, never been shown to have any educational advantage over a vanilla version – yet this doesn’t appear to worry edu-fans of the game at all and seemingly, they don’t feel any need to ask for any evidence before putting students into the creepy treehouse school environment.

If like me, you have been researching and working with games in the educational context, you might appreciate how much resistance there has been to games and virtual worlds such as Second Life, Teen Second Life, Quest Atlantis, Warcraft etc., The educational community – happy to adopt unproven tools such as blogs and wikis, demanded evidence and proof before even considering a limited adoption or trial.

So it seems that Minecraft Edu doesn’t see Notch as an influence on children anymore. Research tells me that games are significations systems which play a central part in producing meaning through media representations – what we say about them, the emotions we associate with them and the ways we classify and conceptualise them. On this basis, the school game may look like the public game, however, their creepy treehouse school server.

I argue that this meaning making – ie whatever teacher created and mediated activity, lack the very post-structural elements which make the public game such a powerful element in the overall media representation of games, and furthermore doesn’t attempt to consider the continuity of change in children’s play and games as texts. This is why these Minecraft Edu fans use the game almost exclusively because meaning making is reflective and not constructionist. What they attempt to do with Minecraft Edu is drawn from the teacher’s own culture and relfection of what games are, what play is etc., and this is hugely divergent from a teacher whos is using Minecraft vanilla of Minecraft Pocket on a public/private realm.

So if teachers want to annex Notch from the cultural game-soup of Minecraft they also have to accept that they way they understand and deploy Minecraft Edu stands isolated from game cultures and the media representations that children access out of school. The success (if you call it that) or the tragedy of Minecraft Edu is successfully appeals to traditional conceptions of what children should do with technology.

Minecraft as a phenomenon, allows children to access and create media representations which is destabilising conventional meanings of power, values, conceptions and beliefs. I maintain that Minecraft Edu (and it’s vast EduCulture) deliberately avoids this because it puts the power in the hands of the teacher community which remains more interested in sanitising gameplay as part of children’s media culture – because it makes them feel powerful. They have already formed into classic ‘us’ and ‘them’ factions. As one teacher said “you don’t know me or my kids” … which is true – but I do know the difference between an authentic use of media and a creepy treehouse.