Clash of the Clans – Why game rating systems are broken

Clash of the Clans is another game which is gaining media attention in relation to children. It’s also a great example of how the rating system no longer provide a useful guide for parents. Clash of the Clans is a fun game. Children (and adults) create a village as well as plan battle strategies. The rating on iTunes is 9+ making it seemly suitable for younger gamers. As it collects personal information you need to be 13 to sign up for it. Don’t confuse this with the video game, movie or television or music classification systems.

Clash of the Clans is rated 9+ because the app developer filled in a form. Thats it, but let me explain more, just to illustrate the issue.

Here are the ratings as per the iTunes store.

  • 4+ Applications in this category contain no objectionable material.
  • 9+ Applications in this category may contain mild or infrequent occurrences of cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and infrequent or mild mature, suggestive, or horror-themed content which may not be suitable for children under the age of 9.
  • 12+ Applications in this category may also contain infrequent mild language, frequent or intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and mild or infrequent mature or suggestive themes, and simulated gambling which may not be suitable for children under the age of 12.
  • 17+ You must be at least 17 years old to purchase this application. Applications in this category may also contain frequent and intense offensive language; frequent and intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence; and frequent and intense mature, horror, and suggestive themes; plus sexual content, nudity, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs which may not be suitable for children under the age of 17.

So right off, we can see that Apple actively undermines and circumvents all established content based rating systems in favour of developer-marketing goals. In effect the wolf looks after the sheep, overseen by more wolves.

While clash is cartoon like, and certainly no hack and slash video game … the issue with Clash is not content or game-play, but it’s intentional design to keep children playing as long as possible – in the same way casinos set the lighting to keep gamblers numb to the passing of time. I’ll skip ahead.

Clash of Clans doesn’t sleep. It is what is called a persistent game. Every morning children wake up to a device full of notifications about raids and battles that have gone on. The resulting behaviour is one of giving constant, but not lengthy, attention. During the school day, kids know that people are playing and that being away has a negative effect on them. They want to play, they need to play … so they will find ways to play it on their devices and that will include being dishonest and secretive. The last thing parents want to raise is a child being secretive about what media they are using … but the game isn’t remotely interested in the media-habits or kids other than the persistent nature of inbound revenue.

Parents have little information about games such as this at the time of purchase. The old questions has been “are games addictive” … is rapidly becoming “which games are designed to create new, habitual behaviours from the outset”.

Now I like games right? You know I like them … but seriously, Clash creates new online sub-cultures and promotes massive distraction in kids, especially 10-14 year old boys from my observations … When a kid is struggling to pay attention at basic maths, read a book, yet spends hours in Clash … we really have to wonder about the ‘app’ revolution in schools. Sure, iPads are great for learning, but there is no way teachers can (or should) police the use of skinner-box, persistent snack games when they are trying to do their actual job.

So if you are a parent reading this, and you’re early teen is playing Clash, then I would argue that it will, and is, having an effect on their education, in cases where that child is unable to self-mediate their use of games and where the parent really has little idea how the game is intentionally designed to occupy their mind space constantly. Not all kids, but certainly some kids are displaying signs of negative media-habits … or is there another hypothesis?

It’s not Minecraft, it’s you.

Mummy bloggers all over are writing about how they can’t get their kids off Minecraft. They are talking about having to learn a new language to begin to understand their children’s addiction enthusiasm preference for playing the game using media constantly.

What is less understood is that parents are trying to raise children in a world where media is everywhere and everything is media. This is new and aside from the clinical psychologists who led the anti video, dvd and now game lobby – while at the same time making a fortune ‘treating’ kids for it – there really is scant evidence to suggest playing games today has academic benefits, nor does it lessen, harm or otherwise turn kids into dumb adults. What most of the research focuses on (in games) is the emotional responses people have – most often in lab-experiments rather than any real large scale cross-disciplinary research. So mummy blogger is right – no matter what belief she has about Minecraft right now. And plenty of us have observed family conflict over the use of media in the home these days.

Parents have experience of media, access information about media, but no real objective way of learning how to parent children in a world now saturated by it. Minecraft exists along side a raft of media that children consume. Some media, typically that which is made by children versed in the genre of children’s entertainment is very good. Take Good Game by the ABC. The Good Game Spawn Point for ‘younger gamers’ is impressive. In store, evidence suggest most parents take advice when buying games and don’t buy games with inappropriate ratings. However this is no measure of a child’s diet or exposure to media as they move around the metaverse. Vast amounts of media which targets kids is designed to do one thing – make money from advertising. Minecraft, without it’s constellation of media channels (un-regulated and un-known) is not about to craft content in the way GGSP does – nor is it motivated to do so. At the top of the food chain, the channel parents are using to find answers – aka Google – makes billions out of the problem itself. Broadcast yourself (and make money with no recourse) is what is happening. The fact it’s Minecraft is not as significant as people believe. Now it’s Minecraft, later it will be something else.

Co-op Teaching

There are plenty of ways to teach, but if your teaching co-op, this is a list of techniques with the level of difficulty (co-ordination, belief, action). “Team teaching” is often uses as a catch-all to describe attempts to teach numbers +30 students, typically combining two or more classes. Some schools have partitioned walls to do this – often Kindy and Year 1 – but it tends to drop off over time. Other schools use ‘open space’ or as they used to be called ‘learning commons’.
To date, research on the effectiveness of co-teaching as a mode of instruction (for children with or without disabilities) has been scant, and has yielded mixed results. However, to combat falling into what I’ll call a low-modality of teaching block scheduling (in which classes are typically longer) may be most effective in facilitating co-teaching and similar practices, by allowing more hands-on instruction, active learning, and processing time. (medium and high).
But this isn’t just a teacher task. Administrators should strive to design a schedule that will permit regular co-planning time during the school day as scheduling may be problematic for teachers not just at the planning level, but also at the instructional level. Teacher belief and preferences towards their methods as well as their interest in other subjects, willingness to participate in activities they didn’t create etc., all add to the complexity of co-op teaching.
I propose that lessons (or missions, quests) etc., are clearly defined such that teachers understand the modality of the lesson – and most importantly the assessment that should be taking place alongside verbal and written feedback.
I cannot stress enough here, how much the the learning environment matters in terms of design and infrastructure. Low level co-op is pretty easy to do, however moving beyond it – flipping the classroom, creating learning stations, putting kids into autotelic patterns of learning etc. requires higher commitment and levels of digital skills and knowledge of blended learning and instructional design.
  • One Teach, One Observe: One teacher observes specific student characteristics while the other teaches. (low)
  • One Teach, One Drift: One teacher presents material to the class, while another circulates and provides unobtrusive assistance. (low)
  • Parallel Teaching: Teachers present material simultaneously, dividing the class into two groups. (low)
  • Station Teaching: Teachers divide content and split class into two groups. Each teacher instructs one group, and then the other.  (medium)
  • Alternative Teaching: One teacher instructs a large group, while another works with a smaller group needing specialised attention. (medium)
  • Team Teaching: Both teachers work together to deliver content to the entire class at the same time. (high)
Studies indicate that students generally have a positive response to co-teaching, while teachers’ opinions tend to be mixed. Developing a sustainable framework for co-op teaching cannot be effectively built around ‘what the syllabus wants’ but around what the space, technology and people can achieve – which according to the scant literature on this is – variable in terms of academic results, but much more positive in terms of peoples’ emotional response.

What do you value?

Humans have code. Some people’s code is more complex than others, but essentially we all have things we ‘believe’ are valuable and more importantly, they contribute to our self-identity, who we ‘believe’ we are and how we ‘believe’ we project these values though our communication and character. In games, these things are not removed, despite the hype around our “Second Life”. We don’t inhabit an alter-ego, but use the neoevolutionary phenomenon of the media to become “the greatest sword fighter in all the world” – if we want. It’s one reason I believe games (in moderation) are good for kids – they get to try this out in a third-space.

19864450839_48d4f8cff4_zI have some non-negotiable values: Equity (I dislike situations where people are out-grouped, excluded or made to fell less than anyone else). This is really problematic as the world is populated by people who don’t consider or share this ‘world-view’ in favour of direct ‘dog eat dog’ or the unforgivable ‘silent assassin’ behaviour. Effort. I like work and want to make everything I work on or at better. Heritage. Nothing is here now without a past and nothing stays here without the generosity and kindness of other people (many of whom I will never meet). I reject the throw-away media cycle and always look to a persons ‘digital heritage’ to try and gauge the path they have taken, and take time to appreciate their struggles and contributions to the world I experience. For example: if I buy a ‘new’ car, it’s going to have digital-heritage and probably will require effort to maintain it (and drive it). Of course, this is often mis-understood by people around me. That leads me to the last one – uniqueness. Everyone is unique and can only be the person they are, not something else. That is amazing and beautiful at the same time. I tend to pay far more attention to the uniqueness of people and avoid spending too much time with people who are working on hiding it. There are plenty of those people out there and I appreciate they are all dealing with ‘stuff’ which I can’t begin to fathom anymore than they can know me right here, right now.

While I don’t pretend this in exhaustive list, these things matter most to me. It’s one reason I find games an ‘escape’ from reality as I think the games I like to play contain these values as (more or less) rules (ludic and passive). So if we meet one day, you’ll know what I’m about … and I really don’t mind if you agree with me or not – just be aware that the hamster ball I roll around in is powered by this.

The 4-way PBL Project

This week I kicked off a six days (three and a half hours a day) of technology projects for year 7 & 8. I have some 85 students and we do this two days a week over three weeks. All my students are in the same room. I should point out here that I’m teaching with the Maths, Science, English, HSIE, PDHPE teachers along side me.

In fact, we each do this in turn, so in actual fact I am ‘convening’ four projects that are happing at the same time with their help – Timber, Electronics, Communications and Innovation. Each teacher has roadmap of what I want and I make all the resources to support each of the four projects (a website) which the kids dip-into as a series of ‘learning episodes’. I have a system now where kids have to achieve the key outcomes in their first one or two projects which I set, after that, there are a series of projects they can do, and roughly 22 kids choose which of the four they want to do – based on what they have not yet done. When they have done four projects, they get a ‘master project’ brief (typically year 8) in which they create their own technology ‘start-up’ and make a prototype and the necessary items to promote it. For example, they could start a skate business in year 7 and use their tech-time to investigate and experiment with creating ‘things’ for it over the entire course.

What I’m giving them are a set of non-negotiable learning aspects. For example, if you want to make skateboards, then you’re also going to have to tell me what kind of timber is out there, what tools you can use etc.,

Let me give you an idea of how this works. Kids will work on a “maker space” project as a core-unit. The essential questions is “what would you make, and how are you going to make it happen”. Of course they probably have no idea what a Maker Space is .. but by Day 2, they all have to come up with a ‘pitch’ for what they want. A “pitch” has a few parts … the opportunity followed by the hurdles and hassles. As we all know, nothing get’s done easily and even the best ideas soon meet hassles and ‘yeah buts’. So the kids have to be clear that they know what the barriers are and then present their vision (which must get around those hurdles). Next the have to come up with 3 (or more) options in their idea, then pick the one they want to go with – and defend why. Finally, they have to list the potential risks and problems that might happen with their idea.

By the end of Day 2, all the kids have a pitch. Some will have got into their ‘birds of a feather” groups, which are people who have skills they need, or ideas and goals similar to theirs. If they like, they can pitch again as to why they want to form a group (company) rather than stay solo – but I want that over night.

So what’s the driving question? well, there really isn’t one in the traditional sense. What we’re doing here is learning how to tell stories (reports, explanations, pitches etc.,) and to visualise them using the head, heart and facts available. To be specific, a few kids decided to form a business to ‘up-cycle’ skateboard decks. On day one they didn’t know what a maker-space was, by the end of day 3, they have spoken to veneer suppliers, skaters, board-makers and started to work out how to pitch their plan to the community. They know what tools they need and what they need from a space to make it happen. So they are busy this week trying to work out how to raise the capital to for their ‘start-up’.

What I like about this is that we’re not stuck in a loop of Googling and sketching out designs for skateboard decks. We’re not trying to make one deck, but create a long-term start up which will recycle and build new boards, and allow other kids to come and learn how to do it.

All 4 projects work the same way. There are goals, rewards and visible learning systems to work with that allow them to believe they can be a start-up. Thats what I’ve been working on for a while. You might like.

Why do teachers talk at all?

In an era where the Internet seemingly has all the answers, why do teachers spend so much time talking to students? The answer is of course complex and unresolved in totality, but we do know why teachers feel as though they should lecture students. One is the dang bell that signals the start and end of a lesson. Teachers believe they can ‘on-ramp’ students with an intro and with 5 mins to go, the are using the verbal whip to push that pony home in the last stretch. We know that many teachers like to teach the way they were taught (particularly early career) on the whole and it takes time for them to build strategies and confidence to do otherwise. It doesn’t help that there isn’t much ‘modelling’ going on in University to show them otherwise either. Some like to simply show off and talk about themselves, because it’s nice to have a captive audience.

I’ve been reading and picking at a great little book recently called Show and Tell by Dan Roam. Although it’s about presentations, it’s really about communication. Communication can’t be easily defined either, although a horrid woman once told me it’s ‘verbal, spoken and written’ which amused me and really summed up her skills brilliantly. Roam says it is to “tell the truth, tell it with a story and tell the story with pictures” which is delightful depiction for my middle school students immersed in project based learning. He also says we should used “head, heart and data” which again is fundamental and sadly ‘data’ is routinely omitted by many of the soch-presenters broadcasting on Chitter.

Talk fades fast, where as drawing and visualising the conversation captures information, ideas, data and most of all a shared connection between the participants. I get through a stack of paper doing this every day. Nothing beats a bold line from a sharpie to cut through tricky problems.

All that glitters …

There was a time I hearted Chitter, the conversations and the connections. Today, Chitter is quite a different proposition as a media channel. It’s ability to allow anyone to have a voice is mediated by their audience. Chitter is free and allows anyone to dive in and grab some attention. Chitter works better for individuals, when they cluster together as a vaguely aligned group who understand and share some common understandings about how to behave. Following the rules, means the cluster expands and so doe the chances of the individual to increase their social-capital – be it neo-capital within the phenomenon.

Of course if you don’t know this, then someone who apparently has connections and followers, posting attractive messages may well appear knowledgeable and influential. To make sure, people produce all sorts of media around their social-presence which reinforces their correctness. But all that glitters is not gold. It is less easy to impress people who demand evidence. For example, while videos about using Minecraft, doing science etc., are interesting, as is posting links to scholarly work — actually showing that what is happening cannot be achieved in another (often simpler) way is more difficult. Showing that what is happening is ‘better’ is ineffable though the media and human filters that regulate the ‘clusters’ correctness (social importance). If this wasn’t’ the case, no one would bother researching or talking about methods of research in attempting to improve education. I reject the idea that ‘social’ is a short-cut or ‘grass-roots’ version of academia. Plenty of people do both.

The clusters tend to focus on particular topics (each node likes to have it’s own operating space). This can have an effect on reality. By appearing to be on the leading edge, it is possible to build social capital and actually climb the ladder. Remember nodes like to bind with other like-nodes in the cluster, which is another form of in-group and out-grouping. The problem I have here is that I want to be convinced by evidence rather than media representations. While it’s great to see people blogging and sharing, it does no harm to look a little deeper than media-presence and ask yourself, is this really golden?