Google Feud

This game is interesting. Its called Google Feud.  Its super simple and could be really amazing if you could add your own terms for class. Oh how the conceptual frame and subjective frame might be more compelling. As it is, its interesting to play, and then discover what people are typing into google. Warning: you are going to loose time to this.

What makes Minecraft a highly motivated community

A lot of the discussion about why teachers might use video games in their class has centred around the belief that video games are motivating. It’s also the central controversy about children playing games at home — they are so motivating that they are reluctant to put them down. Education often puts forward the theory of flow — to suggest that once motivated, children are in an optimal learning zone, a view presented by Jane McGonigal (2012) from which she claimed games are optimal learning environments, which predicated the launch of her book – Reality is Broken. It’s a compelling story, bursting with emotion, pop culture and ‘common sense’ – a way to rescue the shallowing of society and death of childhood. I don’t believe this is the case, or rather that video games have somehow found secret success factors no one else has.

For most people, tweenager and above, the construction of success is now deeply linked to their construction of themselves. This is partly visible in the identities, routines and rituals that they engage in. This engagement is also one based in consumerism, where material objects are part of personal expression and communication – their Y-Phones, Tablets, Game Consoles etc., These things all combine to influence their overall motivation towards everything. For example, it influences what they say and how they behave when told to get off the Xbox in the same way it draws them to it. Parents and teachers are not dealing with opposing forces — good and bad machines, books, games, behaviours and so on, but with one behavior.

Motivation is bound by two things for the ‘screenage’ generation, expectancy and value. Expectancy is comprised abstract elements: confidence, experience, importance and success. Value is perceptive: extrinsic motivation, social motivation, achievement motivation and intrinsic motivation. These things are so complex and variable, that video games are not universally motivating, nor are they a way to engage the disenfranchised or isolated members of society. Reality is not therefore broken, but variously experienced — particularly outside of the snow-globe of TED Talks.

People enjoy games because game-designers put ‘community’ to work. To me, this is at the heart of games-based-learning and project-based-learning. Community has numerous subtle components, however four main archetypes need to be considered when we’re talking about motivation and what spaces kids are in that might tap into that: Participation; Cohesion; Identity and Creativity.

Consider Minecraft not as a game but as a community space: it’s physically located on a device, but conceptually located in media consumer culture. It has the necessary attributes of a ‘good community’ and therefore is more likely to motivate players to participate. This is what all game designers are learning to do, and is critical to the commercial and every day pop culture discussion of those games inside their respective communities.

Now ask yourself, how connected is my kid to the local corporeal community: re-visit the four factors and ask yourself are they participating in ways that are sustained over time, have they become part of a core-group and do they have an emergent role in that group. Do they find cohesion? Is the group supportive, tolerant, allow turn taking, responsive, funny and playful. Do they have an identity? Is the group self-aware, does it share vocabulary and language, does it give them a personal space and brand … and finally, is the community creative?

I’d argue some schools have massive community and others are people-factories that pretend they are a community. The thing with games is, there is no pretending. Games which are motivating have communities that are motivating … which is why gamification at school or work is not about points, badges and rewards — it’s about community.

Is your school global or snow global?


Is your school global or snow global? That was the question sketched out by @kevinhoneycut this week. I liked the question and the ease of which middle schoolers could reflect on their own lives with it. For me, it makes a great, short, getting to know you project. .The image of the snow globe, famously used by Pixar, can be easily extended to escapism, globalization and consumer filter bubbles. All great fodder for visual arts and design … I hope this turns out to be a global collaboration with my American friends. Its been a long time since I got to do this. Boom.

Does Minecraft cure helicopter parenting?

This post is for parents, who are worried about Minecraft. More than that, it’s about the worry intentionally created by media reports which use Minecraft as a vehicle to their own ends. In short, this piece is why you should be highly suspicious of popular news media reports about Minecraft.

To illustrate this, I’ll use this recent report and discuss it in some detail to illustrate my point. The article poses the complex problem question “Are parents to blame for the popularity of Minecraft?”.

This is a nonsense question, suggesting parents are once again failing children and childhood. Its the same rhetoric which has been hurled at film, music and television — and roundly de-bunked as junk by numerous studies and scholars in several disciplines for decades. In short, media does not cause parents to fail at anything, let alone being a parent. Next we are introduced to a philosophical complex problem in an effort reinforce the media-panic. A better question would be “What makes media popular among children?” because Mincraft is a media text situated among digital-games which are a substantial part of cultural literacy. This is nothing unique about literature being popular in our society.

While a lot of research has been done towards film, TV and music, there is very little which looks at digital games, and none which looks specifically at Minecraft and therefore why Minecraft might be extra-ordinarily popular in comparison to the other media. One thing emerging from most current research is that children multi-layer they media interests. For example, playing Minecraft, making videos about it, drawing pictures, writing, role-playing as well as reading books (Minecraft was the number one purchase in school-book buying schemes in 2013 in Australia). Is Minecraft therefore a ‘cure’ for a complete failure of parents to mediate in the face of media panics and volaorization of technological commodities such as games, mobile phones and tablets as the headline suggests?

It seems highly unlikely, but on the surface, it appeals to the natural fears of parents about the role of technology in the lives of their loved ones. No parents in their right mind would use technology or media in a way which hurts children — unless they are stupid, which is what is being implied by ‘helicopter’ parents.

At the end of this post, I’ve linked to a good discussion of Minecraft’s potential impact on media in the future, for a generation building rather than responding to action games. Again, while really interesting, there are no studies I’m aware of attempting to track or understand this potential. The field of study that is games, media and society is in fact relatively small. The only agreement is that like film and TV, games reflect society. One question we know little about is about how children’s play is altered by an audience. This matters because parents are being positioned here an audience, either supportive or in opposition to conceptions of both video games and parenting. Evidence from sociologists and educators suggests that children who use media with a supportive audience do better in academics and social situations. There’s no reason to think that supportive parenting towards gaming is now a sign of a poor parenting or a cure to bad parenting.

We’re also not sure which parents the writer is talking about, what type of family context is this — and what age are the children. The reason Minecraft is popular, is because of many things, parenting I’d argue plays a very small cultural role, but probably an economic one, given Minecraft is commercially purchased. The title of the piece is therefore misleading in order to be ‘seen’ by meta-search and sensational enough to be amplified by parents and friends of parents whom have previously encountered a deficit debate about parenting and digital games — and have purchased Minecraft. It’s a headline which explores the un-answerable topic of the “death of childhood” which has also been shown to be a myth and de-bunked in the literature.

As if the headline isn’t loaded enough, the article goes on to attempt to connect adult choices towards media (regulation, mediation) to consequential choices they made for their children. From the outset the parent is assumed to be dumb and over-obsessed with supervision, and for a child ‘growing up digital’ this in invasive and harmful. “Growing up digital” (Tapscott) is an argument that has been criticised. Among media scholars, there are counter arguments for this type of technological deterministic view of childhood.  In particular, it assumes there a pre-existing demand by children for Minecraft, and therefore parents are generationally in-capable of being effective parents. The term ‘helicopter‘ parenting is another contested concept, yet laid on here in order to further claim that modern parents are unable to mediate personally or on behalf of their children (saving children from the media is a recurring theme in parental criticism). Clearly many parents grew up with video games and the Internet, the old verse new user lens is seen increasingly as simplistic among scholars, but remains popular in news media such as this.

The claim “more than a quarter of players are under the age of 15” is meaningless. Where does this figure come from? What platforms? Is this active players or licence sales? Let me give you are more interesting figure — 98% of all humans in America, Australia and the UK play digital games. In 2012, In America, 21% of people were under the age of 15, which would make Minecraft’s player base nothing extraordinary at all. In addition, this figure is used to bolster the claim that Minecraft’s “endless nature” is key to this astonishing unremarkable player-base.

This leads into a complex arrangement of types-of-play. Minecraft does have limits, there are technological rules and processes which dictate what play can be. The biggest reason ‘endless play’ should be considered false, is that just about all animals (inc humans) go it, and they do it their entire lives. Play is, by it’s nature an endless human quality, unless some medical issue prevents it.

Perhaps the most spurious element is that this ‘endless play’ is seen as opposite to the current arrangement parents have to allow play to go on, which he calls “one more level”. Minecraft does actually have levels in the game, there are numerous subtle ways to measure advancement. There are many other games which allow auto-didactic exploration of ‘open worlds’. Mincraft’s is a sandbox game, and by it’s nature, allows players to create and manipulate it. To be even more simplistic, Lego is a sandbox game, but the resources are far more limited to the player. As Lego is a toy parents provide children in greater quantity to Minecraft licences, then the so-called arrangement (in terms of play-management) doesn’t break any arrangement. Furthermore, it may be that Minecraft is the only game a parent provides, and this ‘nul’ argument is worth exploring before making such a claim. The arrangements (to use the term) parents make with children over the use of media are very complicated and so far, little research has been done towards this. Even less has looked at children under the age of 15. In fact most game-research has focused on adolescents using lab experiments. Birmingham did some work in the UK with children and families several years ago, but this was limited and focuses on ‘educational games’. It did show something relevant here — the conceptions parents and children have about what constitutes ‘constructive play’ vary between families. It’s hard therefore to ask “Do parents …”  without much further clarification of who is being talked about.

Finally there is a visual aesthetic to the piece, the introductory text is high on claims and low on facts. The invitation made (using the grinning face) is to watch the video-discussion. This video is not made for parents, it’s made for game-audiences and to build further audiences. This tactic is well used by news media to increase circulation and not worry about evidence at all. Children are concerned (the research shows) what their parents think about media in general. Depending on the age of the child, those concerns vary. Given the mode of the presentation, this isn’t aimed at young children. The language is complex and hard to process for young children. Rather than present much in the way of facts, the video resorts to pop-camera work, fast cut-away moments of random footage and of course, slap-stick comedy. By the second minute, it’s pretty obvious this is simply ‘entertainment’.

I don’t have any-problem with pop-culture, but as this appeared on my timeline, it probably has been picked up by one if not more teacher-parents whom I’m connected to in someway. It’s indicative of the kind of cultural-media-leaks which occur when game culture attempts to expand it’s audience, and is interesting to me because of that. As a parent, the video is a roller coaster of unproven claims about parenting and society which should not be taken too seriously, despite the headline. There are many great video’s which talk broadly about digital games (even Minecraft) which talk about the benefits (and problems) of games in our society. As a rule, those which attempt to connect parenting failure to games are hardly worth your time, because there is so little we actually know about relationships between children and adults are being shaped by digital games. One thing we do know, is that up to now, attempts to connect ‘bad parenting’ with other media has been proven to be almost always rubbish.

I recommend you watch Extra Credits for a bit of debate and entertainment on the topic.

Event: Epic Learning! Games in Edu Day, 26th August, Sydney.

Having left the UNSW and what was the management of my third LMS migration, there are a number of things I’m finally getting to do, and most importantly with people I respect, admire and love to work with. I don’t generally talk about that — but I will talk about “Teachers In Front” which is a venture I’ve started with Dr Bron Stuckey. It’s something both of have wanted to do for a few years, but circumstances never really allowed. Now it does.

In somewhat of a rescue mission, we’re pleased to announce a first public games and media event on the 26th August in Sydney. Held at the MAC ICT Center (to whom we’re really grateful), it will be a great day SHOWING how games have been implemented and sharing concrete ways to do it yourself. The aim of “Teachers In Front” is not talk about what people could do, but to build on existing success and scholarship. While it would be simple to add to the rhetoric, we’re only interested in helping people grow their own agendas and finding ways to demonstrate and own that success in their own right. So this event is what that looks like … where all the talks, demos and discussion are orientated to the attendees questions and ideas. Thinking on your feet kind of thing.

I hope you’ll come along if games, gameification and media interest you. Download the Flyer if you want, or you can just head over to the website, read the blurb and sign-up. If you have questions … just ask!


Thumping trees with teach you math.

New media is usually considered to mean non-print media in modern society. Then we have the broad notion of literacy, which people have attempted to broaden beyond its application to the written form. In educational cultures, literacy is now a broad and vague synonym for competence and skill — in the things that schools preference. The upshot of that is that for many students, the use of technology simply doesn’t resonate with them because it doesn’t characterise the kinds of multi-modal texts they use as a result of convergence.

So why bother with games and not just stick to making Google Docs? – The answer lies in the fact that games should not be seen as a resource. What makes a game different to Google’s apps? Well besides, writing, games function in two ways that Google’s tools don’t from a linguistic stance.

1. They show kids the world (indicative mood)

2. Taking action upon world (imperative mood).

If as a teacher you’re consciously using a multiliteracies approach to teaching (good idea), then games are a rich way of critically framing the topic under-discussion. Why does this matter? — Because it enables students to distance themselves from what they have learned — to take into account its social and cultural aspects allowing them to reflect, critique and expand on what they are learning.

If as a parent you want to know why Minecraft is so interesting to kids — it’s because kids learn very well when immersed in multiliteracies, because to them, being literate means being creative.

The key to remember is that kids combine social and symbolic approaches to how they learn. They use media to make meaning and well as consume things which (apparently) have meaning in them why are supposed to agree or comply with.

Games have social process and social processes which make them a much more powerful ‘literacy’ than Google docs, but they don’t as easily tick the ‘has learned to’ boxes that schools insist is a hallmark of learning.

So in summary, if you want to use new media, then you will also want to use a multiliteracies approach and frame the use of that in a social and cultural context that kids recognise. In other words, playing Mincraft will help kids learn maths in and out of the game, because good teaching with media (beyond writing and print) is multimodal.

Serious Play Conference

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If you’re interested in serious games, serious play and so forth, there is a conference on right now using #seriousplay which is throwing up some interesting ideas, research and resources. My good friend Bron Stuckey is presenting on Gamification along with Peggy Sheehey and Knowclue Kid, I only wish I could have tagged along.

The website for the conference is here. For a mere $50 a year, you can become part of the Serious Games Association too (here).

For an example of the kind of work being done in this field, have a look at this ‘social clues‘ game for children with autism. I don’t think lacking social clues or empathy towards others is necessarily limited to autism — perhaps playing this game might help the ‘normal’ people to be more inclusive and empathetic — not least in the workplace later in life.

Another great resource is called Preloaded. This to me is where the future is — people who understand media-games-education working with libraries, museums, and broadcasters to bring great games into learning though methods other than the belief of the current local educational czar who may or may not be interested. Preloaded is well worth spending time exploring.

Valiant Hearts for History Class

Valiant Hearts is rated PG (rated Teen in the US), despite taking on some of the darkest facts and scenarios from the Great War. At $20 or less its a well produced, narrative driven adventure puzzler which smacks of the kind of French cartooning style of the nineteen sixties.

The players switches around four characters which are not at all typical action heroes. It manages to describe the great war without resorting to the kind of graphic violence that would raise media-fearing eyebrows. Most of the time you’ll be solving puzzles and over coming obstacles. The hint system is pretty slick too, making you wait for the next one on a count-down. The effect is that you know a hint is going to arrive, so most of the time, my kids went back to trying to solve it rather than wait for the clock to tick down.

Watch the trailer or read the Wikipedia entry for more details. The game is well paced, with save points and plenty of puzzles to solve which could easily be mediated into a study of to the great war. My 8 year old was more than able to play it, but skipped all of the ‘historical’ fact cards which offer up information as game play progresses. In school, you could make a lot of these cards, building activities and discussion around them as students progress. The game is on PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, XBONE and PC. With a decent metacritic score of 80% on all platforms, my pick would be the XBONE edition for class and small group work on an IWB.

It represents the growing interest game developers have in remediation of historical narratives without resorting to smash and bash or puzzles which rely on visual inspection and decoding with limited effort to allow game-play to tell its own story. It also debunks the myth that gamers have limited taste in games or that they are not willing to try text types which are unfamiliar.


After Minecraft comes … Project Spark

When I discovered Minecraft circa 2010 when it was a little known ‘beta’ game. It immediately struck me has having archetypes which could be put to work in education (institutional and self-directed). I enjoyed and learned so much in the next couple of years as part of what was then the largest indie-educational game community I co-founded. The time was made all the more enjoyable as I was playing along side my kids at home to conduct some “deschooling activities”. I maintain the things we achieved (such as presenting our framework and methods at Games for Change and Dundee University) would have never have happened though current institutional practices and culture. But time moves on and though Minecraft has become huge in education, next-gen technology is bringing even more opportunities.

So where next? what (if anything) comes after Minecraft which could promote similar opportunities? I think it’s called Project Spark, and I’ve been busy with the beta for a while, and I’m even more pleased to say had access to Microsoft to look at how to take this into ‘educational’ realms. In short PS gives you the tools to create your own game, and build entire interactive worlds full of heroes and monsters. The game has been in beta for 10 months — and some of the early versions did suck. Microsoft listened and has come out with what I think is the next ‘big’ game for schools, especially post-middle school — but of course those interested in finding out about game-based-learning, not just ‘using’ PS to make games.

The full game is due out in October on Win 8.1 and XBONE. The first DLC will be a sci-fi tool pack called “Galaxies: First Contact” and there will also be great campaign adventure called “Champions Quest” Void Storm”.

I highly prefer the XBONE arrangement and would advocate for schools to seriously consider buying a console over a computer to run PS. The game itself is (will be) free, but expect there to be ‘paid’ content available. I don’t see this as an issue as people now buy content and DLC all the time.

You’ll be seeing me doing a lot of work around Project Spark in the future … because it’s EPIC.

Is the amount of time kids spend playing games declining?

What! That’s ridiculous! Well actually it isn’t, but it is really hard to prove. Let me explain, using Australian ABS and Screen Australia data — rather than US data which is often used in Australian media reports and being indicative of Australian family media choices.

Before 2008, the ABS collected data on children’s ‘discretionary leisure time’. One activity for this was ‘computer and electronic games’. Between 2000 and 2008, the percentage of kids doing this actually fell. In 2009 they changed the data set so that ‘computer and video games’ became on thing kids did under ‘screen time’. This basically means that we can’t compare post 2008 data sets with that which came before.

During the same period kids use of TV and Video remained at 97% meaning all kids watch TV and videos …  as well as play games (67% in 2008). Also in 2008 the group which produces data for the Games Industry (comprised of many media entertainment companies, distributors and retailers) decided that ‘computer games’ meant PC games and ‘video games’ meant console games. Everything else became ‘other‘. This class includes DLC, apps and subscriptions. They don’t give much data on that these days, but they too claim ‘computer and video game’ use declined. In 2008, the industry was under a lot of media pressure as the debate about ‘media violence’ became a popular cultural debate online.

We may suspect, or feel like ‘games’ are used more — but that is the power of media messages rather than a depth of study. We can’t rely on one study by Bond University and The Games Industry to say ‘games are growing’ but we can use it to fuel the ongoing media-panic associated with games (and parenting problems). Research tells us the major public health problems in modern society result from an accumulation of multiple causal factors, and for this reason the public health approach to understanding and dealing with those problems is the risk factor approach. Unfortunately, many people who seem to understand the probabilistic nature of causality in medical domains have great difficulty in the media violence domain (Anderson & Gentile, 2008).

Why would you care? If you concerned about video games it is important to consider media-reports of ‘game addiction’ or ‘over use’ are almost always based a composite ‘history’ of games from the late 1990s and a mixture of medical and media violence ‘facts’. They stem from clinicians claims ‘video games’ could (important word COULD) have the same ‘addictive’ qualities as gambling and other socially negative behaviors.

Take a breath for a moment because two questions have dominated public debate about media violence since the 1930s: (1) Does exposure to violent media have harmful effects on youth? and (2) How should society handle this problem? Now think about the last things you read about video games and chances are that this is the narrative — because its a proven attention grabber and yet without any resolution in almost 80 years.

It’s pointless to claim games are increasingly used over other discretionary leisure time (as being a kid problem). The use of SOME games by SOME kids might be increasing, but this is far from causing addiction or violent action. I might give us reason to think about why SOME kids might act the way they do — but these behaviors are always MULTI CAUSAL and the convergence of multiple risk factors.

What has continued to be shown by the ABS is that kids — given a choice of leisure activity — prefer to play outside and with others (49%). What parents need to wrap their heads around is how to manage media and communications CONVERGENCE in the home towards maintaining the family unity, entertainment and health.

Sadly few seem too interested in this because its quite confronting to think that when you bought that iPhone 4, you radically altered every aspect of family life. It’s the Back to the Future plot, but without a flux capacitor or much public funding or policy to try and tackle a growing gap in public knowledge and support. It’s organisations such as Relationships Australia that appear to be mostly picking up the pieces right now.