What she makes is Minecraft is your life.

The majority of positive debate about games is assimilationist. It attempts to explain what players are and what they do within the game-studies canon and is often autobiographical in nature. This focus on differences in the nature of reality isn’t particularly useful or informative if you’re a parent, or instructional if you’re a teacher.

For parents, talking about their children’s obsession with Minecraft is the reality. This belief is key, and is a product of irrationally constructing this belief (from the multiple meanings possible) — as media consumers. Their own construction of a safe-useful-productive ‘technologically mediated’ lifestyle is as consumers. Having been subjected to media-messages their whole lives, they focus on the individual child’s actions, responding emotionally to a conflicting array of images and messages which informs them of what successful, healthy parenting looks like. The behavioral response solicited from the media is choose this and reject all others. It’s annoying when children don’t reject it and when you find out why they reject it, it becomes alarming.

We know that product symbolism is an increasingly important strategy in marketing and that it targets families. Using Belk’s (1988) consumer theory of the “extended self” rather than the more common “the second self” from media theory, I suggest that seeing her as a player, where she creates and uses a game character (avatar) to interact with the biome is incorrect. She is using the game as an extended self to reproduce what she knows and is curious about. She has little fascination with the representation (character), but deeply interested in what it can (do) as a result of her interactions and ideas. Put simple, it’s a way of playing “families”.

The power and significance of saying “I’m a Minecraft player” is symbolically important. Parents might say “she plays Minecraft too much” because they are trying rationalize and predict her consumption as an  individual. This has a calming effect, as it glosses over the all important factor of her being part of the consumer community which parents introduce children to as a natural part of contemporary life. This means that she is using Minecraft to reproduce what she sees around her as real life and test it’s plausibility and believability. She is not playing because she is extraordinarily gifted, frustrated with school, or trying to escape reality (which is not broken). She’s playing because it’s a way to reproduce her life through play (naturalistic) and understand the complex media communications between adults and adults and computers as they go about their own lives.

She’s playing Minecraft as an extended self,  which she has more power and control over the inputs and outputs of the synthetic world than she does outside the game. The consumer society is weird to kids, with helicopter parenting, bluetooth cupholders and endless Facebooking of food. None of that feels as normal as parents assume it should.

If she’s playing too much then this is likely to be somewhat of a mirror to the overall family consumption (or avoidance) of media and technology, not because she’s addicted or trying to escape reality. Let me pick up on that. Reality is not broken as McGonigal claims. McGonigal focus on the individual as being “not good at life” which is fundamentally misleading as it treats game players as a minority discourse from the outset. Reality for children are parents hooked on consumer culture communities such as Facebook and Twitter and as such see themselves as part of a global culture which seems to combine corporeal and synthetic communications — and that is something that kids then feel they need to learn (to be a good kid) which frustrates parents rather than pleases them — as kids tend to be allowed games.

I argue that Minecraft in schools is more about the teachers own relationships with consumer culture communities as it is about learning. She’s not playing Minecraft to learn in school, she’s playing to reproduce what she believes is the reality adults create or want, and therefore Minecraft is creates further pluralistic confusion. Teachers of course follow the assimilation canon, claiming that Mincraft is “good learning” and that it should be “part of learning” by which they mean, their preferred lifestyle. No one is wondering how this affects kids already confused by the technologically mediated consumer society.

My hypothesis is that parents who complain their kids are hooked on Minecraft have themselves been assimilated deeply into consumer culture though buying and using products such as the iPhone and iPad — that they don’t see the significance of their child’s play. She’s playing Minecraft as a way to make sense of the most important things in the world — her parents — and is confused about why parents choose one media over another, which is bad, which is good and so on. To get her off Minecraft means getting off Facebook and Instagram, putting the phone down, turning off the TV and co-playing consistently over a long period of time. Minecraft is a mirror of our lives, and we don’t always grow old gracefully do we?

Simple XBONE advice for Xmas Morning you need to know

This post is for those planning to buy planning to buy an XBONE to open on Christmas morning — and how to avoid the disappointment that will occur. The XBONE has already seen many changes to it’s operating environment since it went it the box. It will want to PATCH immediately. That’s 500mb right there. It will want to connect to the wireless to do it — so make sure you know the name of it and the password – and what kind of security your network uses.

Patching is not as slow as I expected, however it’s going to take a lot longer than kids have patience. Then there are the games. They too want to patch – and I’m talking GIGABYTES of patching which is also quite slow.

On Xmas morning, if your plan is to open the box and play — then it will be Boxing Day before you get going if you let it patch.

If you don’t want to deal with XBONES updates then you can skip it’s demands for WIRELESS on set-up. The downside is that you won’t be able to sign into XBOX LIVE to play the games or get to other media. So be prepared to either get patched or staff off the Internet on Christmas Day.

You also need to buy the rechargeable battery and charger. Despite the controller having Duracells, it chews them in no time. No the 360 won’t work — so that’s about $25.00 you’ll need to pay.

I was pleased to see XBONE did have a decent HDMI cable in the box — but you might want to think about getting a cheap HDMI selector box if you’re planning to keep your Xbox 360 running. A decent one will auto switch and save you a lot of TV-Input switching too.

Most kids don’t play video-games it turns out.

A consistent comment I get from parents, experiencing anxiety and feuds with boys over video games is that “the game” is ruining family life and addictive. There is an imagined cultural portrait in which boys are habitual game users who become anti-social and disconnected.

A report has emerged from the annual E3 Games Showcase (for next years titles) that paints a different story – one likely to be ignored by mass-media. 

In 2010, the Entertainment and Software Association famously told us that only 18% of game players are under the age of 18. In 2011, they said 29% of gamers were over the age of fifty. They also said that women over the age of 18 represented significantly greater proportion of game-players (37%) than boys 17 or younger (13%).

Most significantly for parents, the average age of a video game purchaser is 41, and of those roughly half are female – despite ongoing controversy over the way women are represented in games. 19% of these gamers – pay to play – in online games, but 65% of all gamers play online with other people.

At E3, they released more information for 2013. The average age of player has fallen to 30 years old (from 37) and the largest segment of gamers are 36 and older.

For parents whom might other wise assume game-developers target kids, the reality is less than 20% of kids play games at all. Of the $20.77 billion dollars spent in 2012, more than half is spent by players over the age of 30 who have been playing for 13 years or more. Of that 45% of female. Despite the media-haters focus on violence and sexualisation in games – 90% of the games made have an “E” rating – as in “everyone” and of that 78% of the players play with other people for at least one hour a week and 35% of families consider ‘gaming’ to be a family-activity. In extensive studies of parent opinion of ratings, almost 90% said they used the ERSB ratings system in decision making. Despite anecdotal comments that parents pay little attention to ratings – it is worth saying over 90% of games are either E (Everyone), E10+ (ten and over) or Teen (T).

8 ways Minecraft works on your brain

Recently I’ve spent some time reading parenting websites about Minecraft. What is said is often repetitive, aggregated and lacks much substance. If you are a parent, or Minecraft player, then I hope this post will provide you with some further ideas about how the game works on our minds.

The thing which most articles omit is understanding of why imagination is a primary trigger for learning. Wherever we are, in school or at home, the immediate environment can either support or stifle children’s imaginative abilities. For example, copying notes from a wipeboard is submissive. Additionally, our brain has to work really hard to keep our imagination under control, as while we’re copying it down, our imagination is kicking and screaming to be let out, and we’re not thinking about all about the importance or significance of the information. This is why they invented photocopiers, mobile phone cameras and dropbox.

Minecraft puts players to work by providing the imagination with images and metaphors that give it direction. The blocks represents a random open world and the challenge to control it. Players learn which resources help them to thrive and what dangers need to be overcome. Next, kids use their imagination to make sense of the real world – more than facts or information. Ever wondered why parents say the same thing over and over and the kid does it anyway? … so Minecraft is a game which helps kids make sense of the real world – even though to the adult brain, it’s a lego world and nothing like real life – or the things kids need to know to thrive. Wrong, yes it is, just like kids in ancient cultures learned about hunting, or in the 1800s kids recited facts as in a factory reciting facts is was all that was needed for most kids.

The methods commonly applied in classroom towards what teachers call ‘learning out comes’ today routinely omit the word imagination from tasks and exercises. Schools like more measurable things such as list, find, calculate, show and so on. They can mark this … but marking Minecraft – what would be the point? Well the point is, for most people marks and league tables have been proven to de-motivate and train us to be submissive. So if you like freedom and liberty a kid playing Minecraft is unlikely to be submissive – hence why they wont’ get off it when you demand.

Academics have shown how important imaginative play is to child development for hundreds of years . This hasn’t stopped schools ignoring it. From the age of 9 or 10, a child’s day become less and less imaginative and more standardised as the great hammer of measuring kids by test scores emerges. There comes a tipping point where imaginative becomes day-dreaming and off with the faeries rather than a stand up student getting straight A’s. This is a social rule, the way we begin to define who is seen as a success and who isn’t. Again, ignore the fact many of the worlds biggest corporations and most valuable inventions were developed by people who dropped out of school, or crisscrossed it – like Einstein and Jobs.

All these things are set aside in ‘Minecraft is evil’ posts – not because it’s not true, but because life feels somewhat easier to adults who long ago submitted their imagination to someone else. The use iPhone apps, rather than imagine themselves making them so to speak. Kids don’t. In Minecraft, they can build anything … the imagination light is lit up like a 20,000 watt light the whole time they play.

Imaginative behaviors in Minecraft

Imaginative behavior is based on the brain’s ability to draw upon and combine elements from our previous experiences. Educational scholar Len Vygotsky wrote in 1930 …

The brain is not only the organ that stores and retrieves our previous experience, it is also the organ that combines and creatively reworks elements of this past experience and uses them to generate new propositions and new behavior. …This creative activity, based on the ability of our brain to combine elements, is called imagination or fantasy in psychology. (p. 9)

So here are eight things I see happening when children and adolescents play Minecraft.

  • Sensation – Learning as sense-pleasure
  • Fantasy – Learning as make-believe
  • Narrative – Learning as unfolding story
  • Challenge – Learning as obstacle course
  • Fellowship – Learning as social framework
  • Discovery – Learning as uncharted territory
  • Expression –  Learning as soap box
  • Submission – Learning as mindless pastime

Note that of these eight ways of playing Minecraft, children switch between them. One minute they are searching a cavern (Discovery), the next they are building a Library (Expression). At times, when they lack direction or motivation with other ways to learn, they wander about the open world in a state of Submission until something happens.

To me, parents can be the something happens. Even if they don’t play the game. Asking “how high can you build a tower” switches the child’s effort from submission to challenge for example. In many ways, a teacher or parent in a world without games used to do this all the time.

Like it or not, games now do it too. Minecraft is very special because unlike something like Tetris or even Grand Theft Auto, it has all 8 of these facets firing all the time. When it becomes multiplayer, kids stimulate each other constantly – not to make new things – but to change state.

This to me is why they find classrooms boring – they don’t change state in the way games do. Or rather they can, if the classroom is designed to change state and I don’t mean from ‘listen to me talk’ to ‘write this in your book’ – that leads to learning as a mindless pastime. Of course, when mass education was invented, being a submissive worker, following instructions and not ‘day dreaming’ was what school was all about.

So if your kid is playing Minecraft, then according to deeply respected academic research and principles, she is not undertaking a mindless pastime. I’d argue playing Minecraft now might be one of the things that saves them from it in the future too.

The trick is to know how to design day to day learning the way Minecraft works … or to say it isn’t possible and write another ‘Minecraft sucks post’.

I say it is …

A Minecraft family Christmas

Many kids will be getting Minecraft for Christmas. The media, as ever has begun to both praise it as the 21st Century Lego and the next day call it addictive.

So what can you do to make Minecraft a positive experience this Christmas?

Set expectations for play – Minecraft has no end. It’s fast-fail-succeed feedback loops engage kids for hours as they literally dig-away at rendering their imagination through Mincrafts deceptively simple aesthetic world. Kids are not good at managing time. Make sure you set time expectations (not limits). Make even more sure you arrive at the appointed end time and genuinely ask about what they did. Avoid yelling at them to get off at some random time. One great way to do this is to ask them to make a map/build for a family Minecraft play-session. The host literally hosts the game. Next time, hold it somewhere else.

Enable Minecraft Family Jams – its easy to boot up a LAN session with 3 or 4 kids. Make an effort to have organised ‘Mine Jams’ between your family members. It’s great for kids to play with family members of all ages. Set some expectation and goal so your family can have a lot of fun making something together. Just like scrap-booking or playing in the pool, family game play has many benefits – well beyond the activity at the centre.

Get a family-slot server – a small 6-10 slot server is inexpensive. The cost is shared between the family. It’s also likely that 2/3 will play at a time. It’s fun to return to the world and see what has changed or been added since you were there last time. This avoids the issues of being in someone else’s kingdom, and has the benefit of being able to ‘own’ what they make. On a large server, the server owner owns everything and its hard to keep or export things you make.

Many parents of kids playing Minecraft have little experience of using multiplayer servers – the other players you meet are unknown entities. I think it takes time and experience as a parent to risk-assess this, but is increasingly a parenting-skill needed. Getting together and buying a multi-slot for a year is a great way for the whole family to feel-out the world of multiplayer gaming. Later you will know more about, and have more reasonable expectations of larger servers and their admins – and be able to make stronger judgements on what a “good” server is for your kid. Remember all kids are different.

Furthermore, all families are different, yet often share common understandings and cultural-codes. There is also some deeper trust between members than of people outside it, family-play allows some shared de-coding and contextual reflection. Families do this all the time, it’s part of raising kids. However, sharing cynical anecdotes and negative stories of your kid’s game habits over cheese and wine can easily become more positive at low cost.

Family play narrows the generation gap and allows some degree of inter-generational creativity. While older members might not be as fast or as skilful in building, they have seen and done more in the world, so bring deeper narratives. Kids often as “what shall I build?”, a great reply is “do you think we can build a Roman fort?”

This isn’t so different from kids bringing the DS to the family BBQ … All you need to do is plan and organise it a little. Over Christmas, you’d be amazed at how many kids in your near-family play Minecraft … Just ask around … And get Minecraft Jamming.

Think before you jump!

A few people have asked me about ‘where do people start’ in re-thinking their use of ICT in the classroom. This photo kind of sums up what can happen if you decide to make a lot of noise unexpectedly. Noise is good – as long as people are expecting it. If not, then it may have the opposite effect, making change a lot harder next time … if there is one.

One of the ‘dot com’ phrases from the lat 90’s is applicable to getting into Web2.0 in your classroom is “the biggest risk to your success, is your success‘. In other words, if you get too carried away, too ambitious, then you see some amazing results initially, but sustaining that becomes problematic as you try to scale it outwards. Getting beyond your immediate classroom is actually easier by working with someone else online than it is with the teacher next door. Forget changing your school, just change yourself.

Start with the students.

Think about not what you are into (this week), but what is it that the students know, or need to know – in your subject. Adding technology will not make kids any smarter at all. You need to be very clear and very strategic. You have to think about ‘waves’ of revalation with your students. You can’t just keep moving endlessly though the savannah of web2.0 applications that spreads out before you.

Take it a term at a time.

And be well prepared to do that! – If you are teacher who works a day out or even week out, then you won’t pull it off. Why? Because your day to day teaching is dead. You are no longer going to have all the answers, no longer stand at the front and command. You will be an expert learner – supporting novice learners. You won’t have all the questions – but you will be scaffolding the goals/standards/outcomes – and how kids will reach them. If you like to ‘wing’ it, hand out worksheets, set text book execises … think long and hard! You are not going to pull it off, and you’ll confuse students.

Get involved and develop a personal learning network.

Professional Development, as it’s been for decades is dead. Learning is a conversation and people are organising without needing their management structures to do so. This means being online. You might be a fringe dweller – who looks and listens to conversations – or you might like voice, audio chatting. You might even get a Second Life (which leads to some amazing new ways of looking at yourself and the industry you are working in). But if you think its a game, then hey – collect your ream of paper on your way out.

Put down the ‘tool’ and back – away slowly!

You need to get into the conversation because everything gets easier if you do. If you are not in the conversation (and there are a millions of fragmented discussions going on right now), then you will remain one person. The power of you + network is what makes your classroom work. Don’t worry about ‘the tool’ or learning ‘how to use it’. Before you go anywhere near that, you have to be absolutely clear that you are prepared to do all this, prepared to be more flexible than you’ve ever been before and that you are prepared to support your students – online – whenever they are online. If you clock off at the bell, this aint for you. Hang on – its not about you right? – It’s about the learners. That is a fundamental self-check. If you are not prepared to live it, not talk it, then back away now.

Preparation before doing.

Before trying anything … I’d suggest you take a look at the following 10 things. A pre-flight inspection if you like. Have are clear for take off? – You need to get this stuff clear, written down and well planned. Any fool can sign up a class for Ning – and hope kids use it. They will, but what are the value adds. You have to start somewhere … so here’s a list of 10 things I think people should address before jumping.

Getting into Web2.0 Classroom?

Things to consider :

1.    Don’t expect anyone in your staffroom to empathise with your new found vision. Where you previously sourced information (your primary sources : collegues, professional publications and Google) – you will now start getting them from your network – this is alien to most teachers.
2.    Start with your students and work outwards. Changing your teaching style and their learning style is far easier than changing the world.
3.    Work out how much access you have in ICT classrooms before deciding anything. Access determines the ICT level you can work at. Be realistic.
4.    Develop a clear understanding of ‘Digital Reputation’ – be clear about what activities (ePortfolios) – using online read/write technologies can they use in the future. Discuss these with your students. Make it a project! – Make sure you understand how they see it.
5.    Develop a clear understanding of ‘Media Awareness’ – In the context of what you are teaching – how do you want to teach students about ‘filtering’ for your subject. Write down your goals, and discuss with your class.
6.    Take your librarian out to lunch. Find out how they can support you and your learners in research, literacy and copyright/creative commons.
7.    Get a network. Your network. Get Twitter – use twitter! – It will change the way you learn, and the way they learn – it’s an ecosystem.
8.    Prepare to spend time online – at home – some of the best teaching and learning happens in Ustream, Skype and Second Life.
9.    Listen to podcasts – buy an iPod – listen in the car or where ever – podcasting is blogging out loud – and there are some great Ed Tech stories out there.
10.    Join http://classroom20.ning.com – start reflecting on your teaching practice – take part in conversations. Develop a learning network.