The Minecraft Experience at Games for Change, NYC, April 2014

mmpIn 2011, when Mincraft was a beta-game with 100,000 players and not the 1,000,000 it has today – a small idea called Massively Minecraft took flight. It’s main activity was to enable children and adults to play on a server which attempted to allow children to develop ‘digital skills’ based loosely on ISTE’s NETs for students.  Today we’re launching a new project around Minecraft — building the right drivers in home, school and research.

I’m thrilled to be feel like I’m at the centre of it, both as a parent and now as a games researcher. Minecraft represents a unique media-phenomenon and has clearly been taken in remarkable new directions by the community. There is no one ‘best’ way to play, teach or parent around this game in particular. Unlike much of the technological determinism associated with technology and children, Minecraft has achieved what educational software and culture hasn’t. It has managed to bridge the gap between family literacy and school literacy. But all too often, the voices of parents and kids are lost. They are the subjects of research, not active researcher — and that’s what the Massively Minecraft Project is about — actively helping support autonomous research by parents, teachers and kids in to Minecraft.

The Minecraft Experience – at Games for Change, April 2014, New York City.

Today we are pleased to put up the first of a series of projects in this space, reviving the “Massively Minecraft” research and practice agenda. The International “Games for Change” has accepted our panel discussion with leading Industry experts on the “Minecraft Experience” as game, media, educational and cultural artefact. We’re provoking the panel and audience discussion by inviting you (and people you know) to share your road-story (good or bad) with us. This takes place in April 2014 in New York.

Here’s Bron’s open call for participation … please share it widely so that the panel discussion in April (In New York City) takes in as much as possible!

You can read all about it here and we really want you to spread the word!

This project is a chance to have your say about Minecraft. We want to be able to describe Minecraft is all its different experiences and to do that through the eyes of those most experienced with it – youth, teachers, parents and designers.

You can add content to the wiki or point to fab content you have already online (stories, blogs, photos, videos etc). Contribute to a page or design a page of your own. Take this space in whatever direction you feel it needs to go to describe Minecraft well!

Those wanting to contribute will have to join the wiki. We have chosen to not have this a completely open wiki in order to monitor and protect any of our young contributors. And we would love them to contribute and sign their contributions with their username and identifying whether they are ‪#‎youth‬‪#‎teacher‬‪#‎parent‬‪#‎designer‬ or other. This will be very useful data as time goes on.

We want this to be a global project with the widest ownership possible, so don’t be shy or feel that your contribution will not count because this crowd sourcing stuff is only powerful if every voice is heard.

Are you in? Let me know if you need any further info or advice.

Bron Stuckey & Dean Groom
The Massively Minecraft Project


Massively Minecraft – Eco Award, unpacked.

Maybe I was too quick in my last post about how we’re designing our game-world. I probably lacked detail (again). So here’s an example – in a sort of school like – presentation of how our adventures work. Kids choose these things, we don’t mandate them at all. This one’s about the environment, and here is a really brief sketch of how it works. You have to imagine that this mission is something the kid is curious and has chosen to do from a really simple description. If you like we use a kind of elevator pitch to get their attention. They are rewarded in the game for their work – there is no pass/fail or score. The kid will usually go off and make something – and ask questions. We look for chances to discuss these things, but we don’t interrogate the kids along the way, and accept that the rhythm is set by the kids, not us. Ultimately they know that in order to get the award, they will have to satisfy the evaluation in the game and in the guild.

Again, this is just an example! – it’s not at all trying to explain how this is facilitated and led in the game other than to say, the is never any direct instruction or lectures – it all happens though play and feedback. For parents, the invlovement comes though helping answer their kid’s questions and perhaps to show them or talk to them about these issues – it’s sort of opportunity driven (gamers will get what I mean). For example, a new report might come on and they want to talk about it or perhaps Dad points out rubbish left on the kerbside. When parents are aware of what kids are doing in the game, they are far more likely to discuss these things – using their own story, examples and particular style of teaching their kids. Parents are teachers too, and do a pretty good job when they are actually aware of what their kids are learning/curious about.

Think of this as a kind of invisible frame, it’s up to the moderator to show that they kids can do this – and to do that they also have to know the kid. I’m avoiding writing swathes on this – suffice to say – it’s not teaching as we might imagine from our Tyler-ist heritage and belief. This is the world of Notch.

The Eco-Builders Award

Importance: The world is made of natural and man made materials, some materials are less environmentally friendly than others.

Emotional Engagement: The world is easily polluted with man made rubbish, and man likes to use natural materials to make things that become this rubbish.

Binary Opposites: A world that we can/cannot live in

Content: Green groups, youtube videos, news, newspapers, the world outside our door.

Shaping: What happens when we can’t get access to man made products? Can we still live?

[possible ideas for parents/teachers as discussion raisers]

Putting all our waste in a bin, keeping a log.
Counting up the natural materials in our home.
Talking about something on the news
Watching a video documentary
Imagining a world where only natural/sustainable items are allowed
Building something that we can talk about.

Conclusion: What is the best way of showing we know how to create a world that is sustainable for us and other life. What is the compromise – what do we have to give up, have to acquire, what will be gain – what will we lose?

Evaluation: How do we know we understand the problem – how can we show we’ve grasped it’s importance, what content is useful to help us learn it – what content wasn’t useful. How does the thing you make/show/talk about/describe/play-with show this?

Imagine the opposite – then play Minecraft with us

Think about the classic fairy tale, what lies below the surface? What is Hansel and Gretel about?

It’s about security/fear.

In fact most fairy tales are about binary opposites – appealing to the imagination to process the meaning behind the language.  The language of the text, long with illustrations isn’t as powerful as a child’s ability to create memorable mental images and to learn what lies beneath the text that makes them powerful. In short, it doesn’t matter if you add a spoon full of technological sugar, unless you also start to appreciate that language tools are not simply an evolution of typewriter to word processor to blog to Twitter – and if you’re in any doubt, go and read some of Judy’s posts on the Information Abyss or anything Jude’s added to her library recently. More people on Twitter doing the same thing does not make it better – nor does it make anyone more deeply engaged with learning.

Massively Minecraft is designed to draw out these binary opposites though play, as we recognise that kids at 4-16 are not particularly interested in being critical thinkers, but find it more productive to be abstract thinkers – as that’s how their brain likes to learn. It doesn’t mean books and film is excluded from their in-take – and it’s brain-missing to say that as they are being allowed (told) to write information in a wiki, it is somehow better than not using a wiki. They don’t need to be connected via Twitter, they need to be connected by shared meaning is spaces that provide vivid opportunity to explore and make meaning. When we get that wrong – it’s called Facebook bullying – and education isn’t devoid of blame for the consequences that are clearly harrowing at times. I realise my argument runs against the grain and trend – and so I’ll never sell a million copies of a PLN book, but that doesn’t mean these people are right. They are just persuasive (for now) as there is a willing audience, who for the most part, don’t play games.

The most obvious binary opposite in Minecraft (like many games ) is survive/perish mechanic. There are numerous ways the game does that using Zombies, Apples, Pork, Creepers, Lava, Water etc., These are simple mechanics that the kids learn to minimize quickly, so that they can get on with more important business – imagination. In that regard, Minecraft isn’t compelling because of it’s in game rewards or combat, because you can make models of the Great Wall of China. It’s because it allows kids to explore mental images and articulate them in personal ways – with others, in a feedback look that Hattie would be proud of.

Over the last eight months, Massively Minecraft has evolved to almost 200 adventurous imagineers – not least due to the tireless dedication of Jo Kay towards building a safe-game that is rock solid reliable and customised to deliver what I’m talking about – and being a much loved and epic play-maker.

We put binary opposites to work in our game – it’s never about right/wrong or collecting n objects to level up. Its always about mystery, irony, jokes, arguments and other things that are generally not seen as an efficient way to process learning outcomes. We  target kids’ natural attraction to imagination, play and binary opposites to make our quest lines (inc. digital citizenship) imaginatively engaging. Kids always create (and see) something more wonderful in the task than the task itself. And if they choose not to, then that’s fine too. They come back when they are ready. And they come back – almost 200 kids, from around the world, 24/7.

It’s crucial for kids to rule their world, to design their own learning and build thier own social-rules – if they are to use their binary opposite skills to work out how society and culture works. – me.

Parents have no issue with binary opposites when they they let kids read books or watch movies. For example, despair and hope, fear and release, resentments, revolt and all reflected in the daily experience of playing the game. There are fairly tales in the school library, but if you try to put one on a computer, prepare for the bleating.

Many teachers have asked me about getting Minecraft around the school-filter. Firstly, the idea that games are un-educational is ignorant at best. Anyone filtering out games needs to justify their actions. In particular explaining exactly how gossip, fantasy, taking roles, creating imaginary worlds, making social-contractual arrangements or just having a good time is some how less educational than what is happening on computer screens in the ‘game-banned-classroom’.

Games have no new case to make. Vygotsky (who educators do hark on about) argues that in play, kids function beyond their average abilities and that this experimental situation allows them to explore the rules of their society and culture (1978). Anyone not had this on their pre-teacher reading list? – if so, what happened to play?

“Shrink not from new experience; but sailing still against the setting sun” – Dante’s Inferno

10 second game: Here’s a fairly tale image from a brilliant game called Trine 2. (Mac and PC). Combine this image with that single line of classic writing and imagine the story it creates?

If you are not a game player – that is about as near to explaining the experience, feeling and emotion of game-play as I can can reasonably get. Everyone can play – but not everyone know how to put imagination to work. Research show adults don’t use binary opposites to learn, we sort of fall out of the habit in written language cultures. Go figure.

Arguing for games is arguing for imaginative learning – and that’s what Massively Minecraft is seeking to do.

Ruling games out of a kids learning means they are likely to have an unimaginative education – where they can’t take on roles, instead we bleat on about content, time and curriculum … whereas every topic in the curriculum can be conceived in such as way that kids have roles to play, and explore any topic with greater intensity and engagement. The question for game-haters is how exactly do you argue against decades, if not thousands of years of clear research AND the phenomenal rise of gaming in the home and society?. Games have little to prove now or at any time previous … they have always been a great way to learn and to teach.

For those interested in adopting games in the classroom, we designed Massively Minecraft to do just that – and at the same time ding the digital-skills for almost zero additional effort.

Play or don’t play – it’s 2012 and we’re expanding … (love to all our friends and supporters) …