Minecraft isn’t just a game

In the 1950s, Disney hit on the idea of connecting classic folk-tales to their animation technologies, and from that creating their own books, magazine and toys. Minecraft, also started by one man with an plan — has enabled a very similar process except as a company, Mojang don’t chase down every licensing and copyright claim imaginable.

It’s another reason parents can’t compare Minecraft to other sandbox games — they are not all about the value-add sell, but of course do licence certain aspects. It must be a total nightmare to manage, but cudos to them for at least attempting it.

Online there are some amazing toys, gadgets and artwork that have emerged because of Minecraft. Mojang don’t appear to mind people adding their own creativity to their game such as this.

Crafting-1.3-Part-1-1 (1)

Now you don’t have to PLAY video games in your classroom to be able to see how this is brilliantly executed story. There is enough detail in this story for anyone who’s read a romantic story about the heroes journey to be able to figure out what is going on here.

This is simply ONE part of FIVE posted onto the website 9Minecraft. You can go read the rest yourself … and find out how it ends. That’s five comics, filled with pop-culture references that kids could EASILY relate to … and any (good) teacher could put to work.

I post this as an example of how VIDEO GAMES are part of cultural literacy. Minecraft is as embedded in today’s culture as Donald Duck was for Disney — and better still there is a massive fan-talent base producing plenty of FREE or low-cost resources that kids can relate to. Getting primary aged kids to turn their classroom into a Minecraft house would require almost zero effort on the teacher’s part. Go on, I dare you …

 

Making sense of media reports about games.

I happen to believe video games are an essential media-element in the lives of Australian families, because they are pervasive in our culture. They are on mobiles, computers, tablets and in classrooms.  In the decade that saw teacher-endorsement of Web2.0, and equal amount of time, effort and millions was spent trying to protect society (which includes children) from video games – and the DER vanished into history as school leaders try to ignore the past and talk this afternoons trope.

Parents are not idiots and everyone uses a mobile these days.

Firstly, games has a classification system. Given 97% of adults have played a game and 85% are present when games are purchased, media panics over game producers pushing horror an violence on the public (which includes children) is wrong. But then, as a thinking adult, I’m sure you know that media, especially when owned by Murdoch and friends, is both selective and biased. In addition, traditional media (which includes journalism) has nothing to gain (status or economic) from people playing video games and not giving them the attention they assume they warrant, despite social media being far more open and accessible than they are. But I digress.

Schools don’t believe in video games at all – ask why.

Video games are educational.  By saying that I mean — of themselves. They are as worthy of children freely exploring them as they are given silent reading time, free play in the school yard or put on the ‘edu-game’ in the library.

Games and game players are subjected to more academic scrutiny that 99% of technology that is now assumed to be “the norm” in classrooms — yet no significant studies suggest “Web2.0” makes any difference in the lives of children — or that games would be worse. That’s the tragedy of Web2.0 in education for me, it quickly became an unambitious trope, full of commercial dogma pretending to be scholarship in order for a few to create a conference-circus lifestyle, in the traditions of American Fairground Shows. Web2.0 is introduced at will because it’s popular – and because brands are great at getting your attention. Schools systematically and selectively represent media that they think politicians and bishops ‘like’, especially if they get to crow about it at a conference. If a game is allowed in, then it will be sanitised. The teacher must be the celebrated innovator and leader in the story — and the students emancipated from otherwise ‘dull’ teaching methods. Again, no evidence that this has any positive effects at all — where as there is plenty that a few hours alone with a game works wonders on kids – especially boys who clash with school. It works even better if adults are helping them. Kids are as BORED with mini-laptops and ‘apps’ as they are with listening to Bueller, Bueller — Beuller.

The method matters when reading about video games, not the metaphor.

When reading about what games,it’s really useful to look for the method by which the authors come to their conclusions. In academia, methods matter — and offering opinions over evidence doesn’t get you too far. Its like saying people drive cars, cars kill people therefore people are cars. It just doesn’t make sense.

In many cases the method is neither obvious or  mentioned in the popular press articles. In some domains, particularly clinical psychology it’s the wrong method, used to validate a theory — not to generate new theory of games. Rarely do they address the rich evidence available. For example, neuro-science shows video game play has numerous benefits to humans, but not all humans. Again, not all humans like TV, walking the dog or writing blog posts. Each of those need methods of approach, which can be from many angles.

Clinical psychologists turned ‘game addiction’ into a multi-million dollar business.

In this research domain, ideas in which data fits the theory “games are adductive” are commonly echoed. Somewhere they will state — less than clearly — that hundreds of studies show games are addictive and refer back to gambling addiction. Most famously, is Kimberley Young declared in 1999 that internet addiction was “akin” to gambling addiction, and has since tacked on mobile phone and video games, which she also connects with moral decay and loss of innocence. Young’s declaration has less to millions of dollars in therapy sessions to drive out the human enjoyment of interactive media. On the basis of these studies 97% of Australians are pathologically addicted to the Internet, mobile phones, computers and video games. However, try asking your health insurance if that is covered or apply for workers compensation for over use of technology at work. You see, as much as they want it to be true — it remains little more than ‘something to work on’ as far as the World Heath Association is concerned. Game addiction is right up there with Scientology when it comes to it.

Playing Black Flag: A pirate game, where feeling like a pirate allows a scarf to be a hat, and a dog to keep you company.

More cowbell

While it may be true that hundreds of studies repeat and reaffirm this negative position, there is also hundreds of academic counter positions which generate and offer better theory of games – and how to mediate them in the lives of children. You might have seen James Gee talk about this on PBS or conferences. There is significant other social research which rejects this need to validate and vilify electronic media on the basis of false theory and popular journalistic interest in whipping up parent anxiety. Why is this person saying this? What’s is they want? Why now? Mostly – what the hell to these people play?

For parents, it’s useful to remember when you read about how terrible games are that the data presented in most often there to verify and keep afloat continued assertions of clinical psychologists who’s business is — treating internet, game and mobile phone addiction — which is not a recognised pathology by any stretch of the imagination. They might as well treat you for TV addiction — which of course prior to 1999 was their previous gold mine among nervous parents. I like this quote attributed to Rod Sterling (1924 – 1975), best known as the creator of The Twilight Zone, was a seminal figure in the Golden Age of Television and became a cultural icon of the 20th century.

It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.

Today, you can’t have a serious conversation about video games without 12 dancing clinicians waving toilet paper at you – In the mean time, peoplewatch TV and play.

There no such thing as video games!

The best research generates theories of games which can be seen in examples in the real world, not simply small laboratory experiments or citing previous studies which agree with your view. This is where better understanding and approaches to social gaming emerges from. Sadly though, many educational games are not based on this research either, but on avoiding the wrath of clinicians our casing in on popular culture and parent fears. Having said that, clinicians and educators use a very broad brush when it comes to which video games hurt or help. Which games? Where are they used? What for? By whom? What did they say? How was this conclusion arrived at?

Video games are not a leap of faith. They are the most significant media firm used in society to date and part of cultural literacy.

Over 97% of people in western countries have played them. They it’s no evidence to suggest those people have any long term behavioural issues. With parent mediation, along with any other media, they are of themselves a valid media text which your child with both enjoy and learn from. They will not learn more from an educational game, though they may be able to repeat facts or patterns. They certainly won’t learn from our about them in school, which has historically done everything it could to ban and demonise them. The leap of faith comes when parents and schools recognise that playing them is healthier when they step back and don’t overlay it with their own agenda. Only then can they start to see the theories being featured in social research as game related media studies.

Let them play, learn what they play, learn how to predict and prepare kids for media. I’m sure my theory that a few hours a week of video gaming at school for the sole purpose of playing (enabling alert, orientation and executive brain networks) won’t be seen as academic, unlike copying from the board or one prison telling you about how the world is. But that’s because I have unicorn blood and I’m a parent as concerned about media as another.

Curriculum designed for self-regulation

I read some interesting research by Postner, Rothbart & Tang (2013) about ‘Developing self-regulation in early childhood’ . I confess to having Googled several neuro-scientific terms in their paper, however what interested me about it was a potential correlation to commercial games in schools – and more importantly why curriculum design is key.

Firstly, I use two domains to talk about games. This helps me differentiate between scholarship and commerce. The first type are those developed as a result of, and in partnership with academic input. Example: ABC Splash’s games like this one. The other are commercial games developed for the popular game market, which claim to have educational value.

For me, an educational game has constructive alignment to the curriculum. This isn’ to say I believe the current curriculum doesn’t fail children and parents, or that educational games are better for children. This caveat stems from my general position that “ed-tech culture” is often based on dangerous assumptions that: kids don’t learn important stuff elsewhere; that they offer unique insight; that school teachers and parents are in an equitable biarchical agreement about media and how best to educate children and that they understand media. All of which are pompous, self-indulgent tropes that result in poor curriculum design and integration of technology – the ‘no significant different problem’.

So onto the paper, and how I think it connects to educational games.

ALERTING networks

The authors reinforce that to be a successful school-learner depends on the efficiency of the ALERTING network in their brain. Enter the world of controversy at this point, and take a seat. One of the central arguments for carefully regulating media with young children is that they are pre-wired to respond to these alerts — exciting or bored — Not all children develop these in the same way, and  have their own preferences and influencers. Young children are less able to control this than older children or adults. It’s one of the reasons media-critics have been putting the boot into television, not least non-realist content like the Teletubbies and Iggle Piggle.

Video games, introduced into any classroom with trigger alert-networks in the brain. In some kids it will be excitement and others, concern. For example, kids whose parents are concerned about media might not declare their feelings at all, or respond with compliance in the face of authority (as they do at home). In this study they did test kids to see if they could train kids towards better self-regulation, which is also similar to how NASA trained space monkeys. What it showed is that kids could be trained to a point they could self-regulate at the same level as un-trained adults, measured by a further test.

What this means is, there is VALUE in simply playing a game which allows for conflict though sensory events. This leads to them developing connections to orienting networks and executive networks – and doesn’t need to have ‘educational content’ added to it at all. Kids who play, will do better in the future – even if that means reading course notes and taking a test. It’s pretty much what Derek Robinson has been saying for a long time about using Nintendo DS or other games. In themselves – games have unique power. Derek to me was seminal when it comes to using out of the box games with both success and evidence which educational authorities could related to, even if they didn’t like what it spelled for their approach to design and technology. If you have not discovered his blog, do so. He’s an amazing leader in the field.

ORIENTING networks

Moving along, children also use ORIENTING networks for regulatory control. While game-heads often talk about ‘flow’ and being in the zone, there’s a case to argue that kids who are less able to manage their ORIENTING networks cannot regulate levels of distraction or amplify their choices towards tasks adults believe relevant at the time. As kids see and experience the world very differently to adults, when mum asks her to get off Minecraft, she simply isn’t able to regulate her alert and orienting networks to do so. The game throws up new alerts (events) and she’s orientated towards what she sees as most important.

Yelling wont change her mind or behaviour, only learning how to regulate her orientation networks will. Kids are pre-wired to orientate to play – which in many ways is functionally removed at the place they spend the bulk of their waking hours inside. Schools talk about kids being off-task, distracted and unable focus. In fact, their developmental inability to amplify input the teacher (or adult) is providing – such as “calculate this” or “get your shoes on” is the problem.  Games are not the culprits of this, but clearly modern society – and media rich homes provide more alerts than at any time in history – and now they are in the classroom and in their pockets.

EXECUTIVE networks

Stand on a busy train. Everyone is wired into their screens, zomg’d into their own half-realities. Regulating media is something that most adults cannot do. It’s ridiculous to expect young children to do a better job – or respond to adult authoritarian demands when they get it ‘wrong’. The EXECUTIVE network, which is involved with regulating conflict, the authors say, is important for self-regulation, emotion, cognition and behaviour. Again, most adults cannot manage this when given a phone and Facebook, which again make the moralistic ‘cyber safety’ chats at school a functional process, not a successful one. Kids will get onto these channels because they’ve seen adults do it, and as soon as its THEIR phone, then any parent who isn’t concept orientated will drive themselves insane trying to micro-regulate use.

Discussion

What the authors outline is a need to consider how conflict tasks, working memory and executive function CAN be used to improve self-regulation. When you think about this, video games provide a potential (but dangerous) place to work on this. I say dangerous, because games come with cultural interpretations and constructions – heavily influenced by parents and siblings – not schools or teachers. Curriculums are not designed to improve executive function, nor to strengthen connections between these networks (Alert, Orientation, Executive). Play isn’t the foundation of school routine. Content, wrapped in conventions and testing. Using the alerts network is a way to get attention, but I’m sure we’ve all been in a class where using our orientation networks is regulated by threats rather than interest. I’m pretty sure it’s the same at teacher conferences, too many alerts, not enough orientation.

The authors point out that self-regulation is more important to success in school than many other factors such as IQ for example, and that it’s positively related to income, health and parenting style. One problem for using commercial games in school is that teachers (and game sellers) make no account for parenting style at all – as though it doesn’t have a huge impact on how kids see media. For example, the best research shows that at home, parents who generally allow games are permissive when it comes to using media, and see it as a way of children self-regulating. But they are authorative when it comes to education of their children. Conflict which games comes when the family schedule runs into children’s self-regulation flaws – even in homes where parent themselves have played video games (which is 85% of homes with kids these days).

In school, skills towards self-regulation of video games will be at odds with school regime itself and cannot be disregarded when it comes to what kids may or may not say they learn or enjoy verses their results – from a particular regime’s idea of evaluation.

A curriculum design for these ways of learning (in young people) would also allow educational games be developed towards common goals of society – better self-regulation when it comes to using media to learn – and expand skills and knowledge. On this basis there is an argument that allow kids to play a commercial game, without any teacher interference or ‘existing curriculum’ pressure is better than trying to integrate the two things. Ideally, games build from the ground up with use self-regulation to drive curriculum would be better. It also means that the need to use ‘edu-versions’ is based almost entirely on school-culture and what is more or less likely to be purchased — closely related to a teachers own enjoyment — of the game. Rather than help build greater self-regulation, this kind of activity might simply cause broader problems out of school, in which students feel playing at school is can be used to argue with parents that gaming is good at home — which to me crosses a significant border about the rights of parents.

Ref:

Posner MI, et al. Developing self-regulation in early childhood. Trends in Neuroscience and Education (2013)

Why Cultural Literature has to include games

One of my frustrations with educational leadership is the behavioral preference to only remediate media which has an obvious chain back through their own career. Not only that, but the type of device and materials believed to be transformative are exactly the things which are observed and engaged with at formulaic educational conferences with known peers and edutainers.

Even a casual eye on Twitter reveals: leaders who issue emotive rhetorical statements (and rarely bother to respond to anyone they don’t already know); would-be-leaders aspiring to be in the actual leaders field of vision and independent operators who canvas the crowd with buzzword-theories in order to meet the leaders (to earn contracts).

This market, which orbits a particular leadership preference and viewpoint doesn’t help move ‘what could be used’ forward at all. It doesn’t take media for what it is and consider how best to use it. Instead, we see and hear subjective terms such as “integrator” and “integration” – into the curriculum. After a couple of decades, this cycle has worn a well trodden path around leadership belief. Leaders like to build hotel-like receptions, buy IWBs, mount big TVs on the wall – and tell everyone how they are going to be BYOD soon. In Russia, leaders have been pumping oxygen into nuclear submarines since the end of the cold war, simply to keep them afloat as the cost of actually decommissioning is economically prohibitive.

Cultural literature, which includes digital-objects cannot ignore the largest segment of media that children use – and honestly say that their strategy for techno-pedagocial-content based learning is using ‘the best’ research or ‘best’ theory – if really they are talking about three things: Blooms; SAMR and TPACK. There are numerous theories that exist beyond this comfortable technological garden being created which simply doesn’t reflect the extent of today’s cultural literature. If they did, they’d be talking about new faculties, not new iFads.

Games, Developers and Development

According the the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

  • Digital game development is all aspects of digital game development and production (e.g. concept and art design, animation, audio, programming etc.), online game development services and post-production, digital and visual effects (PDV) work on digital games.
  • Digital games developers are businesses that generate income predominantly from the development of digital games for a range of formats (major consoles, handheld consoles, personal computers and mobile phones).
  • Digital games are Interactive software products made for the consumer entertainment market, involving a gameplay feature. Excludes products primarily designed for the purposes of training or advertising (these should be treated as other software applications).

It should be remembered when looking at statistics about the size of games in society that areas of ‘games’ overlap and rather subjective. For example, a game developer must be a business and therefore for profit, and that games for training are excluded from their analysis.

In other worlds when you hear people cite numbers or un-referenced figures about games, consider that games are a media form and have co-operative and linked facets to forms of work, and objects produced. This is problematic as non-gamers tend to only think of games they have heard about in the media – the usual ‘this game is bad because’ beat up. The common and ignorant excuse I hear school leaders talk about is “yes, but games need integrating into the curriculum”. This is laughable. Culture does not emerge from your curriculum or from savant teachers claiming their version of the future on Twitter is the apex of digital learning. So no, the world won’t neatly follow on from your version of the how it should be. It’s your job to notice the world – and clearly if you think games means video games, and not a medium … take another look.

In the world of media, one which Australia is actually very good at – it’s totally ridiculous that school curriculum omits ‘games’ completely as a distinct, unique and probably very attractive future for kids. Go back an re-read the things that fall under games again – now ask yourself honestly – is learning for format text in Word anything more than functional. Is your literacy limited to one step past this – ie from Word to Blog … I do hope not … the future of media is brighter than that.

But of course, as school MUST have a maths, geography, english … teacher. But a media teacher who knows about games, and the things involved in creating media around them … a media teacher … a games teacher? No, what school need are teachers who can make Prezi’s and Blogs. That is where the digital revolution went to die in my opinion.

I can’t think of a single school in Australia who has a teacher which specialises in media-studies that encompasses games, as it does film, television, radio, magazines and books. Not one teacher who has the freedom to survey, use and develop virtual worlds and games with students. And that is just dumb.

Minecraft: A reply to the NYT post

This relates to the post in the NYT titled “Disruptions: Minecraft, an Obsession and an Educational Tool”. In the first part, I want to walk though what is said not said and implied. Then I’d like to look at why this piece is insufficient to describe the ‘state’ of Minecraft as a game in school and home.

To begin I’d like to tackle the modality of the piece. I have some issues with it.  The headline leads off an assertion which plays directly to longstanding parent anxiety around the effects of games. The NYT has somewhat of a history of doing this and has been studied my more than one scholar in their presentations of video games to their audience.

It’s important to put Minecraft into the continuum of video games. It is a further remediation of long-standing development in sand-box games as a genre, and has cleverly used “monsters vs nature” at a time where this is of major interest and concern – especially to young people.  By this I mean, young people care a lot about the environment and are also subjected to films, books and TV where “scary monsters” are central theme. Harry Potter used wands to vanquish enemies not guns, Notch uses spades and swords. It’s violent, but not too violent, and like Harry Potter, girls identify with Notch – as they feel they to can be Notch, as they could be Harry Potter, not just the girl-side-kick. That is a BIG appeal to girls who play Minecraft.

Kids are more likely to get parents to agree to buying them Minecraft over Dead Island, to let them watch Harry Potter over Kick-Ass. The piece therefore attempts to provocatively connect obsession addiction and disruption failing school to education in schools. There is a slight query over whether Minecraft can be placed into the naughty corner, and as discussing ‘education’ is a familiar tactic to do so. It also allows a further swipe at un-imaginative teachers with rusted on ideas and low technological skills.

We see an image of who children in a double bed, presumably playing Minecraft in their parents bed. The intention is to promote the idea that games are invading the sanctity of the home. What could be more evocative than the ultimate safe-place – a child’s bed. It’s not clear whether they are playing Minecraft, MinecraftEdu or Pocket Minecraft. But they are being tempted away from rest and natural behaviour to play on computer game. Oh you wicked people. I suspect it’s a generic file shot to be honest.

So this is piece, from the very outset is an extension of the media violence assertion and designed to get you to either consider Minecraft as negative in childrens lives or limit their exposure to it and others. No data about hours played, servers raised, units sold, just this image of children being stolen from their beds by Notch and his evil followers. The education angle is in fact, a well used red-herring.

Let me back this up … in the opening line, we read an appeal to moral panic with a depiction of an 8 year old addict child refusing to get off the computer. We empathise with the parent … it hit’s close to home (no educational value). This is backed up with a further “millions of children this age” claim to ram home the on-going narrative that games are “rotting children’s brains”.

In the next few paragraphs summarising the game and it’s effects, there are constant references to Minecraft, but no detail, examination or actual analysis of the game, nor how children at this 8 come to learn of it’s existence. (which would be a really useful piece of investigative journalism)

The article isn’t about Minecraft at all, its’ about media violence and addiction, which remains a concern to parents and schools. But saying kids need monsters and violence in their lives doesn’t sell newspapers (or ad-space). Connecting education (the future of society) to addiction is a winner every time. No need to support claims, just add an emotive image and quote an academic.

Reading the first three paragraphs, you can easily replace Minecraft with Ultima Online, Ever Quest, World of Warcraft and so on. This is the same dogmatic media trope which states games are bad for society because … well because it appeals to parental inner fears that their children will be successful and well adjusted adults one day.

When depicting Minecraft, the author launches into a key generalisation. “Unlike other video games, there are few if any instructions in Minecraft”. Among games-scholarship, video-games are not generally considered to need ‘instructions’. Play is driven by emergent exploration, machine up-held rules and so forth. Instructions are commonly related to real time strategy games, pen and paper RPGs or board games. Instructions are for novices. In the evolution of video games, few from Indie game origins such as Minecraft include such explicit and crass impositions on the player. This would be like assuming all paintings come with explanations or that all car-door handles need step by step diagrams.

The piece vaguely talks about how Minecraft was commercialised towards acceptance by teachers in schools, and attempts to connect this to game-studies. In one school (one) the game was compulsory. Well, I made Teen Second Life compulsory along with Counter Strike and Tombraider a decade ago … and I’m here to say this act as has no external meaning. To make a point of it serves only to highlight how little regard education allows games, despite them being the most significant form of media to emerge, and that even the earliest computers programmed to play games well before they were employed to do anything else. Video games are not new.

There is a whimsical notion that this game might help some kids become doctors. Again, this pattern of reporting is familiar and has been said of numerous games in the last decade. Let me add to that – this game might also help a child deal with home violence and abuse at the hands of over controlling parent, or deal with a sense of isolation. See, not sexy — being a doctor … now thats what games should do. And as they don’t they are a simplistic waste of time.

There is a hat-tip to vocal clinician and media violence crowd. They  believe ‘too much’ gaming rots all kids brains and that violence in games causes children to become violent and so on.  They have written hundreds of papers to prove that gaming is just like gambling. Yet it doesn’t matter if you have 70,000. if the method is floored.

All in all, this is a-typical of the NYT ongoing game of teasing parents with the possibility of games being useful, but failing to deliver much more. How do I know this? Well because, the NYT is one media outlet that I’ve been researching with regard to how it presents video games to society. Let’s say it’s a well trodden path.

So here’s the thing. When I (Bron and Jo) set out to get a game up for kids, it was because we knew (and still know) that the Fantasy that exists outside of school, the issues kids face and the way they need monsters and vile creatures to render the world safe – is completely and utterly different to using it in some augmented form in school. From that, I always thought, if one teacher dared to allow the home fantasy to reign in the classroom, then something great would happen. And it did. Plenty of teachers are now using Pocket Minecraft and full Minecraft in schools. They way it is used is entirely emergent, with techniques and ideas spread across connectivist networks of teachers, parents and community groups. I was extatic to discover a variant of Massively Minecraft (now Jokaydia Minecrafts) being used toward drug and alcohol treatment outside Alice Springs … not to build a re-hab centre from legos, but to help connect a community towards sharing stories.

So what about Minecraft (the school versions). Well, the school fantasy (of children using technology) has no connection at all to the broader cultural literacy of kids playing this game at home. In fact I’d argue that school serves to interfere with perfectly valid game-time at home. Minecraft in school is not a remediation. It is an adaptation but tethered by the school and teachers imagination, rather than the childrens. I maintain that games are sanctuary for many kids, where they get to learn why Power Rangers are an almost ideal model for co-operative learning. But I digress …

Kids play games because they want to. They choose the games because of what they need to resolve in their brains – and in response to their own life story. The fact you can teach maths with it, or build a Roman Fort is insignificant to me, and certainly doesn’t help parents deal with the anxiety and real behaviours of children around games. Kids learn about the world by playing it out. They used to play cowboys and watch Gunsmoke on TV, and now they do this because turning your house into a war simulation and demanding to walk about wearing a pair of Colt 45s is now also taboo. Minecraft is generally allowed because it isn’t realist is the ways COD or BT3 is, however because it’s autotelic, kids are find it even more interesting and fun to create, create and create some more.

The reason to allow kids to play Minecraft in school is not to allow them to play in a sandbox or to trick them into thinking this is the same game they can play with their friends at home. Minecraft is a fantasy, it has emergent narrative which would be immediately killed in the hands of … well teachers, or people who are not teachers, just enthusiasts.

I do think there is a place for MinecraftEdu in schools. It has a really important role towards getting teachers and administrators to accepts (and experience) this (and other games) as being part of the cultural literature. At the same time, they need to also deepen their understanding of games and the various sub cultures around them. If not, then MinecraftEdu will follow the same path as the Teen Grid or numerous immersive worlds that plenty of us have been around for a very long time.

To me, and in the point of Massively Minecraft, was to engage parents (which kids) in the sheer joy of adventure. To go on imaginary epic quest lines in order to better understand how kids and parents negotiate games (as a media form) and how they negotiate the use of them – without getting to the point where Professor Doom warns once again about addiction and over-use. As a parent, and someone studying and working in games, I really cant see that children could have enough joy and play in their lives.

What I think parents want (and need) are strategies to connect their kids love of monsters, to survive parenting the first generation of kids to have access to games which super-charge their imagination. At the same time, school cannot replicate the levels of fantasy to reach anywhere near the same experience. I don’t think they need to either. School performs a distinct function in a child’s life – and that function isn’t made better by playing MinecraftEdu. To me the value of MinecraftEdu is the same as Quest Atlantis or Teen Second Life. It introduces teachers and schools to cultural literacies which remain on the ‘fringe’ of their own life-stories.

I recommend looking at Minecraft In Education group in Google Plus as well as well as the ever brilliant Minecraft In Schools project. I think you’ll find them useful if you’re a teacher. If you’re a parent (and/or a player) I’d be interested in your thoughts on the NYT piece.

Zooming the Universe

Good news gamer kids! While media outlets focus on the un-proven harm games ‘might’ have, they are not increasing the reports on the harm they cause adults. There’s also no increase in the number of reports that ask kids what they think.

This means the media still see gamer-kids as infant-citizens and future-citizens. Oh, I said good news didn’t I? … well games are no longer the sole nascent threat! – Now parents are reading about sexting and trolling too. So even if you give up the game, media outlets will still say technology is bad (unless it’s the one they are selling).

The reason it’s okay for a 40 year old to play is because during the 1980s is that when they were kids, the pre-loaded media message of technology was that it was ‘good’ for learning. Games were so new, their parents didn’t read anything about video-games, and there was limited TV and print media space given to it, so they didn’t freak out. Even more amazing, they survived childhood, got a job, got married and had you. Only a small number of those who grew up playing games became journalists, most journalists didn’t.

Ironically, the media also tells your parents The Block is a reality building show and Australia’s Got Talent is judged by ‘stars’ who have no obvious talent.

If parents stopped watching TV, they might start thinking. If they started playing then they might discover a games’ interactivity can create a “long zoom experience”, carefully peeling back the layers of complexity of technology and media within the universe that includes being online – not just update their Facebook status with photos of their lunch.

Teaching for change?

There is one thing that matters if you’re interesting in using game-media in teaching.

Cross-cultural traction (game culture and edu-culture) involves creating partnerships with parents and community as central to developing culturally relevant teaching strategies. Because both cultures have rules, which can’t be seen its a BIG mistake to think educational culture is the dominant or even a significant driver. But if that’s the reality-bubble office-chair minders in eLearning want to believe (we decide what happens), who am I to argue. Let’s have a morning tea and talk about Fabucon next week.

Game-media in the classroom has NOTHING to do with level-ups, epic wins or being fun being the opposite of depression – that’s entertainment. Entertainment is not going to save the world, but it will clearly get you attention and photo-ops with the glamorous at Cannes.

Teaching for change is a lot harder, because it means accepting high-context-cultures and ACCEPTING that at this point ed-tech is low-context-culture in realms beyond Fabucon. Media richness doesn’t mean “video” verse “text” it means culture. I watched my kids play Minecraft this weeked (raining) and at no point do I see them getting anywhere close to the same richness in the way the use computers at school – nor from what the hype-vendors and brand-aligners pass off as reality at Fabucon.

Copy this down

It has been popular to state that the Internet has moved from ‘read’ only (consumers) to read/write (sharers and co-creators). It has been repeated by thousands of citizen-journalists to become somewhat of a trope in online-edu-culture.

Plagiarism is still frowned upon as being cheating, where as collecting other peoples work is now called curating or following. I spent half my career being an artist. I like to spend at least 2-3 hours a week drawing. I learned to be an artist by doing two things, accepting the world cannot be made stable, but people can be made to pay attention. The second is less philosophic – it’s good old fashioned copying. It takes a lot of time to select the right things to copy. It takes a lot of reading and deciding what is worth copying, and who from. It takes even more time to decode the artwork and copy it faithfully. Finally, you get to add that small new addition or twist of your own.

I hassled out my kids this week to do some copying using a Windows 8 Slate, pressure-sensitive pen and Sketchmaster Pro. We headed into the always mind-melting Deviant Art and they selected some sketches which they mercilessly control-c’d and control-v’d into Sketchmaster. For the rest of the week they learned how to trace the lines, how lines are just taking the mind for a walk – and how the software works by experimenting and me showing them how to copy brilliantly. In fact you can buy a Slate for about $500 which is half the price of a Wacom 13″ and doesn’t need a computer – and get really good results.

There’s no shame is copying. Copying teaches pattern recognition, how lines and text hold the ideas and best of all copying always gives immediate context. There’s nothing abstract or fuzzy about copying. Copying is essential to games-media evolution. Players seeking to learn, need to have things to copy from. They actually hate fuzzy, vague and incomplete rhetoric. Unlike school, there’s no philosophic argument over the degree it exists.  I games, there’s no room for rhetoric and show-boating. You can’t fake your way to level 90 in Warcraft, like you can in Powerpoint.

Over time, players perfect the critical skill of selecting what is worth copying and applying to their game. I think gamers tend to make things for the intentional purpose of being copied. They don’t do what many educatoring-gurus do – lead you down the garden path of potential, only to sell you something vague at the end you have to still figure out. It’s all clear and explict. My kids tune out if I try to BS them about how to do a quest or build something in Minecraft. You can’t fool them for a minute, let alone years. My kids can spot a ‘tech’ BS-Artist in under 30 seconds. In gaming, you can always get the answer, but that’s not the objective at all … unlike school where knowing the answer is 99% of being called “smart”. Kids dont’ want to repeat the answers … that’s not the kind of copying I’m talking about.

I question the value of copying in class, as it seems a hightly productive element of how kids are learning out of it. I don’t mean copying information (that’s stupid), I mean being able to trace and copy methodology and then apply to something that matters. It doesn’t have to be unique or even innovative. I can just be a copy and still have validity. Pilots copy the perfect landing, musicians copy tone and music samples, doctors copy proceedures.

As a parent, I’m here to say that I encourage my kids to copy it. I know won’t dent their creativity or make them bored. I point out how something is made, how to assemble it and pull it apart and get them to do it over and over until the master it (or get bored). There’s no moving on ’till they do – because that’s how the world works. No shortcuts – sit on Twitter all day, you still won’t get the kind of free-handout to make more sense of the world, just become a zombie-sheep I guess.

Kid’s don’t have to make new new new and unique unique unique – until THEY want to. I suspect kids are being pushed into ‘innovation’ as some weird teacher construct – as the trope that gave us ‘the shift’ has the sequel “the innovative teacher’. Rubbish, copy everything, steal the lot and stand on top of the pile. That’s how to rule the world.

Minecraft’s Notch is the new Rodin.

Minecraft again today.  Just a quick post as I wait for a machine to finish a dull task.

I thought I’d introduce parents to a theory of learning called “contructionism”. As thats probably not interesting, I’ll skip to a few points that are – why Minecraft is the best FREE design teacher you’ll ever meet.

Minecraft encourages two of forms of learning that teachers would see as absolutely brilliant in their classroom (if they could magically have anything they wanted). These things are also REALLY important to “design thinking” which is another really ‘hot’ topic in how to get kids to think critically about problems and coming up with solutions.

So what are they? Perspective-Talking and Object Construction. These two topics have been mulled over by academics for decades, as they are all about our relationships with knowledge – or put another way – how do we get smarter.

Minecraft forces kids to ‘de-centre’ their view point and take someone else’s point of view. That might be in the game with another player as they make something, or it might be when they try to explain what they are making to you (the awesomely important parent and praise giver). It might be in a forum debating which is the best solution to a redstone problem or disagreeing with a YouTube “Let’s Play” video which is WRONG.

Despite outward appearances, Minecraft is not all about the player – it’s actually more about their relationship to knowledge (how to get more of it, ditch the rubbish and improve the wobbly bits).

Object construction gives them a kind of “gods eye view” of the world they are making. But they can’t succeed if this is their only view. It’s one BIG reason parents need to play with their kids in the game, not just moan about it and why allowing one person to have all the power tends to suck for the rest of us. Relate that to life – anyone know someone with a god-complex that likes to rule over everything? Did you read the Hunger Games?

In order to build knowledge Minecraft uses imagination to teach kids that they are not actually gods, ruling over the game or others, no matter how many tantrums they pull. The game-world works in certain ways only. If they really want to change the way the world works, then they need to learn how to ‘mod’ it. Is this not the same message ‘self improvement’ pundits like to talk about? Don’t take the world as it is, but take action to improve and change it?

By playing Minecraft, kids learn when they start to learn from opposites, forge new relations and separating ideas about the game-world, they have relevance to the real world. I’m yet to meet a kid playing Minecraft that’s a sheep. They are all goats who like to do whatever they want. That’s powerful stuff, but it’s also massive thing to learn, and Minecraft (can) do it really well. (With great power comes great responsibility). You tend to only hear about the ‘bad Minecraft’ in the media of course. But trust me “good Minecraft” can be used to tackle just about anything positively too. Notch has put down the ground work, but parents clearly need to be on deck to help their children make use of this new found knowledge and agency.

This form of learning (yes, learning) is not at all unlike the way science is taught under constructionist methods. If fact, it’s endorsed by your local school. I’ll just use Science to illustrate here. There is a borad consensus that children’s learning depends critically on their ideas about science, scientists and experiments. Minecraft is just a science lab by another name. The fact it can replicate this experience without a teacher or curriculum at all is just one of the many unique qualities games have, and most schools don’t’. It’s powerful stuff, and of course disrupts how we see ‘learning’. As with science, the way we ‘learn’ it can result in active identification with it (Science is awesome) or alienation (Science is rubbish). It’s the same with computer and video games, how we (you, me and others) learn about them matters a great deal. Remember I said – perspective talking. That’s what is happening all the time when playing Minecraft.

Take social media in schools and collages. No one’s learning about them as a subject, in fact most schools BAN them completely. Yet in order to make sense of the world, students need to learn about them (just as they do science) if they are to function in parts of the world where online is just part and parcel of life. Teaching them only about ‘fear’ is like only teaching them about “when science goes bad” and in fact education spends vasts about of time trying to build “wicker men” from any technology it doesn’t understanding (like games).

My point is, that simply allowing kids to play Minecraft in school would be far better than giving they stupid cyber safety chats, quizzes and lectures by the local police. Kids don’t turn learning off and on, like teachers sometimes turn the job on and off (bells). You can’t tell a kid that games are not learning and you can’t stop them learning when a game like Minecraft is so optimally tuned into the most powerful educational theories out there. The irony of course is that ‘culture’ get’s in the way and most educational administrators have not themselves learned the value of perspective talking and can’t separate the game from the objective.

Designers sort out what object mean to them or others; then they selectively connect features of an object and features of a CONTEXT into a coherent unity. This belongs here because, this works here because, I am happy here because and so on. Over time, designers build up a lot of knowledge and understanding about how to place and connect objects in the world, so as to give them situated meaning to others. BIG examples: Egyptian pyramids, great sailing ships, statues, buildings, vehicles.

Now ask yourself, what is MY kid doing in Minecraft … playing AND learning to be a designer? – How are they relating DESIGN in the real world to themselves and others in the game-world?. How does copying from the board do this? How does filling out a worksheet do this? How does listening to a lecture do this?

It doesn’t. Kids put up with it, because kids have no power at all in school – despite dubious claims from educational advoates about how technology ’empowers students’. Rubbish, one persons in charge, the dude at the front. And that dude has no clue about games like Minecraft, so will avoid it like the plague.

Most of all, according to the theory, the construction of meaning is most potent when learners are engages in building external and sharable facts. Minecraft is all about those things.

To the generations past, Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker” was the prototypical image of thinking. Notch gave us a new image, one which is a now prototypical of todays “thinkers”. They happen to look like boxy-stick-people, but really, Notch’s design for the new thinker is right up there with Rodin in terms of art and craft.