Don’t panic: Ask the gamers for help

Warning: This post contains important information about COVID-19 and online schools. Some teachers might find this distressing and choose to waste a few more days trying to get Adobe Connect to work. However, if you want a fast and easy online space up in less time it will take to read this rubbish … welcome to the server.


All this fuss about closing bricks and mortar schools is distressing. It’s also a timely reminder of how the billions (yes billions) which has flowed into the pockets of “EdTech” which is a long, drawn out crash site of experiments and failures.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how poorly prepared western schools are for working at arms length, let alone ‘online’ in a meaningful way.

Today, I was informed my students need to be 1.5m apart.  – This is of course impossible. The message was telegraphed and then ignored due to pragmatics. Kids carried on in exactly the same way – because the paraphernalia of school was unchanged.

Schools are not ready of ‘online’ in the sense that few are able to meet students at the intersection of youth communications and actual usage. This results in dull conversations as to whether Google Classrooms “will do” or “can I just email it in”. A direct result of Audrey’s shit show of edtech.

95% of teachers are perhaps familiar with, or using, Ista, Email and FB with their friends and family, re-sharing photos of dogs or inspirational quotes.

95% of kids are online in Discord because they know it’s a productive way to save time and improve your chances of success and enjoyment.

Yep, Discord: That means every kid in you class can (or knows someone who can) use it right now.

They can also show you. You don’t need to panic or waste more time and money on “edtech” just because you’re a special snowflake teacher who only uses ‘teacher’ apps.

Just get your kids to create a server and relax. It took mine less than a minute and they are all over it.



As posted previously – where Pokemon Go is an exploratory shopping and rewards app – not an actual game in the minds of it’s owners – I am hereby actively predicting that you’ll be spinning for burgers in a certain white faced clown’s ‘family restaurant’.

Hashtag – buy them all.

Minecraft vs Minecraft Story Mode

Minecraft Story Mode is not Minecraft, but an example of the increasing interest and ability of game developers to engage children in what amounts to a neo-novella.

Neo-novellas are interactive, animated, short stories written for adults (which children also enjoy). It’s a game, but it’s not Minecraft. If you want a review of Story Mode, I suggest Meta Critic here. This post is about why Story Mode is new cultural move for the brand.

It’s been widely accepted that the uptake of digital media doesn’t divorce the user from older media. New iterations become part of the  cultural aesthetic and processes carried on by society. Story Mode brings a new set of adventures to the Minecraft brand, finally being more recognizable as a text type than the original game to parents. It actually has a story and characters that deliver on the narrative.

While this ‘port’ from one popular cultural artifact (Game of Thrones, Walking Dead) might not be a more than another remediation, it provides a key bridge between the original sandbox game, which is mostly autotelic in nature, to one which is clearly a consumer-driven product that expands the franchise. For parents who didn’t see the ‘point’ of Minecraft, this new title presents itself in a much more recognisable form. Unlike the developers other titles, Minecaft Story Mode isn’t bound by it’s original ‘show’. It’s likely that they can sell ‘new adventures’ to players for the foreseeable future. The hardcore Minecrafters will carry on with their creative labours and server-owners will continue to farm ‘mini-game’ players. Story Mode isn’t Minecraft. It’s a game which is based on Minecraft, paying closer attention to YouTube popularity than the original game.

Story Mode is a potential gateway game from endless hours of personal creativity and mini-gaming (which comes with many issues for parents) to a game which leads kids into the well-established narrative-games. It remains to be seen if Story Mode has any new ‘literacy’ value to children, but it certainly has tremendous cross-platform economic value to the developers.  It also serves to mask some of the concerns parents have over Minecraft “over use” and the kind of trading, collecting and behavioral conditions present on mini-game servers. Minecraft has effectively had a sizeable PR overhaul in Story Mode as well as another injection of cash for its owners.

Creative Writing Games for Stage 3 and above

I don’t like ‘ice-breakers’ as a rule. They tend to be far too pushy for people who are naturally introverted. So as I thought about kicking off a new set of Year 7s this week, I opted to create a simple writing game which later we’ll use as the basis for art making – drawings made from text. This is an example – and great for getting people who think they can’t draw to write (and then make a drawing). The game is designed for table work, so I’d suggest 2-8 players. It lasts about an hour. You’ll notice in the games that there are objects. For my purpose these things are simply concepts, but they could be physical things or even mathematical formulas etc., It’s a pretty low tech game, but I guess you could do this online.

The aim of the activity is to get students to think creatively and to critically follow rules to re-frame their original position. Let me know if you use it or modify it! Creative story writing game.

What’s in your fantasy school arcade?

By now you’ve probably worked out I’m a fan of using video-games, and see them as essential to any effort to use digital-media with school children. At the same time games  are “Vegas’ed” — meaning moved off the strip — by many school systems — in favour of media-forms they see as less controversial. This isn’t just software — we’re talking here about physical space — actual walk-in spaces in schools. In an era of open-plan, idea-paint and primary coloured cube-chairs — no ones building arcades.

Imagine you had 20 arcade cabs in a school where kids could go and choose to play one or other game. What would you include on the machines? Why would being able to wander in and play it — be educational or useful?

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.

Why won’t she get off Minecraft?

I spoke to a journalist yesterday at the Sunday Telegraph about Minecraft. Apparently they are wring an article. Almost immediately, I learned they had a son aged seven who was ‘addicted’ to it, refusing to get off when told, which led to family rows.

Sound familiar? It’s something I hear a lot. I’ve thought about writing an entire book on the topic of getting kids off computers and video games, as there seems so much panic over it. I’m not sure what (if anything) will get written into the article, so I thought I’d outline my view here.

Is Minecraft addictive?

Firstly, kids are not addicted to Minecraft. Addiction is a word that is used in a variety of ways, but usually it refers to a compulsive drive to take some substance or engage in some activity that is not good for us. Video games are games of skill like chess or soccer. Success depends on perseverance, intelligence, practice, and learning, not chance. Saying Minecraft is addictive is similar to trying to argue millions of people addicted to soccer and therefore soccer creates the violence and racism on the terraces and so on.

People play games because they are challenging, fun and provide social interaction with other gamers – just like soccer. You might argue soccer is physical and outside. Yes, but in soccer, you don’t have to calculate the dimensions of a pitch or design the worlds most amazing stadium, so please – games are not purely Kinesthetic learning (also known as tactile learning). This is just one learning style in which learning takes place by the student carrying out a physical activity. I might also argue the brain loves a good work out, and few parents worry about chess. There are many learning styles. Humans don’t use or exclude any particular one by choice.

Non-gamers are bombarded by messages from the larger media-culture. Newspapers, radio and print generally assert gaming is a sign of laziness, is “addictive” and leads to many bad-effects. Non-gamers become concerned about video gaming as a result.

Why does mass-media say games are addictive?

The simple answer is that mass-media needs people to spend millions of hours watching television ads, reading  ads in newspapers and so on. This is why we have televisions, magazines and newspapers – they are technological devices to sell us advertising.  But we are not watching and reading like we used to. The death of traditional media (in terms of advertising) is well reported – as is the rise of Internet advertising. The problem here is that games like Minecraft clearly consume millions of hours – which blocks out their advertising opportunity. Worse, they know that ‘we’ don’t need traditional media anymore – we are the news, we are anonymous, we can’t be profiled or sold as we won’s sit on the couch like zombies. We’d rather play with zombies.

When Minecraft is the house-game for kids – then these media messages will focus parents on getting the house back to reading and watching their messages –  to support advertising revenue streams. So parents hear constantly that games are harmful, that gamers are all potential crazed gunmen, isolated shut ins and so on. You don’t want that for your kid do you?

Parents need to play with their kids if they want to understand games (and their kid)

I asked the reporter – “Do you have a Minecraft account and play with your child?”.

The answer was no as it almost always is. I followed up by asking “when  you go for coffee with your partner, have you given your child a smartphone to occupy them why you talk?”. She responded “Yes! – my husband does that!”

I pointed out the contradiction – games are good when adults are talking, but bad when the child doesn’t want to talk but play. How is a child supposed to work out this rule when it is presented as a contradiction, not a constant. For the players, Minecraft is a constant, so are your game-friends you play with. They understand you and they want to play with you. They know you might quit at any moment – to get ‘logged’ to do some chore or sit quietly while mum and dad have a chat.

Minecraft is not about occupying or filling in time – it’s about meaningful work. I hate to break it to parents, but to a kid, building in Minecraft is meaningful. Perhaps parents are just not used to this. The problem with Minecraft is not the game, nor video games in general. The central social problem is understanding our own (adults) behaviors around them. If parent’s don’t play with their kids, it is unlikely they will gain any understanding of games and their kids who are growing up with them. This is just like the same as noticing they like soccer so finding them a soccer club or kicking a ball around with them. Knock, knock, knock – Penny – your kid likes video games and can probably bend it like Beckham if you bothered to stop yelling long enough to actually understand.

Do scholars believe games are addictive?

Let me say this, as someone who works at a University. Little is agreed upon. The purpose of research is to move understanding forward and to find gaps in ‘the knowledge’ of everything. This means that when you hear or read an academic talk about something, they will invariably do a bit of fence sitting when asked yes/no questions. There is no ‘yes’ games are addictive verdict so far – and to be frank, there is no agreement on what we mean by video-game. I argue that Twitter is a video-game, it has the same basic qualities of games. This is usually met with raised eyebrows and seen as an attempt to avoid the question. But in all seriousness – there are plenty of people who sat zombified on their couch for years watching Doctor Phil and now they play Angry Birds at the same time.

This has nothing to do with Minecraft “addiction” anymore than Doctor Phil is the cause of Angry Bird addiction.

Mike Langlois, who maintains an excellent blog “gamer-therapist” said

“The stereotype presents the gamer as apathetic and avoidant of any work or investment. One thing we know about stereotypes is that they can be internalized and lead to self-fulfilling negativism, and I’ve come to hear gamers refer to themselves as lazy slackers.”

To counteract the stereotype, Langlois points out that video gaming is hard fun, not easy fun. Hard fun is a term that has appeared more than a few times towards education and technology.

“This hard fun would not be possible if gamers were truly lazy or apathetic. And the level of detail that many gamers pay attention to is staggering

To your brain, Mincraft is a form of going outside.

Our bodies are just a way to move our sub-conscious around. We spend most of our lives in our own sub-conscious because our brain likes to do stuff. The brain is in charge, not the body, and the brain is just as interested in solving problems in Minecraft as it is getting hands to move lego-bricks around a table. It soon works out the two-things are related. I can only imagine what would happen if Lego included redstone and pistons in a box. That would be awesome. But as awesome as Mincraft Lego was, it the brain wasn’t fooled.

Sydney is a city where children are often not allowed to play freely outdoors. Certainly where I live, busy roads, the occasional ‘collar bomber’ and so on means kids are more or less constantly directed by adults. Minecraft for some kids is the only realm where they are allowed to roam free and explore. At the same time, most of the parents I know of Minecraft kids understand that like anything kids need a balance in their life, and are not able to manage time as well as adults (some adults).

Parents need to learn not to use Minecraft as stick or candy-cane.

It’s a BAD idea to offer Minecraft time as a reward for ‘good’ behaviour – and a BAD idea to use the removal of it for ‘not good’ behaviour. This is a loop of doom – all it does is break down the trust between kid and parent – which in most cases parents have no idea how to repair. Minecraft is not like a DVD which parents used to use as a techno-babysitter. DVDs are passive loops, the brain likes watching them as they are predictable and expected. Much of the time kids are not actively watching them – they are just zombie-fied on the couch.

Minecraft is not a babysitter

Amazingly, Minecraft is given to ‘occupy’ kids – in fact computers generally are used to keep kids busy. The problem is that Minecraft is not telling your kid a story – it’s not Willy Wonka you are sitting them in front of – it’s Anonymous – and Anonymous will teach them many things. I like the Anon analogy as Minecraft has some great people and projects for kids on the web, and also it has people whom I would not want my kids to go near – not because they are weirdos – but because the time I allow my kids to game – I want to make sure it’s productive and educationally beneficial. I don’t leave that to chance, I make the effort to find out – in just the same way I find out about local sports clubs, guitar tutors or books. Games are not external to parent-domain anymore — after all — you bought the game.

Minecraft is not just a game – its a sub-culture that spills out into YouTube, music, forums, blogs and art.

Of all the games available right now, Minecraft has qualities which allow kids to explore and imagine on an epic scale. Most significantly, there are few rules to learn – reasonable proficiency is achieved in hours. Not because the game is ‘easy’, but because the mechanics are such that a player is engaged in very very fast cause/effect feedback loops. Most of the time, when you die, it’s funny, even ironic – a result of you not thinking hard enough – not random chance.

Is Minecraft educational?

I give a flat yes to this, and in my view Minecraft (used in a game-sensible-model) is as educational as any other technology we’ve added to classrooms – if not more. It can be used to unlock things in kid’s minds that lead to deep learning that isn’t about to achieved with an IWB or Wiki. If we are going to debate this, then also debate whether school – as it is commonly provided – always educational too. Many think not, including numerous scholars such as Henry Jenkins, John Seeley Brown and Sir Ken Robinson. Can I show teachers and parents it is – yes. I can and I do.

Technology at school (which has avoided using games like Minecraft) has not improved outcomes with technology (yet). School leaders in my experience have almost no knowledge or understanding of the power of games – and for no more reason that that – have failed to make any serious effort to fund them, or back teachers who do. Technology has not had any real impact youth unemployment and disenchantment.

If school prepares you for life – what kind of life?

The Hunger Games or the games industry? – One reason kids around the world are learning to code is that they can get access to hero-code poets like @Notch. These people blog, tweet and do accessible random stuff. They are more real than the teacher in many ways. Minecraft is a visual programming language. It blows my mind that in Australia, the dominant programming language taught (cough) at age 16-18 is Visual Basic 6. Learning to use Unity, Unreal, Cry-engine … not going to happen. So why teachers and parent winge when kids start to learn to code in Minecraft is brain-missing. Yes mum, your six year old is engaged in computational thinking and is writing code with those blocks. Playing to learn is well researched in education as a damn good idea.

Computer and video games in Australia is one of the biggest growing sectors of employment. Over $1billion dollars of employment. If school kids are not learning about games at school – where do all the people who work in this industry learn? Where to parents learn.

Minecraft is perhaps the start of a kids interest in their future job – the fact it looks like cubes ignores the cognitive development that is happening with that technology – which in my experience as a parent of kids of a similar age – does not happen at their school.

Minecraft might just be the game that stops your child becoming illiterate – not addicted to something that will make them lazy or ignorant.

Getting parents to understand games

The problem is not school or Minecraft. It’s a social-problem where there are almost no places for parents to go – with kids to learn about games and how to use games in the home to assist the overall development of the child. There is some research on Minecraft, but most parents doing read academic stuff – and there are a few books emerging, but again, they tend not to be bought by parents.

This is why I have tried to create events where kids and parents can come together to talk about games, play games and un-pack what is happening. That is very very hard – as school systems don’t work weekends and venues are expensive … but each time we do – parents discover a side of their child that society has been previously hiding. Amazingly, these things are well attended and have a very positive effect on parents, as we unpack and explain what is happening ‘live’ as their kids hang out and play.

Minecraft is good … you just have to understand how good. I’ll be running one at Macquarie University in the summer holidays – it will be free, so come along if you’re a parent and learn how to put games in kids lives in a positive way. I’ll also be running Minecraft for schools workshop in the next few months with Dr. Bron Stuckey. Addictive learning – yes please. Controlling kids? No.

10 considerations for bringing games into class

Before heading into using games in the classroom, there are a few considerations that are essential considerations. The biggest one surrounds understanding the culture of games, and from than developing a differentiated curriclum. Fun is not differentiation.

1. Physical structure of the setting

Video games are not played in physical groups, where everyone sits side by side.

2. Individual schedule

Play is an emotional activity, and the type of play (solo or group), who we play with and how often is a choice that game players make.

3. Individual work system

Gamers create systems of work using a range of tools, configurations and preferences. The more complex the game, the higher the need to create an individual system. For example: playing a game also invloves interacting with forums, websites, videos and people who are external to the classroom – constantly.

4. Routines and strategies

Games require very different strategies, not least social strategies and routines to optimise play experience. These are unlilkly to co-incide with those in the ‘traditional classroom’. How that is managed – without making play ‘un-fun’ is an art.

5. Visual organisation

Games are not orgnised in visual ways that are familiar or even related to ‘the desktop’. The more complex the game, the more individual the visual organisation will be. Students may have little or not experience of doing this, and additionally teachers may have no understanding of the game UX or the game-space.

6. Parent involvement

Parents should be involved to a greater extent. If parents don’t understand the power of play and games, expect a phone call.

7. Assessment Practices

Schools need to have a clear guide to understanding their students as ‘players’, customising the programming for each individual student, and monitoring outcomes so that games can be used to evidence achievement, knowledge and skill. Do not rely on in in-game scores or ‘badges’ as reliable indicators.

8. Cognitive Readyness

Cognitive readiness skills such as logging-in, pre-reading, communication, social, play, fine motor, imitation and group skills are all part of game-play.

9. Games are personal

Developing an individualized person and family-centered plan for each  student, rather than using a standard curriculum. (see individual schedule)

10. Visual Supports

Make the sequence of ‘dailies’ predictable and understandable – don’t fall into the trap of thinking play is immediately productive or motivating, simply because games can be ‘fun’. These supports can be imaginative – earned, flexible and individual (ideally).


Cross Posted:

TLV11, Good Game, Good Heavens.

Huge week at TLV Conference in Queensland which had such a wide variety of things and people, it renewed a waning interest in such things. Case studies of building drone aircraft, Stephen Heppell talking about the future of learning spaces, Gilly Salmon reviewing technology, Steve Collis with his animated presentation on learning design and Adrian Camm talking about learning using a cyberpunk narrative … something for everyone – a real 360 degree view of what’s possible, rather than anyone yelling about how teachers must change from a lofty hyperbole. Check out the #tlc11 hashtag if you want to have a look at some of the event.

But for us, the weekend brings more play – as Massively Minecraft is at it’s busiest on the weekend, with kids around the world showing up to build their community and welcome this week’s new players. As I mentioned in my presentation, we are not playing by the rules when it comes to game based learning – not least because we are passionate about the power of play to help parents see the amazing capabilities of their kids when they get busy with their creativity. This week’s Good Game Spawn Point aired this morning, and there are plenty of our players featured in the video. We expected about 10 people to show up to be honest, and we’re blown away when the number went past 100. Not only that parents didn’t drop off kids, but stayed to play and talk about games and design all morning.

Here’s the video off my iPhone. It’s kind of crappy, but I wanted to get the reaction of the family as they saw the game on TV. If this isn’t authentic learning, I don’t know what is.

Here’s a video Jo made to show some of the things that happen in the game.

I did manage to spend some time talking with Stephen Heppell about the value of family in kid’s learning, and though I didn’t puppy dog him, what he suggested was very useful – as was the feedback and ideas from everyone in the conference which wasn’t limited to games. In particular, I really liked The North School. It was a great example of connecting young kids to industry and univeristy, and a very clever way to transform the use of ICT, buy not having an ICT agenda as the driver, and they are keen to collaborate with other schools and experts to further give kids a diverse leaning experience.

All in all, I got this big sense that school cannot be about students and teachers, if they want to claim they are 21st Century. Writing it on the side of a bus isn’t the same. To me it doesn’t matter what sector or system you are in – if you see yourself only in that space, you are now competing with everyone outside it – and lots of those (us) are not playing by the rules.