Who goes first?

Imposing adult points of view on children’s imaginations means waiting for them to talk about them first. Making them talk about it interferes with their imagination.

Who’s to say that by playing out their fantasy using a game, they won’t astonish you with profound insights that only emerge from them being allowed to figure it out.

Go teach this!

There are a few people I have met in the last decade that constantly inspire and amaze me. Not because they work uber hard at self-gratifying themselves on social media, but because they work tirelessly to make great things and offer them to people in honest and reasonable ways. Adrian Bruce is one of them. He’s been GIVING AWAY really useful resources to teachers for years.  Not ‘ideas’ or pre-sales junk – actually useful stuff that thousands of teachers have used.

So now Adrian has created a portal for his work. Create a FREE account here – right now.

GoTeachThis.com will become your one stop shop for printable Math & Reading games. The resources available are pedagogically sound and student friendly. They make student learning social, visible and fun.

I know just how hard Adrian has worked on making this a reality, and why he’s so passionate about it. He’s definitely from the “maker” crowd that I have endless time for. His illustrations and graphics are delightful, as is his game-mechanics being used. In the site there are ton of FREE resources as well as VERY AFFORDABLE premium (which pay the bills and keeps the Universe ticking along). These are not ‘generic’ games either. Adrian has done crazy amounts of work in the classroom with these, and they are all next-generation resources in terms of design and development. Many will know Adrian, as he’s been part of the educational-community online as long as anyone. What you might not know is that he has this AMAZING set of resources which you SHOULD PAY FOR and subscribe to because it pwns the free junk that is online (link bait). 

To me it’s the evolution of the grass-roots movement – where people like Adrian are making NEW (not rehashed or duplicated) resource for learning and teaching – backing their passion and insight. Go on, get behind Go Teach This and get your school to subscribe! Get a free account here.

The tether fantasy

Reading some ambitious theory about how kids come to play Minecraft by Christopher Goetz in “Tether and Accretions: Fantasy as Form in Videogames”. One of his key ideas is that games allow players to explore the darker and scarier side of existence, while maintaining a tether to the home or home base. This allows exploration as a kind of oscillation between binaries (good/bad, safety/peril) from the perceptual safety of the home. It’s a great read and goes someway to highlight the appeal of Minecraft in the home, and why, as a cultural object, school based Minecraft tends to not allow students to move away from home base at quite the depth and ambition as they do at home. It really supports the argument that games are a part of literary culture, and parents play a vital role in children’s understanding of the world though media.

It also signals reasons so many people are exploring new forms of media and relationships from home, yet at work, they tend to less motivated. He says the digital fantasy a provides a “reliable, infinitely repeatable source of pleasure”. He also asserts “tether fantasy encourages us to consider everyday routines as creative acts permeated by a playful impulse: as we leave one site of adult identity for the next —whether it is bed, the cubicle at work, a car, or home—”. Certainly most people engage in this kind of activity via twitter for example. In addition he says it can be used to both engage and withdraw for the world and the power invested in these objects enables you to go beyond what is normally possible. I’ve said several times that I see twitter as sandbox game, and this article opened some new doors for me.

It’s a great theory, not least as it deal with the progressive autotelic narrative of building and venturing further from home base in a really interesting way.

Why to avoid kids catching second screen media addiction

This post is about the growing problem of “second screen addiction” and corresponding growth of “viewing communities” responding to media signals. Its also a response to a day listening to clinicians talking about ‘game addiction’. I had to disagree with much of it, but it did lead me to think – there an addiction that they need to be more worried about (even though Internet and Game Addiction is not a recongnised pathology in the DSM-V).

It’s insufficient to talk about “social media” as something all people do at the same level or layer of the Internet. At best this results in binary opinions about what is “good” and “bad” uses of it – which implies certain people are also “good users” and “bad users” in order to reinforce or weaken subjective social norms.  For example, teachers tend to see themselves as “serious” users, where as almost everyone expects famous people will ignore everyone, Tweeting about how important they are. There are exceptions to this of course – William Shatner is highly engaged with everyone, as is Sutter and most of the cast of SOA (even when no on the air). There are those foolish educators who believe they too have rock-star status, ignoring anything and anyone who can’t add to their bottom line. Spend enough time online, and I’m sure none of that comes as news.

Here’s what might be news. Ridiculous as it sounds, millions of adults take part in what are called ‘second screen networks’ in order to add their unique commentary, in unique clusters. They are not connecting to solve world problems or advocate for a better world, most of it is about whether or not Jerry Falliwell is past it or why Fandilands is still walking the streets with no obvious talent. With content being beamed at them, 24/7 TVs dogmatic insistence on controlling the viewers attention has shifted their attention to the second-screen. Why: Well because people are addicted to it – and it’s a brilliant way to get them to endorse a brand (or kill one). Even better, the second-screen dweller will willingly hand over metrics about their location, habits and preferences at levels “old school” media-bookers and demographers would have never thought possible. Did you know it takes about a minute to scrape every Facebook ‘fan’ list into an txt file, and then upload it though the interface Facebook provides to sell directly to them? Did you know you have a Facebook email address? Most people don’t know just how open for business ‘viewer networks’ are when it comes to their privacy and information and I suspect most don’t care (yet).

Having time and belief in television seems motivation enough for millions of people the zombie-hashtag around a wide narrative during just about any given show these days. In doing so they give away a piece of privacy and get a little more addicted.

Second screen addicts can’t watch TV without holding their phone in one hand and tapping the screen with the other these days. It’s an active goal to get “your Tweet” on the TV during #qanda. These “virtual viewer communities” are so new, no one’s had time to study them in any detail. For those who like (and trade off) ‘internet addiction’, the idea of ‘second screen networks’ is a bonanza.

Rank ordinary citizens group up in visible, measurable ‘viewer communities’ in yet another complex layer which can be influenced, shaped and sold to. The media of course love it. They can slag off anyone using social media (and then deny it) or incite a crowd of zombies to attack on their behalf.

So why then are children encouraged to download apps for the Block, Australia’s Got Talent, Big Brother and so on without a health and wealth warning? Why do parents consider these things ‘serious’ and ‘safe’ yet Call of Duty continues to be hammered for being anti-social, violent and un-reaslistic?

What needs to be stated in games research is whether or not, we’re talking about ‘small world’ communities – where who we know are immediate (such as your friends list on Xbox, or Warcraft) or whether we’re talking about “big communities” where people who like a particular game are happy to simply play with anyone. The problem for researches with ‘small world’ communities is that they stand so far from the centre of that community, it is barely visible. This leads to people conducting small-experiments (even 2000 players is small) in order to scale outwards to the edge. One problem with that is that in network clusters, the nearer the centre of the network you are, the more dense, frequent and encoded the communication becomes.

Why blather on about this?

Well, if you are a parent with a kid playing Minecraft (or other) – your kid is playing a game with millions of players. Unlike second-screeners, they are developing a ‘small world’ cluster of players around them, which is actually really powerful, supportive and rewarding. They are escaping the media apocalypse of second-screen addiction.

“Second screen addiction” to me, describes the use of smartphones, laptop and tablets to engage in peripheral, often counter-narrative discussions with people for whom their only connection is a #hashtag. These viewer communities (to me) appear to uphold the worst of digital behaviours and de-sensitising participants to the point where rape-threats are seem as ‘offensive’ but somewhat expected. Then there is the endless counter-activists rounding on ‘the other stupid people’ using their snarky-verbose reworks of 16th Century French Philosophers.

Even more alarming to me is that TV and Radio in particular positively encourage it – without any thought to their whole-society impact or responsibility. I can only think, journalists and producers see this a way out of their decline.

Mass media generalisations will continue to be made in the media about games being ‘bad’,. What important to know is that this has little relevance to the important value gained by knowing how to thrive in ‘small world’ game communities can be the most productive, supporting and useful networks online. They can be the polar opposite of viewer-networks tapping their X-Factor app and Tweeting “Who’d tap that?”. The problem is, parents don’t know where to find them and right now, don’t seem to think second screening is a real problem either.

Parents who believe they avoided games because they are bad – may have allowed their kids to become second-screeners, exposing them to the absolute pond-life to gushing-fans of any given show, or actor. They are immersed in a repetitive good/bad, love/had endorse/kill behaviours that cause so much harm online and perfect for kids – as binaries are the way kids make sense of the world.

Kids and parents getting addicted to ‘second screener’ lifestyles, participating in “viewer networks” are far more worrying to me than kids who are playing COD with their ‘small world’ friends. One is a world of binaries and the other … well, you figure it out.

What do you think? Is Second Screen addiction a growing problem among children and adults?

When life begins to imitate games

Games are all examples of hyper-reality. In that regard today’s video-games should be thought of more like Disneyland. For kids, the experience of hyper reality becomes more real than the reality they were designed to imitate. Let me unpack that a bit. Minecraft is a simulation of the world. It has some ludic rules about what happens when player meets creeper, but it is designed to be hyper-Disneyland of the players imagination. Because of Notch’s inspired method of constructing the environment, Minecraft (more than any other game in history) allows for mass production and reproduction. Minecraft is not a game or simulation – if looked at from a hyper-reality perspective. I once was, when Notch and a few people played it, but now it is a lanaguage – able to convey meaning, ideas, systems and rules. That is what makes it so powerful, it’s the first true hyper-real game that broke the rules of language.

Take school for example, it uses language to enforce the rules and conventions of society. It limits the way students learn, because it demands they bow down to functional language tools, upheld by aging taxonomies such as the infamous “Bloom” – compare, list, find and so on. Schools doesn’t tolerate any development of ‘new language’ at all. What a language does is enable the communication of information, feelings, ideas, and the like by establishing systemsand rules that people learn. And just as there is grammar for writing and speaking, so there are rules for hyper-reality. Minecraft is perhaps the most complex example of this I can think of.

It’s also a perfect ‘sign’ of why so many people in society simply can’t grasp even the simplest elements of ‘hyper-reality’. Today for example, the news media were salivating over a political party ‘buying’ Twitter followers for their leader. The leader is completely unable to ‘speak’ to anyone via Twitter (he’s not alone) – as he doesn’t have the language to do so.

We’re dealing with a hyper-real world in which signifiers and the signified can only be understood by learning new language, so if you’re kids is playing Minecraft … they are learning about signs – what is signified and what are the signifiers in a hyper-reality immersed society. And that’s not a bad thing at all – as life has always imitated art to some degree.

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.

Should we label the ‘network-attributes’ of game effects on kids.

In early childhood, children are play digital games which are available on computers, tablets, mobile phones, handheld devices and consoles. Although the domestication of computers saw computer and video games enter the home in the 1970s, children played them predominantly as stand-alone entertainment. Today, computer and video games are Internet enabled and connected to global networks, where children routinely interact with other players though synchronous and asynchronous media. The content of this media can be publicly available, and where players can see their performance and compare to that of others. Today’s networked games are a part of the global ‘social media’ phenomenon.

For parents, there is an feeling of tension between a games ability to provide fun, interactive experiences, rich in skill building and cognitive development and potential unhealthy behaviors and experiences. The broader cultural, held by adults is a belief that time spent ‘online’ is at the expense of ‘real life’ and not part of life. There are many unresolved questions around what we now attribute as being ‘real life’, given the increasing acculturation of technology in to our cyborg-lifestyles.

Since the advent of the home micro-computer, media messages have appealed to parents using glossy box artwork and appealing messages. Animated characters that respond to human suggestions, because they are controlled by other humans, might appear more real, that a game character than only responds to two or three triggers.

What processes do game-developers go through to create age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate game network experiences for games rated as “U” for Universal? What responsibility have game-developers to clearly articulate the nature of the ‘networks’ that their games are played on. A quick example being Linden Lab’s move to ‘ban’ gambling and later move ‘sexual’ content off the main-grid was widely discussed – yet when a new game offers multiplayer, there is not reference at all to the nature of the ‘network’ experience of playing with others – and the kind of media others often create and refer to as part of ‘social-play’.

As younger children are less able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, animated characters do seem real, as do their superhuman powers, and the often complex sub-text running though the game as a narrative will be un-detected or mis-interpreted. Children’s ego-centric nature is struggling to make sense of the media offered – and may well lead them to believe that small red birds are indeed angry and able to topple buildings if thrown.


I’d be interested to hear what games you think are good for under 6’s and what kind of design considerations you think might have gone into them … if you have a few minutes to reply, I’d appreciate it.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A toast to the end of an era.

“They have a word for people our age. They call us children and they treat us like mice.” – Enders Game.

Let me endorse something significant. Entertainment companies want to be directly connected to a paying audience. They don’t want high-street retailers, TV stations, newspapers and magazines get in the the way. They are losing money to downloads and losing money though traditional outlets who allow change only when it benefits them, and make up the terms of delivery.

Game Based Media Networks want to destroy this – and they are succeeding by gaining the attention of a generation of kids.

Game Based Entertainment platforms are the future. The war of the ‘attention economy’ will be won and lost in lounge room. The humble TV will continue to become the ‘hub’ and ‘server’ for the household personal portable devices. The scariest will be Personal Ocular Device (POD) which will see people not leaning into the glass-smart phones, but wearing them – Google Glass, Epsom etc.,

People want to access their entertainment (games, movies, books and music) on demand. They want to be connected to their friends. To a far lesser degree, they will participate in the pubic feeds.

The public feeds are interesting, as right now, there are a bunch of people profiting from putting information into ‘social feeds’. I’ve become totally anti-edulandia commercial these days, as I see it’s un-ethical to pretend to be a ‘connected citizen’ when actually you’re just profiting from it. So unless the pubic are able to be rewarded for their contribution, then someone will invent something that will. I watched some Eurovision last week, along side the Twitter stream – and frankly, there are some really funny and engaging people out there who made an otherwise semi-amusing event, better. They didn’t get paid a cent.

But game networks are good at giving people rewards for effort, they’ve been doing it for a decade. No effort goes un-rewarded, and there’s usually something to work for and get – which each player sees is important. The fact it’s made of pixels is just a glitch with legacy printed money – which itself is being challenged by Bit Coin and other weird new currencies linked to the attention economy.

Microsoft, Sony (and others) are investing in the one area of their business that is growing – Games. They are not making money from social media networks (they are spending a fortune) – so they are working on providing ‘direct to consumer’ games-based-media networks – and in the mean time, do the best with what they have. They are learning fast because they have been losing. However, given the Xbox 360 is 7 years old – they have been very resilient to the changes in technology, culture and society which has become addicted to pocket-sized glass screens.

The XBox One has emerged to support this thesis – it isn’t a more powerful box because it has more RAM and a faster chip – it is more powerful because it lives in the lounge room.

“Can we take what you love and make it better? Can we improve a living room that’s become too complex, too fragmented and too slow?”

After years of double-digit expansion, social media use in the U.S. leveled off markedly last year. American social media users grew an estimated 6.8% in 2012, a far cry from 30 per cent growth rates just a few years ago. With so many of the country’s 221 million netizens already logging into social networks, growth is forecast to slow to a trickle in the years ahead.

Kik, Whatsapp, QQ, Weibo, VK are all growing networks which attract ‘golden shoppers’ and generate hundreds of billions of dollars. The assumption amount (which anglo males in education) that social networks or being connected is a mainly white, western activity based on Twitter and Facebook (where they get most of their money and attention from) is frankly thinking as out-dated as those they endlessly vilify.

The future of classrooms is in games-based-media networks – where quality content is fed to courses – be them MOOCs or local. Universities and Content Creators (Pearson and so on) will deliver high quality content in a form that will fit the social perception of what school is (a hierarchy of silo’d subjects with tests) as it washes away the gurus of Web2.0.

It will do this because it’s profitable and because they control the attention gateways. It might take a while, but sooner or later a University will stop messing about with their MOOC platform and start producing high-end content to feed the Xbox Network. I’d like to think it’s mine … but I suspect it will be a US institution that’s learned from MOOCs already.

Yes Xbox one has some Microsoft legacy-ware, currently ‘un-cool’ like Explorer, and no it doesn’t do the things you laptop does – but that isn’t important. What is important is that as a game-media-network they want a direct line to consumers in the attention economy – and that is what it will deliver. It will leverage it’s games capital to achieve it. If it means letting people watch some TV content for a while, so be it – but the terms it will be distributed will begin to turn in favour of new networks not the old. Sorry Rupert.

So while games are scapegoated as causing all manner of social ills, they are the media-platform which is most able and likely to significantly change who own’s the content gateway. It will be game-networks which decide which social-network, which movie, which news-channel and music will be presented to the family.

The conclusion is that games based learning is dead in the water, because most of those pushing it do so because it suits their current feed-profit-regime. Now, sit down, have a drink while we watch the end of the old new world …