Xbox Live: What do parents need to know about Party Chat

If you own and Xbox or PS4, the chances are your child is playing online with a headset. In the past, the online-stranger-danger centred on so-called ‘internet chat rooms’. These things died ten years ago in reality, but TV and movies tend to talk about them still. Today, it’s not likely your child is live-chatting because there are so many better options such as Snap Chat and Xbox Live.

This post talks about ‘party chat’ as distinct from in-game chat. I am therefore not talking about in-game commands, co-ordination and instructions that players might do to win – I’m talking about the social chat that sits above that. The difference between game chat and party chat.

Should you be concerned about voice chat in a game? Yes. Most parents never sit in party chats and play games, so have no experience of what is going on. It’s like saying you can visit a different culture and apply your own culture’s norm to it and expect it to be the same. It’s not a case of it being bad or good – but to understand that party chat is a pervasive communication layer that defies geography and allows kids to maintain a semi-permanent tie to people they like and share values with. I hesitate to use the term ‘friends’ here as this term is illusory and yet used constantly in games to signal relationships. This post therefore tries to give you some background on party-chat: who uses it, what it is, how it’s used and so forth – you could ‘ban’ it, but that doesn’t actually create more harmony or stronger ties in the family or outside of it.

I’m also saying you (the parent) need to listen and understand it as a layer of communication between kids and not as an extension of a video game at all. So let me get into it.

Party chat is wide ranging. It is more of a hang-out than a tool to improve game performance. The second use is to say “I am here”. This is deeply connected with growing up. I’m not talking about the latter here – it’s too complex for a blog post. But be aware that kids use to tell the illusory world beyond your house – I am here and I’m connected.

Kids are often in a party chat but playing DIFFERENT games or even watching Netflix. On the upside, these tend to be tight-friend based parties in which the same kids come and go. Party chat is a communication layer, much like Skype. It sits over the game. The more sophisticated version being Twitch, where kids broadcast to the web and an audience forms online as a party. Most kids are watching Twitch (lots of F-Bombs) and not broadcasting – but they do mimic what they see in party charts. Little Jonny is probably going to try an F-Bomb in party chat – because, at the dinner table, that would have consequences! This doesn’t make them a bad kid!

Is my kid playing with online F-Bomb weirdos then?

Strangers are not likely and kids don’t leave the party ‘open’ to random joiners. The downside is that kids use this space to ‘shit-talk’ each other. This is complex, but many parents might be shocked to hear the projected persona of their own child. It’s just ONE identity they are experimenting with – don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean they are going one percent biker.

Don’t assume this is teenager issue either. Primary aged kids are among the biggest users as they can connect without needing mum or dad to take them to a friends house. The language in some of these parties can be quite alarming. This is about boundary testing and other developmental reasons – not as they are bad kids – but be aware, kids do swear a lot. They also don’t listen to each other too much. Unlike a real world interchange – shit talking – is almost part of the competitiveness of the game – as kids comment on others, testing relationships and figuring out where they are in the overall scheme of things.

Party Chat‘ allow kids select who they want to talk to. Who is in and out. There are squabbles here, as kids rage-quit the party or group ditches a kid for some reason. In my observation this is not long-lasting and they don’t seem to hold grudges. The party is likely to be a mix of in real life (IRL) and met online friends. Don’t expect this to the same IRL friend group from school. They may party chat online with kids they would not talk to at school. This appear very normal.

This is likely to be a mix of in real life (IRL) and met online friends. Don’t expect this to the same IRL friend group from school. They may plan online with kids they would not talk to at school.

Party chat is wide ranging. It is more of a hangout than a tool to improve game play. It’s mostly about ‘being present’ and socialising and a very casual basis. You teen might be in the party all day and only say three words. The important thing is that want to be connected – and the good news is that party chat is almost always a closed network and the core group quickly vet anyone joining – usually through an invite from someone already in the party.

A note here about ‘friends’. Kids add other players who didn’t suck, or perhaps compromised and helped in the game – where others didn’t. A ‘friend’ is more a ‘preferred player’ in most cases, but Xbox uses ‘friends’ as part of its taxonomy. It doesn’t mean “friend” in the same way it does IRL. The parent just appear dumb when they quiz kids about ‘real friends’ and ‘have you met them’ – kids think this is a ridiculous line of attack.

Furthermore, kids are often in a party chat playing DIFFERENT games or even watching Netflix. The downside of party groups is that kids use this space to ‘shit-talk’ each other. You might as well learn that term. Don’t freak, if a kid ‘shit-talks’ another, the other one usually doesn’t care or even respond. Telling another player “you’re bad” is far worse in the taxonomy of commentary. I’m not suggesting this is the norm, there are some very sensible and articulate kids in game chat – but there are morons – just as there are everywhere else in life. Kids often mirror what’s going on, they test out new identities – and yes, your otherwise angelic boy has probably heard and used language that won’t be alarming at the dinner table.

The reasons for this are complex. Don’t assume ‘shit-talking’ is teenager only, primary aged kids are among the biggest users as they can connect without needing mum or dad to take them to a friends house. Younger kids are full of bravado and mosy of the time, they provide a running, high-pitched commentary on the game. They verbalise their thoughts – not caring if anyone’s listening. Broadly speaking, older gamers call them mic-squeakers and mute them. Mic-squeakers are prolific trash-talkers to other mic-squeakers. Most of them don’t swear, but plenty does.The language in some of these parties can be quite alarming. This is about boundary testing and other developmental reasons – not as they are bad kids – but be aware, kids do swear a lot. They also don’t listen to each other too much. Unlike a real world interchange – shit talking – is almost part of the competitiveness of the game – as kids comment on others, testing relationships and figuring out where they are in the overall scheme of things.

My point here is that friend based party chat DOES often contain swearing – shit talking – and at the same time, this does NOT MEAN your child would do it outside of the party. Overall, party-chat is well meaning and players can come and go – which they do often. To me, it doesn’t appear a persistent space where systematic bullying might thrive – unlike Snap Chat and Facebook – which are far more permanent in terms of digital footprint.

My suggestion is to get in a party chat – the one your kid uses – and play. Figure out what is going on. You might find your kid is spending time with some GREAT kids and that they are very responsible. You might also discover shit-talking isn’t an idicator of much more than the advancing media culture in which F-Bombs and slagging off others isn’t now seen as Taboo.

Either way – Party Chat isnt going away …

Pokemon Go re-ignites ‘addiction’ debate – and it’s wrong.

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Saying Pokemon Go is fun – is like saying jogging uses energy. Most people, including me, are pro-fun and play. In this post, I want to look at why you shouldn’t re-subscribe to the ‘addiction’ debate about video games, simply because this game has become VERY popular in a few weeks – and I’ll set out my reasons why parents and kids are enjoying it.

Games rise and games fall. Pokemon Go is no exception to this reality. Nintendo’s current success spells the final-death-nail for toy-games such as Disney’s Infinity. While not connected, the rise of Pokemon Go enphasises changes in consumer reception to digital games. The  once massive toy game market in which parents bought physical plastic Skylanders, LEGO Dimensions and Infinity has paved the way for games like Go!.

I’m injecting this here – because my argument is that Pokemon Go is an evolved version of ‘collecting’ which appeals to a huge numbers of ‘latent’ playing adults and has made a connection between parents-children that other games (toy games, Minecraft etc.,) have achieved – but to a much higher level. As I’ll explain, games which allow children and adults to have a shared taxonomy are seen (by parents) as media worth having and playing.

Nearly all games are designed to be fun and play cannot be separated from  human behavior. Pokemon, like all games, requires the player to engage with a set of  rules which require particular human behavior to be applied to it. Let’s take a simple Pokemon ‘goal’ to be in a Pokemon Gym. Within hours of playing (and talking about) the game, players become attuned to the idea that these locations are split into factional ownership and there are player-elites which have more power than you – right now. In order to become elite requires hours and hours of what MMO players would call ‘grinding’. Repeating simple behaviors – the most significant ones being – spend many hours engaged with it and move to specific locations to for more reward that you might currently be receiving.

Pokestops are not ‘owned’ in the way they were owned in Ingress (the geo-location database created by players 2013-2016 used as the basis of where Pokestops and Gyms are located). Pokestops don’t require any ‘work’ other than to get there are wait around. They don’t defend themselves from new arrivals and your clutch of creatures are not damanged when trying to attain more ‘balls’.  There is not downside to going to a Pokestop and there’s no reason to leave one … because in a few minutes, it will let you have more Pokeballs. So when a parent takes a kid to a Pokestop and kids get what they want – more balls- everyone is happy. Imagine if they didn’t – but the Pokestop killed their best Pokemon or damaged it … less fun right? – Nintendo are not stupid – they are not selling to the same market that plays Ingress – but carefully re-shaping behavior and experience.

Media commentators have become to use the term ‘addiction’ in response. No shock here, as no game recently has managed to generate the level of ‘changed human behaviour’ that Pokemon Go has. Ingress didn’t as it was largely a ‘geek’ game (and still is). The perception, especially among TV new-anchors is that Nintendo have come up with a ‘new phenomenon’ which has magical powers (addition) – by way of them attempting to discuss behaviour which they don’t understand (meaning: haven’t much experience or knowledge of). Let the nodding begin – Pokemon Go is a new opportunity to revisit themes of ‘decaying childhood’, ‘the simple society’ etc., but no one’s interested in a full on media panic – as mobile phone games are largely seen as permissible in society these days.

The original game had just over 150 to collect, which expanded to over 700. There’s no reason to think that Nintendo will not add more – if the game remains popular in this form. The have told us that the current game is about 10% of the final thing (we want to believe it don’t we).

3 Reasons why is it ‘fun’

  1. The games involves taxonomy — the process of naming and classifying things into groups – and that is something humans find enjoyable, so yes kids soon get a handle on this.
  2. Collecting is a rewarding pass time. I am totally guilty of this – I have more cars than I need and obsessively collect parts for them at every opportunity. I don’t drive most of them, I just like to ‘own’ them. It’s irrational to most people, but not to thousands who were in Valla this week for the bi-annual Volkswagen gathering.
  3. The fun is not just in collecting and working to develop knowledge of the taxonomy. Like all successful games in recent times, the fun works around the social-graph of comparing and discussing your collection with others.

The social-graph, who is top and bottom in class, is used in very different ways at school and in society, so Pokemon Go is very much counter-school-culture. No surprise to see those teachers who are fustrated by the generalised-school-image have been quick to show they are using it – in class. You rebels! But imagine if a child’s learning was built around collecting and comparing, not timetables, silos and tests. Now that would be rebellious.

The thrill of the chase is not a sign of addiction

Pokemon turns the thrill of finding rare car-parts Pokemons into a chase. That chase is a personal story – and we love that. Take a look at educator stories in the last two weeks – a high energy story where each teachers sets about ‘showing’ how their class is into Pokemon and how thrilling it is – this is also part of the educator ‘taxonomy’ of collecting EdTech things.

People are not ‘addicted’ in the scientific sense, but in the self-expressive “spending too much time sense” usually shared around a social-graph. So many people tell my wife that I am ‘addicted’ to buying old cars and that I don’t need them (waste of time and money). They generally don’t tell me this directly, but my taxonomy isn’t one they value.

To talk about Pokemon Go as a game, in the way we might discuss Ingress or Tomb Raider isn’t possible, because the leap from screen to augmented reality changes the user-perception of collecting, comparing and competing. Educators needs to ‘see’ the game against the broader context. Think about a friend who collects Disney memorabilia or Hot Wheels cars – this is what is going on, except that the ‘rules’ on how occurs isn’t constructed socially as you’d see at a collectors-meet, but by a corporation (with an agenda) and an immediate connection to the collector/player.

Of course, in extreme cases, collectors put their interest ahead of other things – buying an object and not paying a bill or spending too much time at a meet-up they forget to pick up the kids from swimming – but these are likely to be extreme cases – and so attempts to get a head of steam about Pokemon Go addiction are already tiresome and ignorant.

Parents need to set limits on screen time and take some responsibility for the ‘quality’ of that time. Games (screens) are not digital-childminders – they are portals to media experiences and not all of them are going to meet the expectations or moral standards of parents (and their friends). In school, Pokemon Go will manifest itself though the interaction and cultural production of the children.

Of itself, this game (like any other) needs to be articulated into the curriculum – to address defined purposes. Anyone can ‘tweet’ about how EduPunk they are — rebelling against the stereotyped modernism of the establishment. Big deal, why this game? What is it’s pedagogical imperative which other games don’t have? – aside from popularity, media attention etc.? For example: what other games are use a collecting/taxonomy which can be used around a social graph? – more specifically – which EDUCATIONAL GAMES.

Minecraft managed to achieve much of this, what blocks can you find, what is your best build, can we work together – how close or different are our interests etc., and yet Minecraft Pocket (mobile) hasn’t received much in the way of teacher interest. For example, why not take MCPE mobile and allow kids to ‘build’ while IRL. For example, go to the park – imagine how you could re-design it?

I think the BIG thing, the really BIG thing about Pokemon Go is that it’s taken the idea of ‘collecting’ into a digital form, in the real world at a time where society no longer cares if every single person on a train stares at their screen and disconnects with reality – working on ‘their story’. The question become how much time are people investing in this, and the extent to which ‘sharing’ their story makes them feel happy and more connected to each others – and who is going to miss-out or feel alienated by it.

Here are three ‘concerns’ I have … which to be fair, are true of most commercial games being used towards ‘educational’ time (I’d say purposes, but I don’t think we’ve earned sufficient CP to claim that yet).

  1. We know digital-media is used variously to create internalized constructions of the self. Being ‘digitally popular’ is important to many people. The effort they perceive to be needed or valid is translated into hours-spent as a form of work. We’ve seen issues with this in other social spaces, especially in teens.
  2. So far, research suggests children have variable levels of success in self-regulation of digital media. This game is designed to promote repetitive behaviour and provides consistent rewards for this. Aside from time-spent, the depth of the game remains relatively shallow, focusing on time-spent and simple actions. Given the Google DNA of the game, it’s reasonable to suggest that user-behaviour is ideally suited to rewarding sales-promotion and shopping behaviours, such as coffee-discounts, being in a store for a length of time, or winning a new limited edition creature.
  3. In schools, there are vast differences in location. We know rural schools are at a disadvantage for all sorts of reasons, and the Ingress DNA of user-created portals favours the city – where more portals we’re created over rural ones. So, city educators have more opportunity to use this game than more rural schools. There are limited choices for rural school to engage in this form of commercial game which presents further equity issues.

I’d be interested to hearing your experience and views!

 

 

The Weekend Pokémon Go Took Over The World..

It didn’t take long for educators to discover Pokemon Go!. I like to curate what educators tag as ‘game based learning’ and in the first weekend, I captured (get it) 46 separate references to the game, all of which dropped straight into the hyper myth that some games (those picked up by the more popular EdTech voices) are going to reform education. I know right, 4th wall break, we’ve been here so many times.

Also interesting is that Pokemon Go! fever has pushed Minecraft – and the new fully endorsed Minecraft: Education Edition (MCEE) off to the side. MCEE has been warmly welcomed by those with commercial ties to Microsoft. Really, before Microsoft, only Joel had the ear or Mojang – so I think it will be interesting to see how (if) the same group of people can find a way to friend Nintendo (or do we mean Niantic Labs.)

At the heart of this fuss is nothing new to those who are interested in games and human behaviour. Amazingly, people do like to go outside and the myth of the isolated teen, sitting in a basement playing Warcraft is one which only works on the ignorant these days. The game is simply a variation on the same thing: using GPS to move to a location. Here the user can interact with a virtual object for a reward – in the case of Pokemon, attempting to flick balls at a cartoon character over laid on the camera view (fun).

Some reports suggest this added $10 billion to Nintendo’s value, as their brand appeals to kids and younger parents. Nintendo may then have succeeded to create a behaviour where people use their GPS “navigate to a location” the holy-grail of mobile-push technology that leads to commercial purchases IRL – not just online.

This game does also feel like a step away from the promising transmedia story telling approach that they began with as a Google internal start-up – ie Ingress and Endgame. Commercially it’s a huge success of course, and that is what drives games – not the research and development of new media as texts or education.

This also extend’s cultural acceptance that play must increasingly be connected to commercial brands and purchasing (though micro payments and real payments) … and therefore to be entertained, we must also be spending money and time on brand derived pathways – ie walking into the right store and out the wrong ones.

Can you catch a bargain at K-Mart this weekend, Catch 20 mall-rats and go in the draw to win a Starbucks — all the time, data is collected, sold and re-sold to ‘help’ people find the products they really want – but in a fun way.

Is it of any value to Education? Well no, of course not yet. Nintendo has dabbled with it’s brands in Education before and didn’t succeed. Now EdTech believes that it can convert just about any popular trend into some form of scholarship, there is, and will continue to be those who’ll claim it has – with little evidence and a whole lot of enthusiasm – which is the story of EdTech itself. The game has succeeded in putting AR into the mainstream media realm – something Ingress didn’t, although it was very popular among the technorati  – and still is. On another level, Pokemon Go represents a further shift way from US Pop Culture being the dominant ‘entertainment’ force it once was. If we look even slightly past the Euro-US-Centric EdTech dialogue, we see Asian mobile culture, games, narratives and play styles growing in western popularity.

Here are just a few of the articles which appeared this week. To me, this adds another layer of complexity to how parent’s regulate video game play – and as ever, if you’d like to add your experiences to my research just head over here

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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.

What makes Minecraft a highly motivated community

A lot of the discussion about why teachers might use video games in their class has centred around the belief that video games are motivating. It’s also the central controversy about children playing games at home — they are so motivating that they are reluctant to put them down. Education often puts forward the theory of flow — to suggest that once motivated, children are in an optimal learning zone, a view presented by Jane McGonigal (2012) from which she claimed games are optimal learning environments, which predicated the launch of her book – Reality is Broken. It’s a compelling story, bursting with emotion, pop culture and ‘common sense’ – a way to rescue the shallowing of society and death of childhood. I don’t believe this is the case, or rather that video games have somehow found secret success factors no one else has.

For most people, tweenager and above, the construction of success is now deeply linked to their construction of themselves. This is partly visible in the identities, routines and rituals that they engage in. This engagement is also one based in consumerism, where material objects are part of personal expression and communication – their Y-Phones, Tablets, Game Consoles etc., These things all combine to influence their overall motivation towards everything. For example, it influences what they say and how they behave when told to get off the Xbox in the same way it draws them to it. Parents and teachers are not dealing with opposing forces — good and bad machines, books, games, behaviours and so on, but with one behavior.

Motivation is bound by two things for the ‘screenage’ generation, expectancy and value. Expectancy is comprised abstract elements: confidence, experience, importance and success. Value is perceptive: extrinsic motivation, social motivation, achievement motivation and intrinsic motivation. These things are so complex and variable, that video games are not universally motivating, nor are they a way to engage the disenfranchised or isolated members of society. Reality is not therefore broken, but variously experienced — particularly outside of the snow-globe of TED Talks.

People enjoy games because game-designers put ‘community’ to work. To me, this is at the heart of games-based-learning and project-based-learning. Community has numerous subtle components, however four main archetypes need to be considered when we’re talking about motivation and what spaces kids are in that might tap into that: Participation; Cohesion; Identity and Creativity.

Consider Minecraft not as a game but as a community space: it’s physically located on a device, but conceptually located in media consumer culture. It has the necessary attributes of a ‘good community’ and therefore is more likely to motivate players to participate. This is what all game designers are learning to do, and is critical to the commercial and every day pop culture discussion of those games inside their respective communities.

Now ask yourself, how connected is my kid to the local corporeal community: re-visit the four factors and ask yourself are they participating in ways that are sustained over time, have they become part of a core-group and do they have an emergent role in that group. Do they find cohesion? Is the group supportive, tolerant, allow turn taking, responsive, funny and playful. Do they have an identity? Is the group self-aware, does it share vocabulary and language, does it give them a personal space and brand … and finally, is the community creative?

I’d argue some schools have massive community and others are people-factories that pretend they are a community. The thing with games is, there is no pretending. Games which are motivating have communities that are motivating … which is why gamification at school or work is not about points, badges and rewards — it’s about community.

What she makes is Minecraft is your life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Minecraft is better than Blues Clues (and school)

There is substantial disagreement and controversy about video games and childhood. Common criticisms of children’s media use is that it displaces other activities believed to be beneficial such as outdoor play; homework and leisure reading. Video games are subjected to claims made about television such as they lower academic achievement, to which scholars have plausibly argued academically challenged children are drawn to television and as a leisure time activity in the first place. In addition the correlation between TV and achievement has also been shown to include another significant variable – household income. Lower income households tend to watch more TV and also score lower of tests compared to higher income counter-parts.

Media has been used to address this before and it works. I’ll use the example of Blue Clues as most parents will recognise it. The creators’ and producers’ goals were to “empower, challenge, and build the self-esteem of preschoolers”. Admittedly Minecraft didn’t set out to do this, or even be played by pre-schoolers — but I’d argue it is achieving exactly the same goal though it’s enthusiastic media-based community. At the same time, there are more paths to follow than the MinecraftEdu one (not that it’s a bad path). I’m amazed that Mojang hasn’t called me, but hey I totally get why. They stand in a unique position to do some serious social good here, as well as make even more money. Call me fellas, seriously.

Video games are routinely associated with television as though these devices are comparable because of ‘time spent’ in front of the screen. I’m arguing that time-spent with screens promoting learning and improving childrens’ creativity and computational thinking is never a waste of time or resources. It just dry minds that consider fun and entertainment as separate from learning and school. Parents don’t — that has been shown over and over into research about parent belief towards what is ‘good for kids’ – Blue Clues certainly — and Minecraft … well maybe … if parents understand how to regulate it and put it to work and not use it to babysit. Using Minecraft to babysit is a really BAD idea by the way — and not bad addictive bad, bad because it creates high levels of the stuff Blues Clues aims for in a matter of weeks.

Minecraft discussions cannot overlook that many kids from lower-income families are using it instead of television — and if we are to maintain that TV and Games are the two big uses of screen time, then like watching Blues Clues has shown these pre-schoolers may well have higher levels of school readiness than those who do not — and those who only watch Blue Clues or other TV material. Are you with me here Mr Robertson?

When TV when is being used to deliberately to teach though fun and entertainment has positive effects on kids. It been shown that this positive effect is MOST beneficial to kids from lower-income backgrounds. Access to TV has been seen as a cheap and effective way to ‘educate’ those who are at most disadvantage.

When pre-schoolers are playing Minecraft and not watching Blues Clues, Dora or other TV-edu-material — do you think it is making them less or more ready for school? And what about our own ABC? What are they doing in the Minecraft (or other commercial game) space … well aside from Good Game Spawn Point MC maps — not a lot which is shame, all be it a temporary one I hope.

Now here’s the kicker Mr Robertson. Those kids arriving in school at the age of 5, from low income and media poor families can get an accelerant from Minecraft that they wont get from Blues Clues or other edu-watch-me media. They don’t need to have the cognitive and kinaesthetic skills needed to operate network (I can’t log in! Where’s the start-menu! I cant read the letters!) computers Just put an Xbox in the room and a set of well thought out activities and suddenly those kids are capable of rising to the levels of literacy, design and computational thinking that we’d normally attribute (though the literature) to high quality educational programs enjoyed by the better off in society. Not developing Xbox (or other) programs for kids (especially poor kids is brain-missing. Tapping into cultural literacy which is fun, entertaining and cheap makes a cubic world of sense.

The problem is that school culture continue sto connect media-research with gaming effectively and buy-into over simplistic (and unproven) rhetoric around ‘app culture’. The price of one fly-in-fly out powerpoint jockey to tell us about blah blah apps would seed some serious funding for development and research. Oh yes we want video games in schools … because so far the other option hasn’t worked for those kids who are at most risk.

Yes I’ll move to Dundee.