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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bron Stuckey & Dean Groom
The Massively Minecraft Project

How hard is being a game-kids parent?

Technology is produced faster — and with less ‘need’ than society can resolve what to do with it — beyond what marketing companies tell them. We are bomarded with media messages. Whether parents like it or not, the largest form of media which makes more money today than last week is the game-entertainment industry – and it’s made it very easy to purchase and keep purchasing it’s products (also called games).

Teachers who “like” technology have bought into the marketing circus with such enthusiasm for the same reason. Those “selling the future” online via Twitter — for profit — tell them what to buy and make it easy for them to buy it.

Let me be really clear about why this is a growing problem for parents. Educational technology is saturated with brands, and people seeking to improve their status though brands. To do that they need your children. Most of them operate on dogma and rhetoric, few know the first thing about games as a media form.

As parents, we know the BIGGEST area of  anxiety and conflict in the home is VIDEO GAME USE. At school – the solution is to ban them. This is what I’m calling “the Vegas solution” — you simply move things you don’t like off the strip. The main aim is to keep teachers buying into the same crap that people have peddling for a decade — which has no evidentiary positive impact on kids or society so far. But it keeps the Casino boss happy.

So back to games. Why are they more of a problem now that a few years ago?

No longer stuck with the burden of physical delivery or tethered to permanent power-outlets, the game-entertainment industry (don’t separate them) — has worked out not only what people like to do most with technology — interact with media socially using romantic fantasy — but how to keep them paying attention, and spending money. If they are not doing that, they are watching NetFlix or YouTube according to the statistics.

Game-kids do a tremendous amount of emotional work both in the game as a player, and in the home as consumer being bombarded with messages to consume more. When many parents themselves lack the kind of mental executive function to PUT THE SMARTPHONE AWAY for more than a few minutes (they certainly can’t ride a bus or train without one) why on earth would they think kids can manage it? When kids see one rule for them and another for adults — then lines are drawn and the war begins.

It is hard being a game-kid parent because we don’t have mental models of what to do (from their parents). We have media models of what good and bad parents are, related to commercial interests. Our friends are also conflicted on what to do — leaving mass media tell us don’t use that, but this!

Then there is the false journalism which tells them they are bad parent. For example, the ABC News yesterday said “video games were named as a factor in the Sandy Hook Shootings” … then moved on with no explanation — to another story. In case you missed the actual report, video games were explicitly ruled OUT as a factor — and indeed the shooter played Dance Dance Revolution for 4 plus hours a day when and if he could play games. When the main public-funded news can’t bother to fact check, it’s no shock that parents get false messages, and no real advice.

Games are hard to live with if you treat them as though they are akin to TV or watching a DVD. But when going for a bike ride involves putting 4 bikes the Toyota, driving 30 miles to find a decent parkway … then there’s something wrong with how we live which can’t be solved by trying to work out which are the good and bad games — they good and bad kids — or how to extract the games-entertainment agenda from our media saturated society.

How hard is it — VERY hard. What is happening in public education — nothing, unless you could the dubious claims of clinical psychologists that games are addictive – which is also a marketing message.

Making sense of media reports about games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More cowbell

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

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

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

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

There no such thing as video games!

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

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

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

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

Curriculum designed for self-regulation

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

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

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

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

ALERTING networks

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

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

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

ORIENTING networks

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

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

EXECUTIVE networks

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


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

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

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

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


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

Big data and parent panic

Don’t pay too much attention to big data claims because the truth is, if you draw enough circles you can prove pretty much anything. In 2008, the much quoted PEW Internet research into teens, games and (strangely fuzzy) civics in American life proclaimed 97% of all American teens play video games. The web lit up, as the big-number was scribed onto corporate websites such as the Entertainment Software Association  and even academic blogs as well known media, game and culture celebrities welcomed a new era – one which enabled the now infamous “gamification” industry. 2008  saw the first documented use of the term gameification  a blog post by Bret Terrill. A round of applause for all concerned, as since then this single report was sufficient to catapult several now high profile writers and public figures into a new ecosphere which is literally worth billions of dollars. I’m writing this post today to review this seminal research and let you consider the depths and agenda of the gamification foundations.

Gartner (who added gamification to the hype cycle in 2011) says it will fall in a pile by 2014, unable to return revenue or show significant productivity increases across industries. The reason for this they say is bad design and in-ability of senior leaders to understand the underlying principle of gamification and how to apply it within the IT organization. This seems strangely familiar from my own efforts to introduce an ethnographic, exploration of an imaginative use of Minecraft into primary school in the same time period. It almost didn’t matter what theoretical basis that came from, it wasn’t labelled “edu” so was never going to understood to a point it could compete with simplistic purchasing of tablets and “edu” apps. So why then, if 97% of teens were playing video games at the very moment ‘gamification’ appeared on the corporate landscape are games still considered a counter-narrative to mainstream educational methods and practice?

What is interesting about looking back at this research is that 95% of the games reported in the top 10 have vanished from view, ported to mobile phones or updated in series. To some, it would suggests that games have a short-life-span and/or that gamers have a short attention-span. This would seem common-sense. Like television, the writers and producers need to keep the story moving if the audience is to keep watching. Amazingly, the number one game they found wasn’t The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) which is widely considered by gamers to be the number on game ever, nor was it Mass Effect 2 or Half-Life 2 or any of the MMOs which academics such as Yee proposed are the apex of high-game culture such as Eve Online or Warcraft. Nope, it was Guitar Hero. And why not. It’s safe, conservative and won’t draw any attention. Seriously? If your parents (who pay little attention to your gaming) ask what you’re playing – say Guitar Hero. My point here is that kids might not tell you want they are playing for plenty of reasons.

Interestingly, Tetris made in the top ten without comment by the researchers. How could they not comment about TETRIS, released in 1984 on PC and Commodore 64. This suggests to me, that those being interviewed didn’t understand the question – I would put forward that Tetris made it simply because the adult answering the phone in the house was more likely to remember TETRIS that Ocarina of Time or any other game.

Really great games, like great books, movies, music and television have an ongoing audience, but they also require people to know of them (in culture) in order to respond with more than a guess or deep memory grab. In the case of Tetris, I suggest it’s there simply because it is a cornerstone of popular cultural knowledge towards video games and invalidates the method.

In terms of sales, in 2008 this was the top 10 list (on consoles) according to Kotaku which most gamers believe to be closer to reality than say the NYT.

01. Wii Play (Wii) – 5,280,000
02. Mario Kart Wii (Wii) – 5,000,000
03. Wii Fit (Wii) – 4,530,000
04. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) – 4,170,000
05. Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360) – 3,290,000
06. Call of Duty: World at War (Xbox 360) – 2,750,000
07. Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360) – 2,310,000
08. Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3) – 1,890,000
09. Madden NFL 09 (XBox 360) – 1,870,000
10. Mario Kart DS (DS) – 1,650,000

Having said that, scroll down to the comments and you’ll see plenty of in-culture controversy of both the list and the platforms. You see, even gamers (which make up big numbers) don’t agree on their own big numbers and they actually play games.

This disconnect between sales figures, in-game knowledge and research methods points to the need for researchers to abandon the ‘broad brush’ approach. We can’t discuss film as though all films are the same, or can be represented with the same characteristics, so why do it with games?

To my mind, researcher interested in young people’s use of new media has to include games alongside other media which combine to cause parent anxiety in equal measure to media which might promote learning, creativity or improved civic behaviour. Right now, that list would clearly include Minecraft, League of Legends, Skylanders, Call of Duty and Angry Birds. Grand Theft Auto has become the poster-child of ‘violence’ and Warcraft is the ugly addicted cousin somewhat ‘uncool’ to write about in objective journalism right now. We can’t separate these games from popular culture however, which has been a district trend in the past – resulting in sensational ‘big data’ headlines such as 97% of teens are gamers (read: rebels without a clue).

I believe the next trend in mainstream journalism with further raise media-panic about geo-location devices, sharing childrens data and of course consoles which are sending live data feeds to the NSA and Russian Mafia. For many kids, society is disconnected from their reality, and games are hardly responsible for, or an anti-dote to political and economic greed which is disenfranchising young people from the ‘norms’ of neo-conversative politic and billionaire greed. Games, won’t save the world – nor is reality broken. In fact if you’re made it on TED, written a best seller and regularly appearing at red carpet events, you’ve mostly managed to create your own, rather sumptuous reality I guess. The need for introducing debutant media-studies courses into a robust, contemporary high school curriculum just isn’t as sexy as big numbers or big ideas worth schlocking. There’s a problem with media, game, culture and educational researchers who reach for the sensationalist headline over the ongoing argument that media-studies is needed in school- age education and has been for years. But how do you design a curriculum for media-studies that effectively excludes popular cultural media-texts which are too complex for exams? – Simply, you just ignore it and use big data to prove whatever your are doing is correct. Even better, fund groups who appear on the surface to represent you’re progressive intent. It’s a scene from Yes Minister really.

In the design of the PEW research, it is unclear what is meant by ‘video-games’. This also true of media reports about video-games (in society) as cultural literature. The most critical flaw for me in the design is that it omitted to consider the style of parenting in the household that might allow ‘video-games’ in the first place. Without have some underpinning familie profile to draw upon, the term family is too simplistic – does it relate to single parents, same-sex couples or the modernist nuclear family? For research, these problems are complex and so most media-studies is looking for rich data, subjectivity and the user voice, rather than “the audience”.

Big data research (esp, quantitative) is also fleeting it seems. In 2013, PEW says 15% of Americans don’t use the Internet at all. I find that bizarre given almost all games in the top 10 mobile, console and computer sales chart all use the Internet, and presumably, some of the 97% of gamers have now abandoned their games and the internet. This analysis conflicts with numerous ‘industry’ reports which suggests most people are not simply online, but using two or three devices at the same time!

There’s also a problem with the method of data collection. In 2008 it was on the cusp of ‘really?’ and now its most definitely in ‘quaint’. Just over 1000 households, randomly sampled were given a telephone call and over the phone interview. From this, the method claimed to be representative of American life and gaming. In Australia, as around the world, households have been abandoning fixed line telephones for years in favour of mobile. This 2008 method today would not capture the American, UK or Australian life. Firstly most people who switched, switched to smart-phones (which play games) and secondly any telephone random sample would miss a significant proportion of families which are media-rich.

Big data claims are synonymous with the technological and economic determinism being touted as ‘online culture’. From hook-up culture to gaming culture, various commercial, political, economic, religious and academic interests find great value in flinging big data at us to push us in one direction or another – and most of their assertions are based on simplistic binary oppositions such as good parents and bad parents, safe internet and dangerous internet. It’s a 24/7 parade of what James Gee calls “dangerous experts”.

On the 5th of November, it might be worth pointing out that millions of people are under the gaze of technological surveillance and that researches with un-clear agendas don’t need to call the public for their opinion. They can gather plenty of data from the hyper-connected landscape or simply buy it from technology giants. Today would be as good a day as any to buy yourself a VPN subscription, to learn how to tunnel your mobile or use an anonymous browser. It would also be a good day to decide – the next time I hear an sensational claim about the Internet though objective journalism – I will ask for the data and think critically about why I am being told this here and now.

What do kids see in Minecraft?

Thanks to Stephen Elford for his comment on ‘special-powers’ for teachers using the augmented version of Minecraft in schools. He raises a really important point. In his comment, he says he doesn’t believe he would have achieved the things he did without them.

The school problem

My stance on schools and their insistence that commercial games must be ‘edu-fied’ before being allowed on to campus is that it’s irrational. It is a leadership-behavior with direct cultural links the modernist suspicion that ‘new media’ is demotic and unworthy, and that print remains the best way to educate future citizens. Media-panic is used to justify what ‘new media’ is in, and what is out, and those choices are made based on two things: the choices of others and that those choices are status based. The end result are signs (such as special power) that kids in classrooms today have less power than did decade ago. That seems remarkable, give then 24/7 feed of educational savants proclaiming otherwise. I currently believe there is less symmetry between producer/conumer now than ever – just more rhetoric, data and devices.

The narratology vs ludology problem

I’d argue that Minecraft with special powers for teachers is realist (modernist) response to cultural change, were as Minecraft itself is romantic (post modernist) agent of cultural change. Salen & Zimmerman would describe this as the emergent narrative that games can employ in unique ways to engage the player in a story.

The opportunity problem

Outside of school, MInecraft offers children three special-powers of their own, which are essential to ‘consumer entrepreneurship’ in what Squires talks about in his book “Half-Real”. Minecraft offers kids choice, agency and enterprise. Three important and compelling reasons to play and make sense of many things. I grant that if a curriculum dictates students must learn about and learn to, then stipulate the hours to do it in, then compromises will need to be made – and in doing so, I think many opportunities are lost – especially for children whom don’t get to play video games at home – or have never seen a reason to play.

The conception problem

A childs creativity (in video-games) can be understood as reflexive adaptation to unpredictable change in complex systems. Minecraft is just as complex as Warcraft in this regard – but differentiated by the lack of an romantic-episodic plot in Minecraft. The narrative in MInecraft is almost entirely autotelic. Complexity can be understood as networks-of-social-choice, and are vital to the distribution of knowledge. When a child play’s Minecraft, she will will also watch/make videos (currency) and participate in Minecraft forums (complex networks). Finally, a child’s knowledge of the real world grows because the experience of playing was not simply ‘fun’, but experiencing the dymanics of change and growth. At the beginning, she had few choices available, she had little agency against the foes in the game, and had no real enterprise in the game. Through effort and work, she learned to grow and change, she learned to overcome problems which at the beginning were in-comprehensible.

The media panic problem

So if parents begin to understand games, beginning with realising the ‘media-panic’ about new-media is now 20 years old, we’re really dealing with parental (and school) belief. Some will believe that education of children is best achieved from the modernist stance, and others from the post-modern. What I think matters in gaming right now, is that selling off opportunities for imaginative learning (Kieren Egan, David Buckingham) because of ecomonic-short-term culture is a mistake that education repeats – and not just in games. For example, the idea of MOOCs has split into xMOOCs and cMOOCs in order to once again separate ‘science’ from ‘arts’.

The pre-cultural solution signals

What’s I find really interesting about Minecraft ‘special power’ variation is that more ‘science’ teachers use it than arts (from what I can scrape from the feed). That seems strange, given much of commercial game use in schools has been towards the arts so far. Perhaps this is a signal that pure-and-literal sciences are interested in more romantic solutions, I do hope so.

Minecrafts tipping point

The mainstay of the internet is interactive productivity. This means people are no longer represented in the media by celebrities and journalists, there are more people self directing and self mediating than simply reading.

Significantly these people have acquired sufficient language to use complex channels to discover and sustain a distributed dialogic.

I firmly believe that certain technologies appear or fade with tremendous serendipity. Great ideas die, and hopeless ones get picked up. It isn’t until time passes that we can go back and make sense of them. For example, modernism actually contained plenty of things that post modernists at the time said they lacked. With hind sight, not rethinking faculties before thinking technology was a missed opportunity for schools.

When Minecraft appeared, it was at the right time for its new significant user base. It spread like wildfire among kids … not because another games are boring, but in the remediation of play, sufficient kids could now self meditate, discover and share its benefits and joy, which kids even four or five years earlier couldn’t do because the time want right.

She won’t get off minecraft because she now represents herself. She has reach, audience, imagination and no desire to use media in the literal ways her parents and older siblings did. I find it depressing that in school minecraft projects, teachers hold special in game powers and use it toward literal goals. They have missed the point and opportunity to learn so much about children.

Minecraft isn’t just a better game, it appeared at certain time when where a generation needed something to emancipated itself from the adult media panic about the evils of online.

Minecraft, if you like was a remediation of Woodstock for teens, it just uses different media which appeals to them, and is immediately accessible.  In a hyperbole whet kids have no power, Minecraft gave kids power, which is lot more than an escape from reality, it has taught them how to represent themselves and the real world using multi modal media.

It’s as authentic and important to her, and the innovation of lithography in printing was to baby boomers. The fact teachers and parents don’t see it like this yet they themselves use the internet to the same ends is because parents and kids find it hard to find a common language, which leads to so much frustration.

Parents have learned the language of Facebook, googling and cyber juvanoia, but not that of dialogic gaming. Mojang staff have no such handicap. They are more important media celebrities than “brangelina”. They are not representations of “us” but real people “we” can relate to as part of our productive systems.

When parent address this gap, their relationship with children improves (in my view). It gets worse when they don’t.  Sadly, clinicians tend to want to cure an addiction (myth) and ignore the reality that more people use media to self represent than to consume (which is where their assertions began in the nineties). Their views appear increasingly irrelevant in the future of media (more opinion).

And we know what people do when faced with that …. assist journalistic media panic to scare the reading public.

(Tapped on the train)

Being the evidence with you

Before parents read this week’s outrageous media panic about minecraft turning their kids into fat, aggressive school drop outs … write this on the kitchen fridge.

“There is no consistent evidentiary basis to show video games are bad for the health and welfare of children”.

One reason for this is a persistent realist assumption that linear use (time spent) is a valid measure. It’s the basis of the body of psychologist arguments and experiments who believe it … and has been spurious ever since it first appeared in the late nineties. But games not being bad doesn’t make sensational headlines.

Too much time playing games makes Jon a lazy, meth head who failed school and now worship guns. They will charge you the price of a new Toyota to brainwash you into believing it, but won’t cure it (cure what?) Or remove a parents natural anxiety over the effects of media.

Just read the fridge. It’s way cheaper and will lead to feeling less scared.

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.

Be what you want them to be

There is a lot of desperate nonsense online in relation to games and kids aggression.

Even the much cited Eron criticism of TV found a 10 percent debatable correlation between kids and tv watching related aggression, whereas they found fifty percent of kids aggression results from family interaction. The adult she sees everyday is the model of what she is supposed to be.

Thus means that whatever game they are playing, is not going to have the biggest impression, it’s parent behavior while the game is in focus.

You can tell kids what you don’t like, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be less interested in it. Remember too, this is a fantasy, and in a fantasy imagining fighting zombies or burning down a forest is interesting. The best model for parents is to calmly lay out an argument, not yell an opinion.

This is much better than seeing you freak out with anxiety. It’s also why kids won’t play games in school (even if you call it edu) in the same way they do at home. In school, playing minecraft doesn’t affirm who they are so much as it shows them most teachers don’t understand games … and them.

This becomes obvious when I see YouTube videos of teachers bossing kids around in a classroom (playing minecraft) too. I don’t see them building mutually respectful arguments for gaming any more than non game interested teachers … it’s just “bang, hey kids, were going to play minecraft” … as they attach behaviour and imagination cuffs to be the power broker. Terrible in every level.

This isn’t modeling what teachers want kids to be, it’s partly frustration with the system and in some things I’ve seen … a dubious pedagogical basis for gaming. Banning games is simply the opposite reaction (much favoured by school leaders stuck in their own fantasy hyperbole of what constitutes media literacy).

Similarly, I’d argue parent anxiety over minecraft (or other) as being addictive our violent, won’t show any change because a kid plays at school (should someone actually research it with a valid method). It hasn’t before in studies of other media, so why would minecraft be different here?

Modeling who you want them to be requires cultural acceptance of games as a unique media form that plays a significant economical and societal role.

Parents will take games and virtual worlds seriously when schools do.

When it becomes a discipline such as media studies, english or computer science, then it will get further. Right now it seems the focus is in furthering the agenda and/or bank balance of a few enthusiasts.

But the is some hope. Numerous free online courses (moocs) allow parents to explore games and learning from a research base. And why should parents not join them?

Plenty of gaming teachers are actually unqualified too, in terms of “accredited to teach”. So give it a go,  model an interest, ask questions of your kids and explore what interests them.

Personally, I think this is much better than hoping the teacher has any deep grasp of gaming (for transformational play). I seriously doubt “gaming” will be a timetable event outside of novelty or attention seeking any time soon.

Be the expert you’d like them to see. There’s are dozens of courses starting in October, all free, and all backed by University grade content. That will impress your kids much more than anything else. You are their parent. You don’t have to pay, or even like the games they do, but it’s a good idea to know why from some of the world’s most respected scholars like Jay Clayton.