‘Free the Sheep’ article


My Literacy article about children singing around their Minecraft play is now online in the journal’s early view section: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lit.12076/full

Using Virtual Models #5

I have been using discussion activities throughout this year’s research of Minecraft Club in order to gather reflections from the children about the club. As before, this is inspired by David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ work. A small group of children build virtual models using a shared map in the iPad version of Minecraft.


Yesterday I conducted two group interviews (#5 and #6) in school before the penultimate week of the club.

My intention was for discussion in each session to focus on three areas:

1. For the children to reflect on the nature of the club itself, with a focus on their motivation to continue attending weekly for a whole academic year.

2. For the children to discuss their perceptions of Banterbury, their ‘virtual community’. I asked them to describe what kind of place Banterbury is…

3. For the children to suggest some ‘episodes’, ‘events’ or ‘instances’ for me to look more closely at during my data analysis, based on what they felt had been ‘particularly interesting or important’. In order to prompt this part of the discussion I gave them two examples that I was already looking at – the horse funeral and the sheep song.

The following is a brief outline of the discussion session 5, centred around the models produced by the children, based on repeated re-watching of the screencast from the sessions.IMG_0470

Discussion Session #5

  • Model 1 created by Callum <Yoloface23jr> – A Place to Relax to convey the value of social gameplay


Callum’s model represented relaxation in the game, which he suggested is one reason to play the game. He then began to focus on the importance of social gameplay, particularly for him as a new member of the class at the beginning of the year, who joined the group from another school: ‘It’s a really great way for me to join in….I’ve got to know people so well through Minecraft Club. I don’t think I’d know anyone this well or be this best friends with anybody without Minecraft Club.’ Asked why a club around Minecraft was a good place for this social time he replied:

‘People talk more, there’s a bit more chance to talk and demonstrate their feelings in what they build… so I think I’ve got to know them quite well… and what they like and stuff’.

I asked if, for example, a chess club would have helped in the same way. He replied that he wouldn’t have gone, neither would anyone else!

  • Model 2 created by Alex <Castaway112> – Mushroom House to convey variety in the game

Alex directed me over to his mushroom house and, after a bit of time establishing how to enter, he gave me a guided tour. This model was intended ‘to explain all of the places you can go’ (in Banterbury) ‘the forest… sand… mushrooms’. Above one of the doors was a sign reading ‘this is not a door’. Confused by this I asked why, to be told that ‘it’s clearly not a door’. Things are not what they appear to be.

As he led me around the house I saw ‘the most dangerous fireplace in the world, a baby sitting room, a room with a sign that says ‘do not enter because of chickens’ (we enter – there are no chickens) and a farm with cows with mushrooms on their heads’. He suggested that this ‘reminded him of the craziness of the world’ in Minecraft Club.


  • Model 3 created by Joseph <Steve> – A Gallery to suggest ‘infinite possibilities’

Joseph created an art gallery as a chance to try out using things he had not used before. He said that this reflected that ‘there are lots of items that they don’t use in the club’ and therefore possibilities that they had not yet explored.

IMG_0469 IMG_0468 IMG_0465Additional points

Alex began by suggesting that I should look more closely at the events around the creation of Banterbury Library. This was interesting as this is already the focus of some of my data analysis. When asked why he suggested, ‘definitely when they were making the books… we were actually doing writing…. We actually tried to do something that is exciting’. Callum agreed and suggested that a focus on the library was important because ‘a lot of people think that Minecraft is just about building structures but you can build books and stories and stuff as well, which is quite good… It’s a feature that is in Minecraft all the time, and it’s part of real life… there’s books in real life…’

Joe discovered a glitch in the game where the doors were only half rendering. They then began to notice that it was possible to change skins in this new version – they left the game to change their skins: ‘Awesome! That is so cooool! Epicness!’

There was also some discussion over the legitimacy of the naming of the town Banterbury. Callum expressed frustration about the town being called ‘Banterbury’ – ‘WHY IS IT CALLED THAT?!’ He attributed its naming to one specific player’s particular interest in the word ‘banter’. Alex suggested a possible origin for the name Banterbury – a youtube video of another game ‘Terraria’ where a player names his world ‘Banterbury’ (I could not find this, however). There was a suggestion that there were some ‘power’ issues relating to the naming and the subsequent perceived ‘ownership’ of the town and control over certain activities was something that they found potentially frustrating and potentially led to the forming of groups within the club. They talked about how the girls (and some boys) like ‘all their stuff private and make a massive fuss when someone goes in’. I will pursue this more specifically elsewhere.

They also further emphasised the important of the social aspect of the gameplay in the club: ‘You can work together… sometimes we talk about other things, we talk about things while we are playing’. This ‘makes it more exciting’.


Diversity of Play in Minecraft Club

This research involves a group of children playing together during a club. As such, this work naturally draws upon work around play and the theories of play. Early on in his book ‘The Ambiguity of Play’ (2001), Brian Sutton Smith provides a (non-exhaustive) list of ‘activities that are often said to be play forms or play experiences’ (p. 4). What struck me about this list was how many of these examples have found their way into Minecraft Club over the preceding 19 weeks, either in the virtual or embodied space – or, often, across both. So while ‘vitual gameplay’ might suggest itself as a thing in itself, closer inspection reveals that it is a much more complex assemblage of multiple activities. The gamplay itself has temporal and spacial diversity (p. 6) in that it spans multiple weeks and places. Furthermore, whilst Minecraft itself is often an ‘agency for some kind of play’ (p. 6) it is not the only location or stimulus for play – drawing, as the children do, on a wide range of other influences.

[edit – I have noticed some additional examples that I accidentally neglected to highlight – most notably ‘reading and writing’ and ‘gardening’- but you get the idea!)


The Banterbury Tales (Minecraft Club #16 24.03.15)

This week the children named their virtual community – after surprisingly little discussion they declared it to be ‘Banterbury‘ – based on their frequent usage of the word ‘banter’. We discussed what this word meant, which caused some disagreement. Some simply said it meant ‘chat‘, as they had ‘looked it up in the dictionary’ with their teacher. Others seemed to use it sometimes as a verb and sometimes as a noun, giving examples such as: ‘If someone falls over you’d be, like, BANTER!’ Either way, Banter is a word that is important in terms of how these children relate to each other and one that has often appeared in my field notes over the past weeks, where I have come to see it as being synonymous with a kind of good-natured teasing, the kind that is sustained by long running, secure friendships.  

This week I set the children a task, at their request. This came as a result of a plea from some children two weeks ago (last week’s club was cancelled as I had a migraine) that they wanted me to set them ‘a challenge’. I decided to work with this in the most open way I could, eventually suggesting that they could work on creating ‘entertainment spaces’ for their community – listing examples such as a theatre, bowling alley, swimming pool etc. This focus seemed to energise some children, whilst also allowing others to pursue their own projects. I did not follow through with the suggestion of a couple of children who asked to play ‘in hunger games mode’. The children began to plan their constructions, either on their own or with others, producing lists of materials that they would request from me as they were still playing in survivial mode with limited resources.  

Unfortunately, from the outset, this week’s club was largely dominated by technical problems. We had relocated from the classroom to the hall, due to the usual room being used for a staff meeting. Unfortunately, many of the laptops were without charge. Once we had hunted down chargers from around the school, and relocated to the end of the hall with the plug sockets, it became clear that there were a number of connection problems resulting in children being unable to enter the game. Many of those who could enter found that the game lagged and they were booted out frequently. A number of children persisted and played for the whole lesson, with various levels of verbal distress. ‘It’s painful!’ declared Ben, lying down on the floor in mock despair and I considered joining him in frustrated agreement.

A number of others decided to abandon the game entirely, using a packet of cards to play card games instead of battling with the problematic technology.

Children who were able to access the game worked on their constructions, revealing an enchantment room (‘for enchanting weapons‘) and a roller coaster, apparently featuring the face of a tiger, as part of a proposed theme park. 

In between work on the requested task there was other stuff going on too, most notably an attempt by Mia to steal Tobias’ horse. Somehow the horse ended up under water, prompting mock concern that it may drown, as the children recalled the horse funeral they performed for another of Tobias’ drowned horses many weeks earlier.  Banter?

Video Games as Narrative Spaces

IMG_0846I will be running a workshop on Friday 27th March at Sheffield Hallam University for PGCE students, titled: ‘Video Games as Narrative Spaces’.

This workshop is built around three examples of video games being used in a KS2 classroom to enhance and supplement the literacy curriculum. Whilst demonstrating the potential for using video games in these contexts, each example will also be used as a springboard for discussion, encouraging you to reflect on your own teaching practice in relation to themes around technology, engagement and the nature of literacy itself.

Games discussed will be: Proteus, Thomas Was Alone and Minecraft


Storying in and around a Minecraft Community

unnamedI presented a webinar as part of the CAMELOT Project Webinars series on Friday 13th March. After a number of unexpected technical hitches at my end (my prezi had to be converted to a powerpoint, and then the university wifi wouldn’t let me access Adobe Connect from my Mac, so I ended up tethering through my phone – phew!) I enjoyed the unfamiliar experience of presenting online, which essentially amounted to talking to my computer in an empty room. There were some great questions and some really nice feedback, so the experience was overall very positive.

You can find the link to the archived recording on this page and my abstract is below.

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Storying in and around a Minecraft Community

Recent work around the use of Virtual Worlds in educational contexts has conceptualised literacies as communal processes, whilst considering complex notions of collaboration through participants’ multiplicity of presence. Screen-based virtual worlds can also be viewed as multimodal texts, constructed by multiple players. Shaped by these ideas, this presentation draws upon data collected during an extra-curricular Minecraft club for ten and eleven year old children, exploring the ways in which the players take up the narrative opportunities offered by the game, as they collaborate to build a ‘virtual community’.

With a focus on the literacy events and artefacts generated in and around a virtual space, this presentation describes how this established, self-directed group of children used this environment to compose and create improvised stories. It explores how the literacies constructed through their interactions were influenced by resources drawn from their wider experiences, shaped by their experiments with in-game multimodal creation. The children’s interactions enabled them to form their own individual and collective textual landscapes, through a set of emotionally charged manifestations of literacy, played out in the hybrid virtual/material world.

My original Prezi Presentation is here:


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