‘Error gives expression to the out of bounds of systematic control. When error communicates, it does so as noise: abject information and aberrant signal within an otherwise orderly system of communication. While often cast as a passive, yet pernicious, deviation from intended results, error can also signal a potential for a strategy of misdirection, one that invokes a logic of control to create and opening for variance, play and unintended outcomes. Error, as errant heading, suggests ways in which failure, glitch, and miscommunication provide creative openings and lines of flight that allow for reconceptualisation of what can (or cannot) be realised within existing social and cultural practices’ (Nunes, 2011, p.3)
Week 18 of the club took place in the children’s classroom. Eight children were in attendance – one of the regular children had gone home as it was his birthday and his parents had a surprise planned (one is not present in the photograph above as they had gone to collect another computer from the laptop cabinet outside the room, due to a technical problem with their computer). The club originally consisted of eleven children, but one child left a few weeks ago without giving a reason (other children report that he never really liked Minecraft!) and another can no longer attend as his sister has horse riding on the same night. Desks are organised in rows, in preparation for SATS in two weeks’ time. Some of the children work opposite each other on the desks, choosing to work facing the back of the classroom instead of the front.
My main source of anxiety relating to the club directly stems from the technical issues relating to the game. This is partly because it means that I end up trying to sort out technical problems and am therefore unable to either join in with the gameplay or observe the children’s play effectively. I also fear the technical problems as they are a source of frustration that act as an obstacle that hinders the children’s progress in the game. Technical problems happen often and therefore I feel that I need to reflect this fact in some way. I also feel that discourses around the use of technology in classrooms often airbrush out the more problematic realities of trying to use this stuff on multiple, often dated, devices in classrooms with multiple participants, and therefore feel that I need to present an account that actually brings this element of the club to the fore.
In order to connect with the server, each child has to enter an IP address on to their computer. This is often written up on the board by a member of the club, dictated by me. This week it was added to the board, underneath a piece of formal writing by the teacher about the recent earthquake in Nepal.
Many children report problems logging in and I feel my anxiety levels rising. However, after a few minutes I realise I have read out the server number wrongly, getting the 6 and the 2 muddled up. Everyone logs in successfully and the first technical hurdle is crossed. Soon, computers that have not been fully charged start running out of battery and the children request chargers. This involves me having to leave the room to go to the laptop cabinet in order to unlock the back and unthread the neatly weaved wires from the purpose built cupboard. There are a couple of free chargers in school but these never seem to be around when you need them.
Selecting the data
I decided to transcribe a section of the club that was barely covered by my field notes, suggesting that it had not immediately present itself as an ‘interesting’ section. My only note covering this period related to the fact that Tom was having technical problems. I am not, therefore, conceptualising this section as a self-contained micro-event (or a ‘moment of convergence’) as I didn’t feel that this period of time stood out in the same way that some of the other pieces of data did. I therefore chose to transcribe five minutes of video, rather than selecting a starting or ending point dictated by events. As a result, this constituted an attempt to analyse data relating to a less ‘obvious’ element of the club – as a compliment to taking the ‘data that glows’ approach (Maclure, 2013). In other words, my aim was to look closely at a piece of data where I had not already identified any real ‘potentiality’ (Maclure, 2013) This said, I was aware that it may also provide an opportunity to potentially examine how a technical issue plays out for one individual. (Listening back to the talk on the video, however, it soon became clear that Tom’s reaction to his technical problem was in itself as much of a social performance as the other data I have examined including, as it does, dramatic pronouncement and the ever present use of song!)
The specific technical problem referred to here is that of ‘lagging’. This involves the connection slowing down between the player’s laptop and the server, resulting in a temporal disparity between different player’s progress in the game. Sometimes the server struggles so much that all players are logged out of the game and have to log back in. At other times, only individual players are affected.
Other than the previously mentioned brief comment in my field notes, data on this episode is drawn purely from the video of the club. The camera was positioned behind the players at the back of the classroom (Figure 3). I am to the right of the frame, typing field notes on my iPad, trying to take a fairly detached view of the proceedings (as opposed to a more participatory approach that I take at other times.)
Here, I begin with a transcription of the audio from the video segment. The speech of the three boys closest to the camera is the clearest on the recording, but the words of the two girls to the centre of the frame and the boy in white are also often audible and have been transcribed too. Although the positioning of the camera is not ideal, I have made some note of gesture – although I did not feel that a fine grained multimodal analysis would provide me with the overview I was looking for in this instance (regardless of the fact that the video itself would not lend itself to this approach either).
From this transcript, I then work to develop a set of ‘narrative vignettes’ (Mavers, xx), building on observations drawn from the transcript in order to give insight into the actions of the individuals participants who make up the club.
Week 18, Video 2 – 12m – 17m (approx. 30 minutes into the 75 minute session)
||Ben: You’ve got about five minutes, you’ve got about three minutes before everything disappears Mia….. To get the chest.
Ed: Most of these bottles don’t work.
Tom: Who needs wooden spades?
Ben: We literally need a billion horses. Twenty horses.
Mia: Well I’ve lost my horse now, so thank you!
Ben: Then get a new one!
Tom: (singing) ‘Isn’t this great, great, great, it’s great!’
|Ben: puts head down on desk.
Tom: bouncing slightly on chair
|Ben is referring to the fact that items that have been gifted by me as admin are not collected by players into their inventory if their inventory is already full. The item appears on the floor in front of the player’s avatar, to be collected within a short time frame.
||Tom: laughs. (singing) ‘Oh and isn’t this great, great, great, it’s great!’ (Loudly) Aaarrggghhh!
Ben: just take someone’s chest. It doesn’t have to be your chest!
Freya: I’m getting a large chest.
Callum: You seem angry!
Tom: this is so annoying, I think I’m going to poo!
Freya: can you get me back to where you are?
Ed: look at these boots! [In Yorkshire accent] ‘look at them boots, lad!’
Tom: Please donate money to the Thomas Brown Trust!
Tom: To help him not lag! Every single day… of his life!
|Tom: places head on keyboard. Throws self back in chair, fingers to side of head.
Ben: gestures dramatically with left hand. Gets up and walks across to Freya and Mia.
Tom: Exaggerates the word ‘poo’ for effect by drawing it out to ‘poooooo’!
Ed: adopts Yorkshire (?) accent, taps Callum, points to his own screen.
Tom referring to himself in the third person. Using humour and dramatic language to highlight his frustration?
||Freya: that’s not all my stuff!
Ben: it’s all stuff that’s been given to you.
Freya: Oh, get it!
Callum: yeah I think even a massive amount of money is not going to help you!
Tom: you’re probably right.
Freya: I’ve got some stuff… I’ve got 64 potions.
Ben: what are you doing?
Mia: well it wanted me to [inaudible] the chest.
Ed: Mr Bailey, can I leave and reconnect?
Me: you can!
Tom: what?! the page just disappeared!
||Mia: where’s the stupid chest?
Ben: I’ll quickly run back!
Freya: where’s the stupid chest?
Ben: Stay there! Stay exactly where you are!
Mia: I have no idea where I am!
Freya: I bought the chest! I’ve got loads of potions!
Tom: What? Ahhhh.
Ed: oh yes! Look at this! lag free!
Ben: don’t you dare move!
Freya: who’s that, me?
Ben: No, it’s [inaudible]
Tom: go away Ed and stop boasting about your lag free computer!
|Ben: points and returns to his computer, grabs the laptop, shows it to Mia and points to the screen. Sits down, grabs Mia’s computer and starts using it. She starts using his.
Seemingly random humming noises coming from one of the boys.
||Ben: leave the donkey alone!
Freya: who says it’s a donkey?
Mia: He’s getting in the minecarts!
Ben: he’s been through too much grief! No leave the the minecarts, they’re cool to get round the place. Don’t chuck anything else!
Freya: she’s chucked it out already!
Ed: look at my armour, Callum look at my armour!
Ben: Right, I’m jumping off.
Tom: I’m going to make a conversation room!
Callum: oh wow! That sounds mental! It should be called the banter room.
|Ed: taps Callum to get his attention.
Inaudible discussion in the background between Freya and Mia, looks to be about hair as they are touching each other’s hair and the words comb and hair can be heard, alongside demonstrations.
||Tom: right then, the banter room. It’s where we talk or converse.
Ed: banter is talk.
Tom: It’s really not!
Callum: it’s chat!
Tom: it’s not, it’s friendly banter with humorous, with mildly humorous jokes!
Callum: you mean really bad Thomas like jokes?
Ed: yeah when you went to Joe about this… When you went to Freya about…
|Conversation between the other group continues but most words are inaudible on the recording due to the proximity to the camera of the other children.
||Discussing banter again, they still can’t agree on what it is! The name of the town is Banterbury!
||Ed: in goal, Tom did the dodgiest joke ever, Tom did a joke about a Chinese man, not knowing that a woman [inaudible]
Tom: that’s real life! That’s real life.
Ed: he went ‘oh, this is such a good joke!’
Tom: I didn’t even say that!
Callum: ‘ this is so much of a joke, it’s a non joke’
Freya hugs Mia.
Mia takes Freya’s computer.
||Tom: What would we do [inaudible] two plain boxes.
Callum: (funny voice) ok are you being sarcastic?
Freya: Shut up, you!
Tom: no I wasn’t!
Ben: Put in the chest the stuff we actually need.
Tom: it worked! I dug up a block!
|Tom: Gestures with extended arm towards Ed and Callum
Callum: pulls a face at Ed whilst making a repetitive noise.
I make and ‘ok’ sign to Tom in celebration of his minor victory.
||Callum: I am mildly impressed by that!
Tom: Lagging…. Out… It’s taken me about fifteen months and I’m still lagging out!
Freya: He chucked it out. You just took the chest out Ben!
Mia: Welcome to [inaudible]
Freya: I can scare Callam, can’t I? I can scare him easily!
|Sarcastic restrained celebration / congratulations.
Freya: lifts her hand to Mia to take a pretend swipe at her.
Looks over at Callum.
||Tom: what? Somebody is using my name.
Cameron: somebody has a face.
Ed: yeah cos you’re still logged in, mate!
Tom: It says ‘somebody is already using your nickname, please change your nickname.
Freya: [reading screen] Famalamlad had left the game.
Ed: helps Tom with his problem by standing and taking control of his keyboard.
More barely audible talk about chests from the group at the back.
Reading through this transcript, what struck me about this data was the individualised way in which each child was participating in the gameplay and the wider club itself. Based on this, I chose to present my further analysis in the form of individualised narrative accounts, as below.
|The transcript is most useful in shedding light on the participation of the three boys listed below as they are closest to the camera (albeit with their backs in shot) and their speech is the most audible.
||Technical problems seem to be at the forefront of Thomas’ mind. His speech is often in the form of loud declarations, made to the whole group rather than to one person in particular. He finds a number of different, often humorous, ways of telling people that his computer is running slowly – including referring to himself in the first person, saying he is so annoyed that he is going ‘to poo’ and asking for donations to his lagging fund – possibly also as a means of expressing his frustration. These examples show him using his situation to contribute to the club by employing the technical difficulty as a stimulus for his humour and, at one point, song (with a presumably ironic reading of ‘Isn’t this great, great, great’). Although his in-game gameplay is restricted, he continues to establish a visible (vocal) presence in the room. His expressed intention to ‘create a conversation room’ in the virtual world perhaps reinforces his belief in the importance of talk during the club. This also suggests that the three boys are not working together in game, in spite of their proximity in the classroom and the chat between the three of them suggesting that they might be ‘a group’.(Note: Later in the video, Tom’s annoyance at the technical problems becomes more verbally extreme, as he jokingly suggests that he is so frustrated he will ‘kill himself’. I end up giving Tom my laptop so he can complete the rest of the session without problems.)
||Ed affects an accent on two occasions (I’m interpreting this as a Yorkshire accent but I might be wrong!) His use of the word ‘mate’ also seems to be a conscious appropriation of the term, rather than stemming from a natural usage of the worf. He tries to draw Callum’s attention to his gameplay on a couple of occasions (‘look at these boots’, ‘ look at my armour‘) – both occasions relating to his customisation of his avatar, rather than an in game creation. He uses language and gesture to ensure that he gains this attention. These attempts to draw attention to his screen suggest that he is working on a separate task to the boys seated either side of him. He helps Tom towards the end of the extract by taking charge of his computer to help him solve his logging in problem. On a couple of occasions his interactions with Tom involve light teasing, in relation to the joke Tom told, and in his boasting about his lag free computer. His request to me to leave the game and re-enter is unusual as this is not the kind of question that any of the children would usually feel the need to ask – they would usually just go through this process without seeking authority.
||He resurrects the notion of ‘banter’ again, which runs through many sessions of the club – this links to a number of other pieces of data, and the name of the club itself. As with Ed, he spends most of his time engrossed in gameplay, focussed on his screen throughout the extract. Unlike Tom, his comments are always in relation to a comment that someone else has make – he doesn’t seem to make comments about his own gameplay. Unlike Ed, he doesn’t seem seek attention from others for what he is doing during this extract, preferring to concentrate on what he is doing in-game (with the exception of the unexplained face pulling incident directed towards Ed!)As with Ed, there is some good natured ‘banter’ involved in his slight mocking of Tom’s joking ability and his underwhelmed response that he is ‘mildly impressed’ by Tom’s eventual ability to place some blocks in-game.
When he is instructed to look at Ed’s screen, the brevity with which he adjusts his gaze suggests that he is doing so out of politeness rather than through genuine interest, as he very quickly returns his attention to his own screen.
|The video is less useful in making observations about the next three children, mainly due to the fact that their speech is often drowned out by the boys seated closer to the camera. These accounts are therefore formed on this basis.
||Her talk relates to gameplay – the chests and potions – but also brings in non-gameplay chat (talk about hair, for example). On a number of occasions she makes physical contact with Mia, attempting to tuck her hair behind her ear and embracing her – perhaps emphasising the closeness of their friendship.Without knowing the context, it is difficult to interpret the comment about ‘scaring Callum’. However, this does provide one of the extract’s two examples of direct reference being made to an individual in another group across the classroom. Freya also provides the other example, where she mentions that Tom’s avatar <famalamlad> has left the game. Neither of these comments seem to elicit a response, however.
(Note: At the end of this session Freya remarked that this had been her favourite session so far. I asked her why and she suggested that it was because they ‘actually got things done!’)
||All of Mia’s audible talk relates to the gameplay. She appears to be interacting most in the classroom with Ben, who also appears to be working on the same in-game tasks. Mia surrenders her computer to Ben at one point to let him take control of her gameplay. She then takes charge of his laptop, but is warned not to move his avatar! Mia is noticeably sporting a new hairstyle this week – which is perhaps what prompts her inaudible discussion about hair with Freya.
||The only child to leave his desk during this session, although he seems totally engrossed in the gameplay – albeit not always on his own screen. At times, stood behind the two girls, leaning over their computers as they work on their laptops, he looks a bit like a teacher checking on their progress during a lesson. He is collaborating with others on a task that seems to involve horses and chests. As well as leaving his desk he also appears to be the most physically active pupil during this extract, often making dramatic arm gestures to emphasis points (eg. pointing when saying ‘stay where you are’)When Mia takes charge of his computer his warning ‘don’t you dare move’ refers to his avatar and suggests that his avatar in the game is his alone. In fact, much of Ben’s talk appears to be in the form of instructions to the two girls: ‘leave the mine carts’, ‘leave the donkey alone’, ‘get a new one’, ‘take somebody’s chest’ etc. This perhaps indicates that he feels that he is taking a leadership role during this extract, even if his often dramatically and seriously expressed instructions often seem to simply be met with amused smiles by the girls.
|This video is least useful in providing insight into the play of the following two children.
||They remain together throughout. Molly can be heard talking during a couple of instances but otherwise they seem to keep their play largely self-contained – or at least between the two of them. Both children remain in their seats throughout. They can be seen to talk to each other on a number of occasions, and occasionally looking at the other children over their shoulders. The lack of contact in-room would imply a lack of collaborative participation with other children in-game too.
DELEUZE, Gilles and GUATTARI, Felix (1987). A thousand plateaus, Minneapolis.
MACLURE, Maggie (2013). The wonder of data. Cultural studies↔ critical methodologies, 13 (4), 228-232.
Mavers, D, ‘ Transcribing video’ (http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/2877/4/NCRM_working_paper0512.pdf)
Nunes, M (2011), ‘Error: Glitch, Noise and Jam in New Media Cultures’ (Continuum, New York)