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.
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.
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’.
I am worn out when I arrive at the club this week – I have met headwind all the way on my regular uphill cycle to school. Whilst this ethnography clearly doesn’t extend to cover my reflections on my means of transport in (although I’m sure I could come up with enough data for a whole other ethnography based on this – particularly when my chain snaps on the way home) it does serve as a constant reminder that the boundary of the club is permeable, in that it draws the experiences of all participants at times outside of the club’s set beginning and end times. Most notably this week the children are taking part in their Y6 SATs. Some of them have even be entered into the Level 6 tests (tests that are well above the nationally expected level for children of this age – although there is a creeping expectation that schools enter some children for them). This afternoon was spelling, with some children (successfully) spelling words such as ‘recommended’, ‘partial’ and ‘picturesque’.
This blog post is drawn from my fieldnotes. I also left the GoPro with a group of girls and created a short screencast towards the end of the session – I will look more closely at these later (the girls tell me at the end that they’ve done some talking to the camera to explain what they’ve done this week).
One of the dads arrives to pick up his daughter, having forgotten that the club is on (entirely forgiveable as I had to cancel last week’s club at short notice). She bundles him out of the classroom and returns, having persuaded him to let her stay. I’m relieved that all children manage to log in without too much problem and the session runs largely, and unusually, without any technical problems (aside from laptop batteries running out – the children now seem to have made their own rules for the percentage at which they will swap chargers).
Four boys are seated at the back of the class – I choose to focus on their participation for much of the session, and stay out of the game until towards the end (which could explain the lack of technical issues). Tom asks where the girls are located in the game and they refuse to tell him. Game play, this week, is taking place in creative mode – as it ended this way last week. There’s an unusual sense of calm to being with, with everyone seemingly focussed on their screens.
Ed turns to talk to me: ‘Mr B, I’ve made a hidden Jeb door!’ – he shows me a piston door that he has made, using the instructions from the Redstone Handbook that he helped himself to earlier, proceeding to demonstrate the operation of the door on screen.
Ed then turns to Callum and they discuss employing another Jeb door elsewhere in the building they are working on. They discuss a living room that Tom has created ‘under the room of doom’ – ‘it’s so we can chill out‘ he says. I’m pleased to stumble upon this later on in the session. I ask about the purple floor I see on Joe’s computer. He says that was just Tom’s idea – ‘he likes purple’.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Tom asks Ed ‘What’s your favourite kind of tomato? Plum, Cherry…?’ Ed chooses cherry, as do most of the rest of the class who join in answering the question. Tom nods approvingly – ‘It’s gotta be cherry every time!’.
Across the room there’s a lot of chat happening. Freya’s screen in turned away from her and she’s clearly not playing the game at this point, engrossed in conversation. I catch snatches of discussion about their older brothers and sisters, texting, their dad’s cars (Adam remembers Mia’s dad ‘rocking up in a Mercedes’ – clearly impressed), swimming (Freya reminisces about the time she fell off the baby slide at the local leisure centre, Matt jumps in at this point with a competing story about hurting himself at a swimming pool and suggests that ‘Freya -I think that was the origin of your bad luck!’ ), a proposed Skype call when they get home (presumably to continue these conversations). There’s also an extended discussion, relating to their roles in Christmas plays further down the school. They laugh at having to play each other’s family members (sample quotes: Freya (laughing): ‘I had to be his wife AND sister!’, ‘In Santa’s on Strike – YOU (points to Ben) were my dad!’, Tom: ‘We were the kids with the wooden gameboys!’) As discussion trails off, Freya returns to the game and turns the screen to face her. Throughout this discussion, Mia (next to Sophie) has contributed whilst still engaged with the game.
Even in its absence in this part of the room, the GoPro camera is influencing events – Tom starts singing the recurring GoPro song, changing the words to ‘We’re NOT on a GoPro’. This song soon morphs into a rap – Tom tells me it’s this:
… an imagined Rap Battle between the main characters from ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ (two 18 rated American TV shows). He gives what sounds like a word perfect rendition of a short section. (Later, watching this video I wasn’t previously aware of, I’m struck by the adult language and the reference to drugs and killing and how different this is to the content of the reading Sats paper that they completed earlier in the week, recalling a discussion with C. about this very thing)
There appears to be some mischief happening. Someone has spawned and abandoned a herd of horses. Tom’s got his mind set on using TNT. He suggests that he has ‘a sick trick to play on central plaza’ – outlining his intention to link a daylight sensor to some TNT. Soon he’s asking the girls if it’s ok if he blows up a section of land. He warns the rest of the group ‘get ready for the boom’ but it seems not to work and, when it does, the impact of his explosion is minor. Meanwhile, Callum is clearing away the horses by setting fire to them. This is accompanied by a slightly unsettling noise coming from his computer, although he’s keen to point out that this is the quickest way of clearing them and sees them as an obstacle rather than a representation of any kind of real animal.
Jo seems to be working really carefully in his room. I enter the game (and start the screencast) and join him in the room. I’m initially invisible to them, until we realise that I have ‘spectate mode’ turned on. Joe has filled a large chest with ender pills. Callum soon joins us and leads my Avatar off elsewhere, where he gives me a virtual present – ‘jeffery the amazing red block’. He reminds me not to place it anywhere as it will lose its name, so I keep it in my inventory.
A series of busy weeks has meant I’m a couple of weeks behind with looking at my data and writing these reports. Week 17 of the club was the first for four weeks, following an extended break for Easter. These notes will be a brief retelling of the main events from my fieldnotes.
The session begins and I’m soon engaged in chat with Ben who has noticed a ‘rebel pig’ in the game. I’m told he is a rebel pig because he is balanced on the edge of a tall tree. Ben proceeds to sing a version of the ‘Spider Pig’ song from the Simpson’s Movie, changing the words to ‘Rebel Pig’. He asks me how to take a screenshot and I show him. (I intend to retrieve this later but I forget!) I ask why he wants to take a screenshot and he says he doesn’t know and laughs!
Mia is after a new horse. I note that the boys and girls are seated separately, in rows.
Someone declares that they are ‘having an existential crisis!’ It feels good to be back at the club after a break – there seems to be a renewed enthusiasm from the children (even though it has taken one child almost 30 minutes to get logged in due to technical problems with a series of laptops).
I gift Mia an apple, at her request, as a gift for her new horse.
There’s an announcement. Tom dances across the front of the class, inviting everyone to ‘Come to the Banterbury Baths!’.
Ben is also on the lookout for horses, but he can’t find any. He approaches me and asks me to use my ‘special powers’ to fly above the landscape so that he can look for any stray horses on the ground below. He then explains that I can then teleport him to the horse so he can tame it. We look for horses but can only find the one belonging to Mia. He decides he will just try and steal this one while she is distracted and returns to his computer!
There’s a spate of laptop batteries on the verge of running out and I have to go to the trolley to unthread some chargers to bring back in to the class. This is always annoying as it means I can’t be involved in the club and certainly can’t make any observations.
Tom gives me a tour of the Banterbury Baths, using my computer.
I note that he has the word ‘facetious’ misspelt on his arm. I ask why it is there and he says that he was trying to spell it. I ask what it means and he tells me. I ask if he has labelled himself with that term and he laughs and says no.
Ben dramatically resigns from the game for this week – although his reasoning is unclear regarding why. He takes out a packet of cards and invites other children to play either Twist or 21.
Something is happening in the comments – Tom asks me if I have seen the film ‘Taken’. I tell him that I have and he tells me to watch my screen.
He has types ‘roses are red, violets are blue, Im Liam Neeson and I will find you’.
I approach three boys at the back to see what they are doing. They confide that they are tunnelling under other children’s creations without them knowing. One of them is finding the co-ordinates of the buildings above ground to help them arrive underneath. They show me their notebooks with their plans and co-ordinates written in.
I 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.
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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This post is a narration of a short ten minute screencast from this week’s session, by way of a demonstration of how my in-game participation plays out during the club when I am present at my keyboard. My screen was recorded, alongside audio from the group present in the room.
I begin this session with an in-game explore of the children’s creations. Almost immediately I fall and get stuck in a hole. Looking down I find I am standing on the head of a zombie that also appears to be trapped.
After a few failed attempts to jump out I cheat and enable creative mode for myself, allowing me to fly to safety. I fly above land for a short while, before disabling creative mode. Looking back on the screencast, I wonder why I did this – why not allow myself to continue in this mode that allows freedom of movement? I walk past pigs and other avatars, pausing in game someone address me, in the room, with a technical problem:
Freya: ‘Mr Bailey, it’s gone dodgy!’ I take it as given that ‘it’ refers to the computer, or the game and dish out my usual rubbish advice (‘Log out and log back in again’) and continue.
I enter and soon exit a grey structure, created by the children, which seems half finished and uninhabited, changing direction to look for other points of interest. There are signs outside this building that I have seen before, detailing who can and can’t enter the building. The signs list the boys’ avatar names as those who are permitted. The girls’ real-life names are displayed on the sign indicating who is not allowed to enter. I soon re-enable creative mode to allow me to float above the landscape, instead of having to climb up a hill block-by-block, looking from above for evidence of the players’ creations in the blocky landscape. Spotting a grey staircase in the side of the hillside I descend and enter through a doorway. Inside I find myself in a corridor, with a choice of two directions (a liminal space?) I turn left, then right and follow the corridor to find that both directions would have led to the same place. I see a sign I recognise ‘YoloFaces room of doom’.
I enter and find a closed chest and a crafting table in front of me. I try to jump over them but there isn’t space. There’s some purple sparkle moving about in the room that I recognise as some sort of eminence from a nether portal located beyond the obstacles. I turn and leave the room. This leads to a grey chamber with another crafting table at its centre, and a grand staircase – decorated with pumpkin heads – leading out to the outside world. I make my way down the stairs, across the courtyard and into another hole in the side of the hill. It’s a dead end so I head back the way I came. Again Freya addresses me: ‘Mr Bailey, what should I do?’ I dispense more rubbish advice (‘Shut the computer down and try again… or go and grab a different computer’).
I continue exploring, entering a dimly lit cave, past a skeleton with an arrow, and exit the other side. I turn to see a horse jumping on the hillside and again not wanting to climb I float up instead of climbing and move across the landscape, from above. I notice a tall, multi-storey structure I haven’t seen before but have heard the children discussing on a number of occasions. Again, I find it’s deserted as I climb to the top on a long ladder, past identical, undecorated rooms. From the top, I look down and then set off again, flying across the landscape. I spot the fenced pens of multicoloured sheep being tended to my Lisa at the periphery of the village and my feet meet with land again on top of a mountain where I find <Famalamlad> and <CBTekkersOP>.
After five minutes in the game, the first fieldnote I made today comes as I observe <CBTekkersOP> standing next to me, throwing meat from the top of a mountain. I see an apple meet the same fate. I’m surprised enough by this act to question his motive.
Ben: ‘Yeah, we’re just lobbing our inventories out’.
He explains that his inventory is full and he is trying to clear space for more useful items – this being his rather dramatic method of redistribution.
On my way down the mountain I’m approached – in the room – by Joe, asking me to gift him a horse. I go to the menu in the game and attempt to give each player a horse spawner. (At this point I miss the message that says ‘item not found’). I make my way back down the hill to the bottom and watch as <Milliemoo> searches for the pile of items that <CBTekkersOP> has dumped. I think I may have accidentally collected some but don’t mention this. I try to drop them from my inventory but can’t find them and give up.
Joe returns to tell me that my horse donation didn’t work. I try again and this time notice the ‘item not found’ message. I pause in the game to instruct one child to leave another child’s keyboard alone – he has accidentally given up some items that he didn’t mean to and is trying to commandeer the girl’s avatar to get them back. All in good humour, but I don’t want to risk any accidents involving technology. I suggest that the girl lets the boy have the iron blocks back as it was a mistake and she complies.
Back in the game I suggest that I meet Joe’s avatar and present him with the horse spawner in (virtual) person. I drop the egg-like horse spawning block on the floor and the foot of the stairs and am soon joined by <BBQBOY> who collects the items and spawns a horse in front of me.
Alerted by dramatic complaints of lagging from one player across the classroom I soon shut down my screen casting software (Quicktime) and leave the game in order to lighten the load on the server for the other players – my laptop doesn’t seem to be able to run applications alongside the server without some consequence for the children’s gameplay. I’ll later re-enter the game using one of the school laptops.