A first attempt at using the annotation function in Word to try to make sense of some of the chat log, adding some wider context.
This week’s club presented a welcome but unexpected new data source: the server log. From the outset, I have intended to include text from the children’s in-game chat as part of my data. So far, I have collected this by using screenshots when I notice text appearing on screen – inevitably this approach has missed a significant amount of talk.
Whilst clicking between screens during this week’s club, however, my attention was drawn to the ‘Log and chat’ window of the server software that runs on my Mac. I soon realised that, alongside the system messages, the children’s chat was also appearing. Trying to copy and paste this, however, didn’t work so I conducted a quick internet search for a solution, to no avail.
Tweeting my request to @MinecraftEdu – via the iPad I was otherwise using for fieldnotes – was much more successful:
Unexpectedly, the link in their second tweet gave me access to the full server and chat log, not only for this week’s club but for the entire history of my fieldwork so far (and, indeed, every time I have ever used MinecraftEDU with classes since 2012).
This lengthy document, something of a hybrid text produced by the game and the children, gives me a number of additional possibilities. I can filter out the chat logs for any given week so far, for instance. This will enable me to examine the sort of language being used by the children in the game. I will also be able to see which children engage with the chat log and which children choose not to.
Potentially, there are additional insights to be gained too, beside their use of text. For instance, the following three lines from this week’s log:
2015-02-03 15:38:44 [INFO] Disconnecting YoloFace234 (/10.96.72.64:49227): EduWrongTeacherPassword
2015-02-03 15:39:22 [INFO] Disconnecting grizzlybear100 (/10.96.72.75:49274): EduWrongTeacherPassword
2015-02-03 15:40:21 [INFO] Disconnecting BBQBOY (/10.96.72.61:62823): EduWrongTeacherPassword
These three usernames relate to three boys who were working together. Their first attempts to log in all seem to involve them making failed attempts to log in as a teacher, which would have given them additional admin powers. Whilst these pieces of information alone don’t mean that they did this purposefully – although all three boys doing so in sequence would be quite a coincidence – it does remind me of an earlier instance of one of these boys taking advantage of access to my computer in order to gain access to additional blocks that would be unavailable on his account. Possibly something to keep an eye on in relation to different manifestations of gameplay.
As for the text this week, a brief look reveals that there are a number of instances of chat speak:
<bantersata> YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO
(wuut = what you up to? YOLO = you only live once)
Allegations of flirting:
<CBtekkersOP> bit of flirting oooohhhhhhh
An example of persuasion:
<Famalamlad> galz can me come in plz (puppy dog eyes!)
A textual recreation of a line from ‘The GoPro song’:
<bantersata> im on a gopro
And what looks like a ‘type as much nonsense as you can’ competition:
Of course, all of this needs to be taken in context – for example, I know from my notes that <Tom> above was actually another child mischievously logging in using using his name. This, in fact, is also played out in the chat log, as <bantersata> (a misspelling of <banterSANTA>) suggests:
<bantersata> TOM ISNT FOOLING ANYONE
Note: Although I try to write these accounts of the club in the past tense, they often slip into present tense – I’m not entirely sure why, or which is best for this purpose. My tendency to take the position of present tense narrator of events makes me think of a reality show and I wonder, therefore, if this derives from my reflections on video data as well as my fieldnotes. Does the presence of video on the screen in front of me make events seem present, or is it the fact that the club is ongoing that makes the present tense feel more natural? Or could my tendency for present tense narration be an attempt to establish the fact that I was (am) there, present in the room alongside the children? Does past tense do this too? At the moment I suppose there’s a sense that any of these events have the potential to continue, to be revisited in a future session. When this year of fieldwork is over, then, will data analysis feel different? Will events be more fixed? And does my preference for tense reflect the way I think about the club?
From the outset of this week, the children made it clear that they had regrouped. Even before the server was running, Rob was telling me that all of the boys had decided to work together on a building project that he had found in the Minecraft annual that he borrowed after last week’s club. He showed me a picture of a simple, multi-storey house that the group intended to build, indicating that their focus was still on creating the domestic space for their community.
As usual, physical location in the classroom space indicated collaboration in the virtual space – where the boys were seated across two tables last week, this week they all joined together around one larger bank of desks. Interestingly, the group of boys who appeared less dominant – in the game and in the room – during previous weeks relocated to join the more dominant group. I asked them how this regrouping occurred, and when – they explain that it began last week but was also consolidated during discussions in the week in between. This makes me wonder how much talk away from the club relates to their gameplay. As last week, the girls were seated separately to the boys. Their gameplay occurred close to the boys in the virtual space, but was definitely separate. At times there was talk about trade between the groups – this type of talk did not occur within the groups, suggesting that all resources owned by individuals were available to pool between the members.
This week, while the children were playing the game, at least 25 minutes of the session involved me discussing some school business (club related and otherwise) with other adults from the school. This does not happen very often as the club usually coincides with staff meetings, so teachers are generally needed elsewhere. As a result of these discussions there was a significant period of time unaccounted for in this week’s fieldnotes and my notes were much shorter. This period, however, was covered by one player – Ben – filming from his perspective, using the GoPro camera attached to his forehead. I intend to look in more detail at this video in future. However, a quick re-watching – involving watching parts at double speed, pausing some bits and skipping over others, gives an interesting insight into the gameplay of one individual.
Even a brief look at the video demonstrated that Ben talked to every single one of the other ten players at some point during the club. This amounted to a significant amount of time spent away from the computer and looking away from the screen. These conversations generally appeared to be related to the game. Although I haven’t listened to every conversation, many of the ones I have heard related to trading resources with others. He can also be seen using other children’s computers, as well as his own. I intend to give the GoPro to one of the girls’ next week – Freya had a brief trial at the end of the session.
I ended the session by asking children to tell me something about their experience:
- Freya told me that she learnt how to chop down wood.
- Thomas explained that he was trying to build another house but Callum accidentally burnt it.
- Joe said, ‘it’s been good!’ When I asked him to elaborate he suggested that he was happy that everyone was working together ‘in one community’ this week.
- Rob told me that he had found a secret passage under the stairs.
- Molly said that her group had built extension to house, with a garden and balcony, and were planning on building a farm next week.
This week’s session was the first for two weeks, the last before Christmas and also the last of this term. For the second week running, the children played in survival mode.
This entry elaborates on two short sections from my extensive (and messy) fieldnotes made during the session. Reflecting on my approach during previous sessions I found that I was becoming fairly reliant on video data. Therefore, in an attempt to break away from the limited frame imposed by screen based data I made more of an effort to take fieldnotes based on my observations. As a result, I was much less present in the game than in recent weeks.
Alongside these notes, video data was also collected in the form of screencasts and in class video, which I will use at a later time to add data from different perspectives. As for why I chose this extract, I think I’m framing it as a telling case to ‘make previously obscure theoretical relationships suddenly apparent” (Mitchell, 1984, p. 239).
- Finding Friends
On entering the game this week, many children found that they had spawned in dispersed locations, away from other members of the group. Getting back together became the motivation for most of these children’s play. I observed the different methods they used to locate themselves in the game, navigating the landscape to find their friend’s avatars, and will attempt to detail these below. This process of finding their friends in the game occupied some players for almost the whole session. Whilst some children relied on just one of the methods below, most seem to employ a combination of these at different times.
Getting up high – Some children navigated their way up to the top of the highest point in the landscape in order to get a top-down view of the game, in the hope of seeing movement below. This reflected the method they often used for orientation in creative mode, where the avatars would levitate above the ground in order to get a view of events below.
Maps – Some children who were aware of the Map feature of Minecraft requested that I gave them access to a map that would have otherwise been available in creative mode. Impressed by the thought behind this request I provided each player with a map, which gave them an overview of the land they currently inhabited. Frustration came when they realised that there was no way of telling exactly which avatar was which, as all were marked with the same white icon. They were also unclear about their own locations on the map, meaning that it provided little help. (This recalls Alison Gazzard’s (2013) work on mapping mazes, where she reflects on the difficulty of pin pointing her location on the map whilst negotiating a maze (p. 72)
Landmarks – Children discussed their location in the game in relation to landmarks in the landscape. They told each other, for example, ‘I’m near the cave’ or ‘Go towards the big hill’. Again, there was frustration as some children found it difficult to find these landmarks in the first place, either because they had not seen them on their own screens or had visited them but forgotten the direction in which they had travelled.
Swapping laptops – Some children surrendered their laptops to another player, allowing them to control their avatar in the belief that they would be able to call upon their superior knowledge of the landscape in order to reunite their avatars in the same location. Sometimes this involved physically swapping laptops, at other times the children swapped seats.
Shared use of screens – Some children moved their hands from their own keyboards to point at their friends’ screens, in order to direct them through the landscape towards their own locations. They would then use their own screen to confirm the nature of their own location, in an attempt to help the other player.
Appropriating laptops – One child left early and another player seized the opportunity to use their computer to play the game, continuing the game as the avatar of the absent player in preference to playing as their own avatar away from the group.
Teleporting – Similar to the request for a map, some children asked me to use my teacher admin ‘powers’ to teleport them to the location of their friends. This initially seemed like the easy option, and on a couple of occasions I granted this request but stopped when I found that teleporting seemed to cause server overload, resulting in everyone being booted out of the game and needing to log back in.
So, here I’m interested in the multitude of ways that the children tried to solve the same problem. Being together (Burnett and Bailey, 2014) seemed more important than working alone in the game, and this was mirrored by the way that the children arranged themselves in the classroom and the way they interacted with each other and their equipment.
- An Emerging Economy
The pattern of play this week (nine children, with two absent) seemed to fall into three distinct groups, reflected physically by their chosen seating patterns – a group of three boys, a group of four girls and a pair of boys. Towards the end of the session, the two boys moved across the room and relocated themselves with the girls, as a result of one of the boy’s laptops running out of charge, meaning he had to use a plug socket located near to the girls’ table. At some point during this relocation, the players’ in game activity also converged as they inhabited the same virtual location. At the centre of this location was a building built by the two boys. The girls, pleased to have located other players, asked to enter the boys house. They agreed, but on condition that the girl worked for them in the game. I was surprised by how quickly they seemed to agree to this request – seemingly willing to comply with the boy’s suggestion without question. Tasks were assigned to the girls – two were tasked with collecting wood, receiving a wage in the form of coal – one piece per 32 blocks of wood collected.
Another girl collected pumpkins, and it was reasoned that their relative scarcity would mean that she would be paid by the half hour for her efforts, again in coal. Food was briefly considered in place of coal as a means of payment, but this was discarded by the girls as they reasoned that food was of little value in the current context of the game.
For me, this event raises a number of questions. I’m particularly interested here in how these hierarchical roles formed so effortlessly, seemingly without question. What enabled the two boys to position themselves as leaders over the girl’s play? Is gender important here? Is it a case of capitalising on their in-game expertise and the resulting gaming capital? (Consalvo, 2007) Does the experience of being together in game offer compensation for their players suspension of thei avatars’ autonomy? In what ways do the player’s relationship with their own avatar – their avatar identity – mediate the decisions that the players are making? Is virtual identity important here – and would a model of identity that examines the personal, social, relational and material aspects (Nagy and Koles, 2014) be helpful in unpicking this? Does the nature of the game context lead to a submission to rules in a way that would not occur so readily in the physical space? And what does the imposition of the emerging, seemingly power-based economic system tell us about the children’s meaning making around the idea of a virtual community?
I intend to focus on the issues around this example over the next few weeks, before the club begins again in the new year.
Burnett, C. & Bailey, C. (2014). Conceptualising collaboration in hybrid sites: Playing minecraft together and apart in a primary classroom. In: Burnett, C., Davies, J., Merchant, G. & J. Rowsell (ed.). New literacies around the globe: Policy and pedagogy. . Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge.
Nagy, P and Koles, B (2014) The digital transormation of human identity: Towards a conceptual model of virtual identity in virtual worlds in Convergence, 20:276
GAZZARD, Alison (2013). Mazes in videogames: Meaning, metaphor and design. McFarland.
Consalvo, Mia (2007) Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Video Games. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.
Mitchell, J. C. (1984). Case studies. In R. F. Ellen, Ethnographic research: A guide to general conduct. (pp. 237-241). Orlando, FL: Academic Press, Inc.
As of September, the new school term started without me. Although not entirely, as I have already been back into school to teach on supply, to complete work on the school website and to run a weekly Minecraft Club. These visits to school have been welcome and enjoyable – I have especially enjoyed working with the children and staff, particularly at a time when I would otherwise have been home alone, waiting for my course to start in October.
So far I have run three weekly Minecraft Club sessions. This post is an attempt to make a note of some of my random observations from the first. I haven’t so-far taken any formal notes or had any particular focus – this will (hopefully!) come further down the line. For now, it’s been nice to get the children set up and enjoying interacting within the game.
The club runs from 3.30 – 4.45, after school, once per week. There are 14 participants, a mix of boys and girls. As usual, participation is voluntary. I am familiar with the group of children as I taught them for a year when they were in Y4, as part of a mixed Y4 and Y5 group. They do (I think) still see me as a teacher, and my most recent supply days have been in their class. Participation is voluntary. On the initial letter to the children it was made clear that I may occasionally ask them to do some writing – my thought is that this will be in the form of informal reflections about what they have done, but I will see as the weeks progress.
Session 1 – We discussed the objectives for the club – to build a community space. Children made brief notes on what they thought a community might need. We also discussed rules for the session and they made some notes on these too. Quite a lot of time was spent sorting out technical issues, updating the computers, getting logged in etc. Once things were working, the children got to work building on a totally flat space. I took a few screenshots, hoping to capture some of the action.
Notable was the start of co-construction, by at least two girls, of the giant ‘One Direction’ mural.
Regular use was made of the chat log.
As usual there were some initial conflicts about who was in whose space. Children also seemed to be eager to find out who was using what avatar. Many children (particularly boys?) were eager to build using fire and TNT, in spite of the fact that the impact of these had been disabled.