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.