Establishing Territory and Embodying Play (Minecraft Club #10 20.01.14)

Establishing Territory 

Before play began this week, some children were eager to discuss the events of last week with the group. Already, in the way the children had seated themselves, I could see allegiances being cemented. The larger group, previously made up of girls and boys, were split on to two separate tables – boys on one, girls on the other. The other group of boys were seated on a third table.

Week 10 screenshot (5)

The girls spoke first:

Freya: ’They kept invading our house They kept stealing the bed

Tom : ’The house is yours if we get to keep the bed!

The boys kept speaking over the girls, even though I asked them not to. Here, I had to revert to teacher mode and insist, firmly, that the boys gave the girls a chance to talk.

Freya: ’What annoyed me was that Thomas [said he] owned the house…. Because he put blocks there he said that he owned the house.

Me: [to Freya] ‘What made it your house?

Molly: [answering for Freya?] ’We built it! We put the stuff there.

Me: ‘So what would you like to change from last week?

Freya: ‘They don’t come in the house and steal our stuff and that they don’t break things

The boys responded:

Ben: ’I have three things – it’s called ‘banter’; the second one, the bed is coming back; number three, Thomas did kind of make the house….

Thomas: ’You can have your house on one condition that I’m allowed to come in, because we let you in our house’.

This wrestling with who was allowed to go where, and who owned what, has been a noticeable theme over the last few weeks. The word ‘banter – as an explanation for an event that has annoyed someone – is one that re-occurs too. Ben accused the girls of being ‘divas’ – they responded by laughing.

At some point during this week’s club the ‘House of Coolness – Girl’s Only sign was replaced with a sign reading, ‘Hi, some people can enter, only if you ask us and we say yes’. Two of the girls joined together in singing the chorus of ‘Our House’ by Madness – yet another example of in game associations sparking off songs.

Week 10 screenshot (9)

Signs also appeared outside rooms, indicating ownership:

Week 10 screenshot (15)

The first group of boys further established their shared in-game identity; Ben announced that they were wearing diamond helmets to identify that they were from ‘the same tribe’. (Not for the first time I am reminded of ‘Lord of the Flies’). Later, Thomas declared that he was building a fort ‘…just for me and my buddies: only people with diamond helmets’.

Embodying Play

This week, I was again struck by how much time some of the children spent away from their computers. One boy in particular seemed to be spending more time away from his computer than he spent using it. Interestingly, he was also the player who seemed to be the most visibly and verbally excited about events in the game; somehow, though, his excitement manifested itself in less time at the keyboard rather than more. His gameplay seemed to extend beyond a direct connection with the game through the computer, also encompassing his conversations with others and movement around the room – all of which seemed to relate to his participation in the game.

During this session, I noticed how he often seemed to be picking up and carrying objects around the room, particularly chairs and stools, seemingly without a reason that requires the relocation of a seat – thus prompting my (inevitable?) reaction: ‘PUT THAT DOWN!’ Looking back on this video I wonder now if this could be him acting out events from the game in the classroom – using stools and chairs in the place of blocks. Later he could certainly be seen miming the process of using a diamond pickaxe, holding the imaginary tool above his head before bringing it down on the equally imaginary blocks below.

Chairs as blocks?

Chairs as blocks?

Later when I asked him, again, why he away from his computer (a genuine question – not actually a thinly veiled instruction to sit down) he replied that he was waiting for his ‘iron to cook in the game – the waiting in the game seemingly being mirrored by an impatient wandering to fill time in the embodied space. I pointed out that he could still be doing something within the game while he waited and, returning to his keyboard, he agreed in a way that suggested that he genuinely hadn’t thought of this.

The Zombie Spawner

The Zombie Spawner

Later, when Rob discovered a ‘random zombie spawner’ all of the boys rushed over and gathered excitedly around his screen, seemingly in celebration. The girls, meanwhile, remained seated throughout.

Researcher Intentions

At the outset of each session I generally arrive with some idea of where I might try to focus my attention. Invariably, this ends up changing as I am led by events unfolding during the club. Nevertheless, I persist with this approach at the outset, in the belief that I will at least be starting the session taking a certain perspective. This week I had decided to focus on the play of the girl’s group. I had also decided to stay offline, in order to see what being absent from the game felt like. I managed to maintain the former approach to some extent, although I found the need to split my field notes into two columns – one column relating to the girls game play and a second relating to anything else that I noticed going on around them – often interactions and interruptions by the boys. In terms of staying out of the game, I was less successful, lasting about ten minutes before logging on, finding that I was missing the opportunity to be able to witness events that I was hearing being discussed. There was some discussion, for instance, of someone typing a message with the word ‘game spelt wrongly, much to the amusement of some – I was frustrated not being able to see what this referred to for myself.  Watching on the screens of others players didn’t give me the control or perspective I have been used to, reminding me of the rationale behind my early decision to make this a participatory ethnography.

Gifting blocks

Gifting blocks

There later came a point where I purposefully and directly influenced gameplay. I overheard a number of conversations where the children were unable to find iron – this seemed to be the most sought after block in the game, enabling them to craft tools and other items. In a moment of virtual generosity, therefore, I used my admin powers to secretly gift each child ten iron blocks. This prompted celebratory, grateful dancing from a number of boys. In addition I explained to them that they could have any other block if they could agree on a single choice, as a group. They decided on diamond, so I gave each player five diamond blocks to use; cue further celebration.

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