Server Logs as Data (Minecraft Club #12 03.02.15)

server logs

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:

chat tweet

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.

text on screen

As for the text this week, a brief look reveals that there are a number of instances of chat speak:

<Tom> wuut

 <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:

<CBtekkersOP> ett
<Mia>iihihihihihihihiihihihiihihihiihihih
<Mia> hihihiihihihihihhiihhihhiih
<YoloFace234> ftd20he

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

Context (Minecraft Club #12 03.02.15)

[NB: All names used on this blog are pseudonyms, just in case you wondered]

It seems to be becoming a tradition at the beginning of the club that Tom brings me something that he wants to show me. I think these short exchanges occur while he’s waiting for his computer to boot up, and are seemingly intended to make me smile – which they always do. A few weeks ago he bought me a fake £20 note printed on tissue paper:

money

Last week he demonstrated how he could make the noise of a wasp by blowing into his hands. I observed that it didn’t sound much like a wasp. This week he showed how he could ‘magically’ change the colour of his hat by waving it in the air – turning the reversible hat inside out. I asked Tom if I could photograph his hat – he asked why – I said I didn’t want to forget it – he agreed and posed for the shot and continued to wear the hat for most of rest of the session. Had I been teaching this class I would no doubt have asked Tom to remove his hat on the basis that it was inappropriate inside wear, but such rules don’t apply in this club, even though they are the same children, seated at the same tables, in the same room. I noted that Tom’s hat was a Manchester City Football Club hat and wondered how this allegiance sits in a class full of Sheffield Wednesday Supporters.

hat

Soon, a discussion began between Ben and Mia, focussing on their use of Instagram. Connections are clearly being made between these children, using social media, outside of the classroom. Ben had apparently promised that he would ‘do a challenge’ if he got ten ‘likes’ on a photo he posted. There’s discussion about which challenge he is prepared to do:

Ben: [exaggerating for dramatic effect] ‘Not the chilli challenge – I’d kill myself! Tell me a challenge that doesn’t involve me killing myself!’

Mia suggested the cinnamon challenge, the lemon challenge, the egg challenge, the salt challenge and the ice bucket challenge. All were dismissed by Ben as being too dangerous or unpleasant. Freya told a cautionary tale about ‘a dodgy drink’ that killed someone during a challenge. ‘Some of my brother’s friends know this dude….’ The group fell quiet.

Ben and Tom started singing their version of ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars.

Someone mentioned the GoPro camera, at this point being worn by Mia. The previous song quickly morphed into the GoPro song that they composed together three weeks ago (‘I’m on a GoPro / I’m on a GoPro’ etc) and the song spread around the room.

Perspectives (Minecraft Club #11 27.01.15)

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?

Screenshot 2015-01-27 16.03.26

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.

The boys' chosen house design, page left, next to the door hanger.

The boys’ chosen house design, page left, next to the door hanger.

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.

Screenshot 2015-01-27 15.57.56

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.

others computers

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.

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.

Gendered Performance (Minecraft Club #9 13.01.15)

‘Gaming is defined, not only, or primarily by the game, but by the power dynamics in which, and through which, gaming is experienced.’ (Thornham, 2011, p. 1)

Over the last few weeks – since gameplay has changed from creative to survival mode – the club’s members have formed two distinct groups, working separately within the game, seated separately in the classroom. Group One consists of four girls and three boys; Group Two contains four boys. In and between the play of these two groups there are some interesting power dynamics emerging, at least some of which appear to be intertwined with issues of gender.

Screenshot 2015-01-13 16.30.57

Within Group One, there appears to be a definite gender division, with each player aligning themselves with others of their own gender. There have been a number of examples that suggest that Group One’s play is dominated by the boys, even though they are outnumbered by the girls. This often seems to stem from the boys’ perceived (but not necessarily genuine) expertise at the game. For instance, in a previous week, the boys enlisted the girls as their servants, employing them to collect materials in return for payment. This week, the boys claimed that the girls owed them rent as they were living in a structure that they created at the beginning of the game. A deal was negotiated, however, where the boys agreed that the girls could live rent free on the condition that the boys would not have to provide them with any of their resources. Again, the boys appeared to be working from a perspective of perceived power.

Regardless of these negotiations, it was also a boy who seemed to be putting himself forward as leader of his group, and he was seen at various times negotiating with the self-elected leader of group two. Each boy had managed to discover the other group’s locations and they began to negotiate the opening of a secret trade route between their two towns. The two leaders excluded the rest of their groups from these hushed negotiations that took place away from their computers.

Perhaps in an attempt to re-assert their status in the game, a sign was erected outside the girl’s building. It read:

‘The House of Coolness – Girls Only’

Screenshot 2015-01-13 16.28.04

Immediately, this was declared to be sexist by one of the boys, who destroyed the sign. The girls argued for its reinstatement, and replaced the sign with an identical replica.

While the standard version of Minecraft presents the player with a default male ‘skin’ (Steve) – Minecraft Edu requires players to choose their in-game character from a selection of male and female avatars. Generally the childrens’ avatar gender matches their real world gender. However, in an act of protest or defiance against the girls’ actions, two of the male players left the game, re-entering with their usual usernames but as female avatars – much to the amusement of the rest of the group.

Screenshot 2015-01-13 16.33.02

The remaining ten minutes saw the newly re-gendered avatars infiltrating the girls’ house, taking objects – such as beds – and holding them ransom. The girls protested and I agreed to discuss the event with the class at the beginning of the next session. At the end of the club, one of the two boys declared this to have been ‘the best week of the club so far!’

Reference

Thornham, H (2011) . ‘Ethnographies of the Videogame: Gender, Narrative and Praxis’, Ashgate, Surrey.

GoPro Perspectives and AFK Performances – (Minecraft Club #9 13.01.15)

As mentioned last week, I have been using a GoPro Hero camera to record events during the club. For the first half of this week’s club the camera remained undisturbed, as usual, on a desk where had I positioned it to film a small group of players. However, approximately half an hour into the session, the camera itself became the focus of the activity for a group of children as they took charge of the filming process.

Away from Keyboard (AFK)

Away from Keyboard (AFK)

The focus on the camera began as one boy, turning away from his computer, waved and stared into the lens. He called across to another boy, who immediately left his seat and picked up the camera. At this point I made a conscious decision to allow them to continue – my alternative response would have been to insist that they put the camera back where I had placed it. However, my early conceptualisation of Minecraft Club as being driven by the children – defined by ongoing unfolding events rather than being purely the product of my design – has encouraged me to take a back seat more often and let things happen.

During the early stages of this project, I occasionally found myself slightly stressed and uptight when technical problems arose or things didn’t go quite ‘to plan’, worrying that these detours were keeping me from ‘researching’ the club. However, my realisation that these were as much a part of the lived experience of the club as the gameplay itself encouraged me to take the view that the club is whatever happens during the weekly allotted 75 minutes. Often this involves children seated in front of their computers playing Minecraft but, just as importantly, sometimes it does not.

Once in the hands of the children (or, more specifically, a small group of boys) the camera is used in a number of ways:

  • They filmed their screens during play, positioning the camera next to their laptop keyboard, at times also providing audio commentary.

Screenshot 2015-01-15 15.33.53

  • One child used the camera’s headstrap to enable him to wear the camera and to film his gameplay and discussions with others from his perspective.

edited screen

  • They introduced other members of the class, carrying the camera around the room.
  • They pulled silly faces into the lens.
  • They conduct conversations with the camera:

Sam: (pointing the camera at Ben) ‘Is your name Ben?’

Ben: (to camera) ‘Yes it is, GoPro!… What’s your name, GoPro?’

  • They held it at arms length and sing and dance to the camera:

Thomas: (singing) ‘I’m on a GoPro / I’m on a GoPro’.

Ben and Thomas: (singing and dancing) ‘We’re on a GoPro / We’re on a GoPro’

They are then joined by three other boys, who form a procession, dancing and singing the same song.

Eventually, as I had forgotten to fully charge the battery, the camera turned itself off, much to the children’s disappointment. But in this relatively short space of time, they had managed to film the club from multiple perspectives.

Although I had already toyed with the idea of giving the children some control of the camera in future weeks, I had not intended that this would happen in such an unplanned and unpolished way. Nevertheless, watching the footage back was both entertaining and enlightening, providing an interesting example of how the process of research can unexpectedly become enmeshed with the clubs events. It also serves to illustrate how Minecraft club is not always just about playing Minecraft but is also driven by the events that occur aside from the gameplay when children are away from their keyboard (AFK), framing their gameplay in a specific context.

The presence of the camera clearly prompted much of the performance element, explained in part by the excitement of having access to relatively novel piece of equipment in the classroom, particularly given the GoPro’s reputation of being an camera used to film adventurous pursuits rather than classroom practice. It is now for me to decide which, if any, of these child-led filming methods I choose to employ in future weeks. Perhaps this is what I meant when I stated my intention to take into account Law’s (2004) call for ‘a broader or more generous sense of method’ at the outset of my research.

Reference:

LAW, John (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. London, Routledge.

Exploring Virtual Feelings (Minecraft Club #8 06.01.15)

I have been using a GoPro Hero action camera to film during the club. This week I placed the camera in a static location in order to capture a wider view of events than that provided by video at different resolutions.

gopro example

So far I am happy with the footage gained in this way, especially given that the audio is clear and the wide-screen image allows me to focus in on multiple areas of the classroom, in a way that would not be possible using conventional video. The camera also has the benefit of being virtually indestructible, allowing it to continue filming when someone knocked it from the chair I had balanced it on.

Picture1

In the words of one child who watched the fall: ‘GoPro be hard as heck: it’s basically a brick’. Given this, there’s also potential for giving the camera to the children to film from their perspectives, which I intend to do in future weeks.

After the club I returned a small section of the footage to re-examine a conversation that I noted in my field notes in more detail.

During the session, Ben (as <CBtekkersOP>) left the group in the game and to go ‘exploring’. He crafted a boat, with guidance from another member of the group and set out, apparently, in search of the sea. He later revealed that his intention was actually to find the members of the other part of the group – three boys who were building in a separate ‘secret’ location from the rest. However, he became frustrated when he found himself stranded on an island, isolated from the rest of his group’s avatars. He requested that I use the teleporting function to return him to his friends, even though he had requested at the beginning of the session that I should not to this for anyone as it often seemed to cause the game to crash!

boat

The following conversation was transcribed from an unplanned discussion, mainly with Ben, towards the end of the session, relating to his feelings about his current game state:

Ben: It’s just sad, though.

Me: Do you feel sad cos you’re not near everyone?

Ben: Yeah.

Me: But you’re in the room with everyone…. You’re actually right near everyone.

Ben: Am I?

Me: No, I mean, in the room. You’re sat next to people. How does it feel… how does it feel not being with everyone in the game?

Ben: Sad.

Mia: That’s what I felt like!

Ben: Because you feel lonely, because, like, there’s no-one else…

Mia: Stranded on an island, waiting for rescue.

Me: (laughs) But you’re in the room with them.

Ben: yeah, but they’re real life people… this is a game…

Me: But.. So… Yeah, but you’re a real life person.

Ben: In the game, I feel sad.

Me: You feel sad in the game?

Ben: Yes.

Me: H.. But… do you feel… How do you feel in the game?

Ben: Sad!

Me: (stuttering) But what is it about you that’s feeling in the game? As in… you said ‘as a real life person’ these people are here.. but how do you feel… how do you feel the game feeling?

Ben: Well, I’m used to being with everyone, you know like I have jobs and stuff and then suddenly I’m on an island by myself and I can’t get home.

Me: But are YOU on an island by yourself or is your avatar?

Ben: No, my avatar is on an island but my feelings are in the game!

Me: You’re feelings are in the game?

Ben: Yes!

Joseph: That’s a bit sad!

Ben: I know that is very sad!

Me: Your feelings are in the game is a very interesting thing to say.

Ben: and very sad… at the same time…

Thomas: (rapping) He’s sadder than sad, he’s badder than bad.

At the time I found this conversation fascinating – I think my intention was to try to help unravel the extent of Ben’s identification with his own avatar, but I found myself getting stuck on the questions to ask to take the conversation further. Nevertheless, I love Ben’s responses, particularly:

 In the game, I feel sad.

 No, my avatar is on an island but my feelings are in the game!

What the video allows me to revisit – and what I didn’t notice at the time – is the movement that accompanies Ben’s verbal responses. These two statments in particular are accompanied by dramatic hand gestures, as if to emphasise the significance of his words. During the first reply, Ben removes his right hand from the computer and makes one, forceful chopping motion from the side of his head towards the computer. By the second response, Ben has turned away from the computer to make eye contact with me directly. However, on the words ‘avatar’ and ‘feelings’ he turns again towards his laptop and makes forceful pointing gestures in the direction of the computer’s keyboard, making contact three times with the plastic, perhaps in an attempt to convey the strength of his feeling in relation to the virtual world somehow within the machine.

point

Ben’s notion of feelings being somehow being contained within the computer yet also felt by him is a theme I intend to explore further, and provides a good example of what I continually find so interesting about exploring this group’s interactions in and around the game.