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.

Finding Friends and Influencing People (Minecraft Club #7 10.12.14)

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.

live with you

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).

  1. 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.

IMG_20141209_160557Getting 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)

map screenshot

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.

shared use screenshot

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.

IMG_20141209_160932

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.

  1. 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.

Tree collector

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.

Food's useless

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?

tool extract

I intend to focus on the issues around this example over the next few weeks, before the club begins again in the new year.

References

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.

Transcribing a Horse Funeral (Minecraft Club #4 11.11.14)

week 4Rather than posting my reflections on the full session this week I have chosen to share a method of transcription that I have been trialling. So far, alongside my fieldwork, I have produced transcripts of sections of each of the four club sessions. These transcripts have arisen both from screencasts and video of the children’s play. I have taken a number of different approaches: transcribing speech in isolation, transcribing speech on top of live video (using Camtasia), detailed multimodal microanalysis that includes gesture and gaze and, after week three, a musical score of the children’s singing. This week I have used a method that was bought to my attention by Lauran Doak during her presentation on methods of transcription. I was particularly interested in an example by Plowman and Stephen (2008) where they had created a transcript in the form of a comic strip, showing speech, direction and interaction (albeit using a very different example to the one presented here).

Using Comic Life I have adopted this technique to form an account of an event from this week’s club. This is a highly abridged version, mainly in order to ensure anonymity of participants. The longer version also includes additional dialogue and photographs from the classroom, along side the screenshots from the game.

comic 1 comic 2

As with all methods of transcription there are affordances and drawbacks, many of which only become fully apparent during the process of application. As with all methods of transcription, this is a fairly time consuming process but does, as a result, require a close focus on the original video. I like the ability to present text and action (whether embodied or virtual) together on the page. The storying technique seems appropriate for conveying events with a strong narrative element to them. However, whilst it is possible to present multiple voices through the use of different speech bubbles I’m not sure it’s always clear who is speaking. The nature of the genre also means that an event is necessarily reduced to short descriptive sentences, although this does not always have to be a problem – depending on the intended focus of the resulting analysis. What is clear is that transcription is not just one fixed process and I will add this version to my growing bank of methods.

Reference:

Plowman L and Stephen C (2008) The Big Picture? Video and the Representation of Interaction. British Educational Research Journal, 34 (4) 541 – 565

‘There’s a horse in McDonalds’ (Minecraft Club #2 14.10.14)

My fieldnotes this week covered fourteen pages in my A5 book, yet I feel I only scratched the surface of the events. At only week two of a total of thirty-something, I recognise that this is probably going to be a familiar feeling. Nevertheless, I think that a scratch is better than no impression at all. Some of these notes have fed into my private reflections, with the account below being my usual attempt to make sense of my first impressions while they are fresh in my mind. This post may fall into the realm of TL;DR but I’m torn between editing for conciseness and including every piece of detail from my notes. I’ve settled for the latter this time, with liberal use of headings.

Screenshot 2014-10-14 16.29.52

Getting Started

The children log in this week with no problems – all of the laptops are running the same build of Minecraft Edu (1.6.4) and it works smoothly throughout, only crashing two minutes before I’m going to get them to pack up anyway, as it did last week (Coincidence? It’s as if it knows something!)

Beginning to make notes, I write that there are ‘So many voices at once’. Trying to make sense of what is being said is even harder than trying to work out who is speaking. The talk sounds excitable and loud and is coming from the table of seven boys – it’s not all of them but two or three children who seem to be speaking at anyone who will listen rather than to each other! The four girls are seated separately from the boys, in two pairs on opposite sides of the room. I can’t hear them speaking at all.

One of the girls comes over  to me, bringing her laptop, asking me why it’s not letting her build. Surprised to be able to answer her query I note that she hasn’t selected a block yet. She thanks me and returns to her table.

A Disagreement

There’s some talk from the boy’s table where they appear to be claiming ownership of last week’s constructions:

T: ‘I made the treehouse!’

R: ‘I made the tree!’

T: ‘I’ll make a NEW treehouse then!’

Screenshot 2014-10-14 16.38.54

Someone turns someone else invisible. The response is a loud, shouted ‘Noooooo!’ All the while, talking continues, unrecorded.

More protesting:T:R ‘Stop spawning massive jumbo trees next to where I’m building! If you’re gonna spawn them then spawn them somewhere else – it’s VERY ANNOYING’. Everyone else goes quiet. There is no reply from R.

T is still annoyed: (sarcastically) ‘Oh WOW! We’re not allowed fire so I can’t burn his trees! All in favour of R deleting his trees say ‘aye” (a number of voices are heard saying “aye”)

R: ‘Well, you’re not part of this tree village then!

T: ‘Everyone follow me if you want to build a proper tree village. Guys – everyone – come to the gold bank’.

This minor uprising seems to end the disagreement which appears to have stayed good natured in tone throughout, as if both parties are acting a role rather than actually engaging in dispute. There’s something here about dominance of space (virtual and real) that I need to do more thinking about. I’m also aware that my notes have been directed by the loudest event in the room, in spite of my assertion that I wouldn’t be drawn in this way too often.

Spawning Animals and a Text Conversation

Some children asked me last week, and at the beginning of this session, if I could please enable animals. After twenty minutes I do. A message pops up on screen to tell the children.

‘I made an animal – IT’S A MIRACLE’ shouts someone.

M wants to know how to spawn a horse. She asks the boys’ table and E demonstrates on his screen. She replicates his actions and creates her own. H tells me that her and R are working together to create a treehouse. At this point I notice on my screen that the same two girls are also involved in a text conversation about the relative merits of two boybands – One Direction and Five seconds of Summer. I take a couple of screengrabs and note that the two girls having this conversation are sat next to each other. I wonder why they have chosen to have this discussion in this public forum, in text. Are they hoping to engage others in the discussion, perhaps? It’s also interesting how H chose to tell me about the treehouse but not the conversation.

Screenshot 2014-10-14 15.53.23

I look around the room and notice that the laptop screens seem to be filled with horses. ‘Everyone, please stop spawning horses – it’s annoying!’ shouts T. ‘There’s a horse in McDonalds!’ he continue, alarmed. This is the first time am aware of the fact that this ‘community space’ now has a McDonalds. (I can’t help but feel disappointed, but I don’t tell them this. I also keep my thoughts about the irony of horses and fast food to myself.) I hunt it down in game. (I later ask why McDonalds remains unfinished – I’m told simply that this is because ‘it’s full of horses’!)Screenshot 2014-10-14 16.02.17

As well as horses, I notice that there are herds of upside-down sheep. I ask ‘why?’ C tells me that he spawned them, using a trick he knows: ‘You have to tag then ‘Grumm’!’ he explains, smiling. He continues to explain that in the normal game (non Minecraft Edu) you can tag them as ‘Jebb’ and they will flash different colours, but he’s tried this and it doesn’t seem to work in this version.

Screenshot 2014-10-14 16.01.19

‘Delete them! Kill them!’ shouts M.

‘M! Kill all the horses!’ replies T.

(As a vegetarian and oversensitive cat lover I’m always slightly troubled by the treatment of animals in Minecraft, but I’m aware that I probably shouldn’t be – afterall, they are big pixelated representations and not the real thing – nevertheless the attitudes on display are interesting).

‘Why won’t it love me?’ asks M. She’s talking about her donkey!

‘Mine isn’t loving me!’ replies R.

‘Donkeys are harder to train’ explains E.

‘Everyone that is anyone has to wear purple magenta leather armour’ exclaims T, his smile suggesting that he is aware of the outlandishness of such a statement!

There’s a song brewing – it’s the William Tell Overture, being hummed by a few children to accompany their horse riding. I’m not sure who started it but it’s a recurring theme around the classroom for the rest of the session.

Screenshot 2014-10-14 16.08.41

The Block Inspector

The remainder of my notes are concerned with the issue of the ‘block inspector’. A block inspector is a Minecraft Edu exclusive block that is only usually available to the holder of the teacher admin account. I noticed it last week when watching back a screencast of C who was using my computer while I fixed his. Reviewing the silent screencast I observed him interrogating the inventory and selecting blocks that he was unfamiliar with, in order to test them out. One of these was the block inspector, which looks like a large magnifying glass. When held by the avatar and waved over a block it brings up the name of the block on screen – presumably to help teachers unfamiliar with the game.

Screenshot 2014-10-14 15.50.12

Unknown to me, C had placed the block inspector in a chest while he still had my laptop, meaning that the block inspector was still ‘out there’ in the game. R had, at some point, found this item and picked it up. At some point, this innocuous and fairly mundane block seemed to have taken on a desirability beyond its initial purpose. There’s a buzz of conversation around the boys’ table, with different children trying to barter with R over the item. When I finally work out what’s going on, in the spirit of playful participation, I decide to get involved by hiding another block inspector somewhere in the world and telling the group. B soon finds it and wastes no time telling the class that he will auction it off to the highest bidder.

I discuss with B why this has become such a prized item. He explains that it’s because it’s rare and therefore has value, whereas all of the other blocks in creative mode are in plentiful supply and aren’t as valuable. He uses this argument to attempt to reason with me about changing the game to survival mode in future. He’s very persuasive and I agree that we can all discuss this at the beginning of the next session. He then explains that he also likes making T jealous and that he can use it to make him to things for him in the real world. They both laugh at this.

R has now decided that he is going to give away his block inspector. He starts to hide it but as his screen is on public view he takes the laptop and sits out of sight behind a shelving unit at the back of the class. J joins him and they whisper about where to hide it. After a while they return to the table and announce that it has been hidden. They walk excitedly around the boys’ table, looking at the screens, giving advice on who is ‘hot’ and ‘cold’.

A and T start to sing a song – they tell me that it’s a song called ‘Everything is Awesome’ from the Lego Movie, but they have changed some of the words to be about their Minecraft play.

The last words I write are ‘Who put a pumpkin in my nether portal?’ – and we pack away.

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Notes on Fieldnotes

“Fieldnotes do not approximate to moments of ‘pure inscription’ where the world becomes text. Other discourses and texts have always already shaped the researcher’s modes of seeing and representational practices. Observation notes are no more ‘innocent’ that any other texts therefore: they are invested with power, desire, subjectivity and writing’s fraught relation to reality.’            
                                – JONES, Liz, et al. (2010).

 

notes

My aim with this post is to note some thoughts and reading, early in my fieldwork, about fieldnotes – their uses, benefits and limitations generally, and my developing understanding of them in my current ethnographic research. This is definitely not a ‘how to…?’ for others – more of a personal ‘how do I…?’, for me. I have chosen to employ fieldnotes as a means of contributing to the ‘thick description’ (Geertz, 1973) arising from my research, alongside the other methods of data collection.  In my methodology I anticipated that field notes written in ‘natural language’ (Brewer, 2000, p.20) would present the most appropriate way of communicating the continually adjusting behaviours (Gordon, Holland and Lahelma, 2010, p. 194) that will play out in and around the club. I want to ensure that I am making the most of this method, both in the recording and analysing stages.

I currently understand and use fieldnotes as a running description of events, people and conversations (Fielding, 1993, 162), considering them as ‘a loose collection of possibly usable materials’ (Emerson et al, 2010, p. 353). This reflects my intention in my methodology to use them to record ‘details of children’s conversations and comments, their actions and interactions with me and with each other, their movements in the classroom and their actions within the game’. However, I have already found that I am actuallt producing a mesh of ‘substantive fieldnotes’ and ‘analytic fieldnotes’, incorporating both what I observe and what I feel and think at the time – using breaks in the text as a means to ensure that I don’t confuse interpretation with literal data (Brewer, 2000, p. 88).

Fieldnotes are a result of observation – not the observation themselves. They are a means of turning a ‘passing event… into an account, which exists in its inscription and can be re-consulted’ (Geertz, 1973, p. 19).They assist in writing accounts of observations, but are not the only means of forming these accounts (I can also rely on my memory of observations, as well as data from other sources). Brewer (2010, p.87) advocated the re writing / typing up fieldnotes as soon as possible after the event as ‘memory fades quickly’ (p. 88), thus reinforcing the fact that fieldnotes are a means of constructing an account and not the end result. While they may be an ethnographer’s raw inscription – written ‘contemporaneously with the events, experiences and interactions they recount‘ (Emerson et al, 2010, p. 354) – they are not the final inscription of social discourse referred to by Geertz (1973, p. 19) ; they are not the final version of the account presented to the world. The audience for my raw fieldnotes is me. They may be, therefore, scribbled, coded, messy, badly spelled and disordered. (Mine certainly have been so far – see above). They are there to be elaborated on, after the event, when I am seated quietly at a computer. I may create a blog post around them. Where there are any concerns relating to confidentiality or ethics I will create a more private reflection.

Fieldnotes are ‘inevitably selective’ (Emerson et al, 2010, p. 353). As the observer I am filtering at the point of writing. Jones et al (2010) suggest that an the ‘spectre’ of a teacher’s previous experience ‘haunts… their perspectives’. In addition, I miss things. I cannot record everything that is going on, due to the ‘Impossibilities of capturing everything’ (Jones et al, 2010, p. 487). I am not always quick enough to capture conversations accurately. Some conversations are therefore recorded verbatim, other in précis. This seems to work, as long as I remember to note which is which. In addition to being selective at the point of taking the notes, there is also a process of filtering at the point of transcribing, rewriting / typing and / or interpreting. There is also the fact that ‘what is written and recorded in the heat of the moment in the field can later assume greater significance as it comes to stand for the field experience itself’ (Hine, 2000, p. 23) – is this inevitable? Perhaps my attempt at ‘notes to self’ and questions in the fieldnotes themselves are an attempt mediate this.

Another early concern is that I cannot fully participate if I am also making notes. Likewise, I cannot take notes if I fully participate. Taking fieldnotes while engaging in virtual participation is perhaps even more complicated than I imagined – how do I make notes if my hands are both taken up using an iPad or a keyboard? The ‘field’ itself here is a loosely defined combination of the embodied and the virtual. While I may, prior to the research itself, have located fieldnotes themselves at the core of the research process I am already beginning to re-evaluate their centrality – as Emerson et al. (2010) suggest, putting too much effort into writing fieldnotes can interfere with the fieldwork’ (p. 355)

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