Bullet Points (Minecraft Club #13 24.02.15)

I have been reading my fieldnotes and reviewing some of the video from this week’s session. As usual, there is so much going on that it is hard to know where to begin. For some reason, it seems to become even more difficult over time. This week, I am simply going to list some things I noticed, to return to at a later stage.

  • Nick Clegg is scheduled to visit the school later in the week. Before the club the children discuss possible questions they could ask him. There is a suggestion that they could ask for more money to buy updated laptops.

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  • Desks are positioned differently – preparing for SATS, using a more ‘formal’ seating arrangement. Children don’t move these but squeeze three children and laptops around spaces made for two.

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  • Children talk about how they have Skyped each other at home ‘in the middle of the night’, and a mischievous telephone based game called ‘Find Neil’ involving phoning random numbers and asking for Neil.
  • Discussion about how Dads dance compared to Mums, with demonstrations. This leads to a discussion about the differences in boys’ and girls’ behaviour. The conclusion reached by two children was that girls are more concerned about being embarrassed than boys.
  • The term ‘house hacking’ is used by Joe to indicate that someone is trying to enter his house through the cellar. ‘Stop hacking my house!’

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  • There seems to be a move from creating domestic space to establishing more shared areas – there is a restaurant, an ice cream stand and a trading area.

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  • The farm continues, with the boys negotiating with the girls to join in with what they have started.

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  • More disagreements about territory and trespass. Ben: ‘She was invading our space’. At one point, Ben takes Mia’s laptop to move her out of his space, much to her amusement.

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  • My role in the game is suggested by one child as being ‘our God’ due to my ability to give resources to the children. Children make cases for why they should be given a particular resource. This is then given to each of the participants, whether they requested it or not. This then leads to negotiation between players. I approve requests for Netherrack (‘to light our rooms’) and seeds (‘to grow at the farm’), but not for flint as this is proposed as being necessary ‘to pretend to shoot people’.

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  • Some children found their way into the nether, where they gathered resources that they couldn’t get anywhere else in the game.

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  • Girls singing ‘The Pirate Song’: ‘When I was young, I had some fun, the day I went to sea’. Boys don’t join in.
  • Tom takes the GoPro and films himself playing for a while, talking to the camera and providing a dramatic, exaggerated commentary on his gameplay: ‘Last time I checked I’m not sure I was having fun, but still…. to be truthful, I think I’m having a bit of what an emotional breakdown feels like (He smiles to himself)… This is annoying. (Staring straight into the lens) This is probably going to make me go through all the flipping stages of grief…’

afk

  • He also reflects on the comments of others. To Molly: Why do you get every precious rock?(mocking voice) ‘It’s decorative, It’s decorative, It’s decorative ‘ (Mock annoyed) Molly! They are not decorative, they are precious rocks, used in many ways! aaarrrggghhh!’
  • Tom has a large ball of bluetac, that also makes its own GoPro appearance at the end of his video.

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.

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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’

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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.

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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.