Comic Explorations Presentation

I had a great day yesterday at Sheffield University’s Literacies conference, which is always a brilliant event full of fascinating and generous people. Looking forward to the second day today. Here are (most of) the slides from my presentation…

Slide18

Slide13

Comic Explorations: Representing data and visualising complexity in multi-sited, multimodal research

Abstract:

In this presentation I relate a number of ways in which comic strips were used as methodological tools during an ethnographic study of a children’s after-school Minecraft club. This longitudinal research project sought to examine the ‘lived experience’ of a group of participants engaged in collaborative videogame play using this popular world-building game; this included a focus on how players’ identities were explored and expressed in a complex space that enabled multimodal and multi-sited interactions. As the children played and worked collaboratively to construct a ‘virtual community’, a range of visual and participatory methods were used to generate data; this included participants’ use of a GoPro action camera, discussion sessions where players talked whilst constructing virtual ‘identity models’, screencasts of gameplay on multiple screens and photographs of the action in the room. Faced with the dilemma of how to represent this complex data in a way that felt ‘true’ to the original context, comic strips were employed as a medium that enabled multimodal transcription; using a combination of data from the multiple on- and off-screen sources, theses constructed narratives allowed me to take account of the children’s actions as well as their spoken interactions.

Drawing on the rich data generated during this project, I show how these comic strip transcriptions were constructed and how they contributed to an emerging process of data analysis. In addition, building on recent work around the affordances of visual methodologies in literacies research, I explain how I also used illustrated comic strips as a means of developing thought and illuminating ideas. I will demonstrate how these different types of comic strip were included in the final account of the project, helping the reader to visualise the data, whilst also revealing the process of analysis that led to the project’s findings.  As well as considering how this methodological approach helped to explore and represent the identities of participants, I also show how this process of experimentation with emergent visual research methodologies helped to expand my own thinking, therefore reflecting on how this approach impacted on my own identity as a researcher.

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Using Virtual Models #4

Another lunchtime discussion session where four children built models using the iPad version, contributing to the ongoing map of models. This time I used some printed screenshots and photographs from the club as a form of photo elicitation to prompt discussion. I’m struck by how visually diverse the children’s creations continue to be – seen here are some new creations such as the massive spiral, the illuminated ‘FUN’ sign and a giant waterfall bridge. Again, I’ll keep this post text-light, based simply on some screenshots taken during the session.

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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.

Photo 24-02-2015 16 05 19

  • 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.

Photo 24-02-2015 15 46 17

  • 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!’

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 16.29.07

  • 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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 16.30.32

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

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 16.21.59

  • 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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 16.24.36

  • 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’.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 16.12.15

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

Photo 24-02-2015 16 05 15

  • 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.

Using Virtual Models #3

In this post I will reflect on last week’s discussion activity – as before, loosely based on David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ work.

openinig

Other events in school this week meant there was no time for full after-school club session. However, I took the opportunity to conduct another lunchtime discussion session with four of the participants. As before, discussion centred around the children’s creation of virtual models in a shared world – the same shared world that has been used for the previous two discussion sessions.

After updating all iPads to the same version of Minecraft (I had updated my version, forgetting the consequences of incompatibility with the school devices) the four children entered the world, hosted on my iPad. I recorded their dialogue as part of the screencast of my screen. I was present in the world, with the children. Two of the children had not participated in one of these discussion activities before so I briefly explained the presence of the existing models as ‘representations of people’s ideas’. I was later interested to note that the word ‘representation’ had obviously stuck with the two new children as this directed the nature of the virtual models they produced. While I was talking I noticed one of the players finishing off someone else’s ‘player’ model from the previous session by adding a head.

finishing player

This week I was interested in exploring the children’s use of space in the game, with a particular focus on the origin and development of the things they create in the game. The task set for the children, therefore, was to simply ‘build something that you think looks good‘. I then used their resulting activity as a basis for discussion with the children about why they had chosen to build the particular model, attempting to unpick their decision making process in relation to virtual creation. This revealed a range of different approaches to the task that demonstrated the children using the game’s resources in quite different ways, taking different routes from their own individual starting points.

None of the children seemed to take any time to think through their model – they all began building immediately.

The models:

  • Flags for England and Finland

flags

This was created to represent the players of the game in the club. The Finland flag represented this players’ imminent holiday destination. His choice to create something that ‘represented’ something presumably stemmed from my earlier use of the word in relation to previous models. He said he had build flags before ‘a couple of times’ so his idea was also based on his previous experience.

Joe: ‘Well, it’s something that represents us all…It’s not random flags… It sort of looks interesting, because it’s big….’

  • A large sign

Lf

Rob: ‘I’m building me…. No I’m not, I’m building… a building… I’m building myself… no I’m not… Because I think I’m good… No, actually, I’m going to build a sign that says my name!’

Me: ‘Can you think how you got this idea?

Rob: ‘I saw the big person and had an idea ‘why don’t I build a person’, but it didn’t look right so I turned it into a sign.’

Later I noted that his sign had some blocks missing in the top left hand corner and asked if this was intentional. Rob said it’s wasn’t and returned to complete the project – I suspect he may have been occupied with his own alternative project (see the end of this post).

  • A Podium

lighthouse

This player explained that his podium started out as a lighthouse but adapted when it didn’t look right. The idea for the lighthouse stemmed from the fact that Minecraft allows the player to use light in a number of ways and he wanted to explore the use of this resource:

Callum: ‘It was originally going to be a lighthouse, but after the first three sections I thought ‘this looks too square, it’s not going to work out so I’m going to change it into a podium’

Me: ‘So it’s a podium? Can you think what made you think ‘lighthouse’ in the first place?’

Callum: ‘Well, I like minecraft because as well as playing with blocks you can play with light? And I kind of like the whole ‘playing with light’ aspect, so I wanted to do something with that.’

Conversation then turned to using TNT and whether this was allowed in this alternative world – at this point I was not aware that this linked to Rob’s alternative project.

  • A 3D Chicken  

The chicken earned significant praise from the other children.

chicken

Me: ‘What made you choose a chicken?’

Lisa: ‘Well, I like chickens…’

Me: ‘Real ones or Minecraft ones?’

Lisa: ‘Both. They’re cute. because they have a purpose in the world. To lay eggs’

Me: ‘Who are the eggs for?’

Lisa: ‘For the chicken. I suppose in Minecraft they’re for us….’

Me: ‘Does it look like you wanted it to look?’

Lisa: ‘I didn’t know, like, have an idea of what I wanted it to look like.’

Me: ‘Can you remember which bit of the chilcken you did first?’

Lisa: ‘I started with the feet first, then made a boat shape and then changed it to make it more round’

This model made me think about Lisa’s relationship with animals in the game. Her play often revolves around animals, and a previous model she build also involved animals. I recalled a conversation in a previous session where I heard her discussing an incident in the game where she had killed a pig for food.

Freya: [incredulously] ‘YOU killed a pig? How did you manage that?’

Lisa: ‘Well, I looked the other way!’

——————

As usual, other topics were discussed too.

  • The children discussed their preference for this type of discussion activity in comparison with their perceptions of what a more formal interview would entail:

Lisa: ‘It’s better than an interview’

Callum: ‘Yeah, I hate interviews. A proper interview, when they’re asking loads of questions about you, they just feel like when they ask all these questions of you they feel like the person doing the interview is intruding on your life, in a way because they’re asking questions about you, personal stuff in the interview, and they feel like they’re trying to intrude….it feel’s like an interrogation or something.’

  • There was some talk about the differences between engagement with different game modes:

Callum: ‘with survival you’ve got to concentrate a lot, you’ve got to stay on task, whereas with creative you can just chill out. If I’m on survival at home I can’t stop because I’m just terrified that I’m going to get blown up!’

  • Callum discussed a building project that he had undertaken at home:

Callum: ‘I had this idea for a community… I just thought… I was watching this TV programme, and there was this big, like, community with allsorts of things from the future and things from the past and from the present….  .so you have Aztec temples and rocket stations and stuff….. It was just a show, a real life thing, but with loads of… like a live action thing – and I thought ‘hey that’s a really good idea, I wonder how I could make something similar’. First I thought about a sketch or something but then I thought ‘hey!’ and then I did it on Minecraft.’

‘What I really love with Minecraft is you can just build anything you want, I mean, before Minecraft it was just dreams people had, and it was just really frustrating because you couldn’t make it in real life… For me, it’s, like, the next best thing to real life. The second most realistic thing, even though it’s make of blocks!’

Finally, as we reached the end of the session, Rob drew our attention to a hole in the ground, demonstrating why he had not perhaps had his full attention on finishing his sign:

hole

Inside revealed a basement had been dug and filled with Endermen and zombies, recalling the subversion of gameplay often seen during the early stages of the club.

zombies

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.

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.

Using Virtual Models #2

I have written previously about my use of  David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ approach in order to discuss the club with the children, adapted to take place in Minecraft. This post relates to the second discussion session that took place before Christmas, the week after session #7 of the club.

overview

Four girls took part in the session, each accessing the shared Minecraft world on the iPads. I also entered the world, recording my screen using quicktime on my laptop, mirrored from the iPad. The children could also see my perspective on the laptop screen. I decided to continue using the same map used by the boys in the previous session in order to allow the players to see the models created by others. The idea of having an ongoing second world running in parallel with the whole-group world of the club was also appealing, not least as it would allow me to maintain some sort of historical record of the children’s models.

Again, I asked the children to create a model to convey their feelings about Minecraft and the club. Mindful of the seemingly default position taken by the last group of children who ended up producing very Minecraft-y buildings, I attempted (in retrospect, at annoyingly unnecessary length) to encourage the children to think of their creations as sculptures, drawing on their knowledge of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park as a point of reference.

The models

1. Molly’s model – relating to collaboration, togetherness and imagination

Model 1

Me: Are you going to show me around then?

Molly: Yeah. I’ll show you around. Ok, so basically…

Sophie: Nice one Molly, so is that your little castle? I can see it on Mr Bailey’s screen.

Molly: Ok, right, so basically, the signs are the eyes. The glass is the nose. The bricks are the eyebrows. Ummm.. the white stuff is the teeth… um…

Mia: Big grin…

Molly: Thank you.

Freya: Let’s have a look. Hahaha!

Molly: And, um, the torches are spyhole and I’m just gonna do brown things for hair.

Me: Great. And you’ve written on it.

Molly: Ummm… ‘I love Minecraft because it makes me feel happy’

Girls: ahhh!

Me: Can you explain… can you think about why?

Molly: Yeah umm…

Mia: It brings people together.

Molly: Cos it brings people together, its really fun to play and you’re doing it with your friends, So it’s basically your world, so you can, basically use your imagination, you can do everything you want.

Mia: [singing] ‘You control it / You the owner’

Me: So are you talking about Minecraft or Minecraft Club?

Molly: Minecraft and Club.

2. Mia’s model – relating to the social experience of playing with a group

model 2

Me: And can you explain why you’re creating a person?

Mia: To represent that people that are playing Minecraft.

Me: And that’s what you like about it? [sounding sarcastic by accident]

Mia: [Laughs]

Me: That wasn’t meant to sound bad, that was me trying to understand what you like about it!

Mia: I like how there’s people playing Minecraft and how everyone… and how other people are like brought together by Minecraft so that’s why I’m drawing a person / people to represent the people playing the game. [later]

…. All the people are extra important because if you didn’t have the people it wouldn’t be fun.

3. Lisa’s model – relating to exploration and the absence of restrictions

model 3

Me: Lisa, I’m watching your creation that you built. Would you like to talk to us about it?

Lisa: Yeah. Well, the animals represent people and it’s like having to explore? Like, together?

Me: So you’ve put a group of animals together and they represent people.

Lisa and Mia: [singing] ‘Together, forever, Skyfall’

Me: And it’s the exploring you like?

Lisa: Yeah!

Me: Can you say a little more about that?

Lisa: Well, you can, like, go wherever you want to and do whatever you want. There’s no restrictions.

Mia: [singing] no restrictions!

All: Hahaha!

Molly: The sky is the limit!

Lisa: That’s what [teacher] said earlier.

Molly: Literally the sky is the limit because you can’t get to the sun. I was trying to get to the sun in Minecraft, you go up there for hours and you’re looking down and moving but you can never get to the sun.

4. Freya’s model – relating to inclusiveness

model4

Freya: Basically I’m making a house to show… right.. .that like everyone is welcome in, cos people come into the house and it’ll show that everyone is welcome in minecraft, noone ever gets left.

Me: So you like it cos everyone’s welcome? What makes everyone welcome?

Freya: The people in it.  And everyone, like, is welcome cos everyone makes sure that everyone is ok.

Some initial observations and questions

  • Three of the children logged in to this session using their own names rather than their avatar names (the forth used the default name that had been input by a previous player). This was different to the usual club practise where they used their user names. Did this indicate a different approach to these sessions?
  • I wonder to what extent the children’s answers were still unconsciously framed by the traditional expectations of schooled behaviour – talk about everyone being included and everyone working together seemed to reflect more of an idealised version of events that the events I see during the club.
  • Text appeared on screen at various points during the session. Why did some things get spoken and others typed?
  • The responses emphasised the social aspect of the club as much as they did the children’s enjoyment of Minecraft.
  • Discussion around the models also extended to other areas, which provided a valuable opportunity to talk more widely (and also, at times, more specifically) about the club. The idea of gameplay as a social practice was raised on a number of occasions by the children, as they detailed their play at home where they often the game whilst talking with  friends over Skype.
  • At one point I referred to Mia’s statue as a male (Me: ‘Oh, your man’s taking shape really well’) At the time I missed it but when transcribing I noticed that she corrects me (Mia: ‘It’s a woman, if you don’t mind’).
  • There was often more than one focus, even in such a small group. For instance, while I was discussing Freya’s model, Molly was trying to catch our attention by ‘cannonballing’ (divebombing) from a great height elsewhere in the game.
  • Oh, and as I have come to expect, there was more singing!