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.
I was invited to present my work at Sheffield Hallam’s Multidisciplinary Research Cafe this week. Here is the presentation:
In case the embedded video and audio aren’t working properly, you can find the video of the virtual horse funeral here:
And the Audio of the sheep song is here:
My (rough) notes from my presentation are below the cut…
In this post I will reflect on last week’s discussion activity – as before, loosely based on David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ work.
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.
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.
- Flags for England and Finland
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
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
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.
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:
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.
This week’s club presented a welcome but unexpected new data source: the server log. From the outset, I have intended to include text from the children’s in-game chat as part of my data. So far, I have collected this by using screenshots when I notice text appearing on screen – inevitably this approach has missed a significant amount of talk.
Whilst clicking between screens during this week’s club, however, my attention was drawn to the ‘Log and chat’ window of the server software that runs on my Mac. I soon realised that, alongside the system messages, the children’s chat was also appearing. Trying to copy and paste this, however, didn’t work so I conducted a quick internet search for a solution, to no avail.
Tweeting my request to @MinecraftEdu – via the iPad I was otherwise using for fieldnotes – was much more successful:
Unexpectedly, the link in their second tweet gave me access to the full server and chat log, not only for this week’s club but for the entire history of my fieldwork so far (and, indeed, every time I have ever used MinecraftEDU with classes since 2012).
This lengthy document, something of a hybrid text produced by the game and the children, gives me a number of additional possibilities. I can filter out the chat logs for any given week so far, for instance. This will enable me to examine the sort of language being used by the children in the game. I will also be able to see which children engage with the chat log and which children choose not to.
Potentially, there are additional insights to be gained too, beside their use of text. For instance, the following three lines from this week’s log:
2015-02-03 15:38:44 [INFO] Disconnecting YoloFace234 (/10.96.72.64:49227): EduWrongTeacherPassword
2015-02-03 15:39:22 [INFO] Disconnecting grizzlybear100 (/10.96.72.75:49274): EduWrongTeacherPassword
2015-02-03 15:40:21 [INFO] Disconnecting BBQBOY (/10.96.72.61:62823): EduWrongTeacherPassword
These three usernames relate to three boys who were working together. Their first attempts to log in all seem to involve them making failed attempts to log in as a teacher, which would have given them additional admin powers. Whilst these pieces of information alone don’t mean that they did this purposefully – although all three boys doing so in sequence would be quite a coincidence – it does remind me of an earlier instance of one of these boys taking advantage of access to my computer in order to gain access to additional blocks that would be unavailable on his account. Possibly something to keep an eye on in relation to different manifestations of gameplay.
As for the text this week, a brief look reveals that there are a number of instances of chat speak:
<bantersata> YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO YOLO
(wuut = what you up to? YOLO = you only live once)
Allegations of flirting:
<CBtekkersOP> bit of flirting oooohhhhhhh
An example of persuasion:
<Famalamlad> galz can me come in plz (puppy dog eyes!)
A textual recreation of a line from ‘The GoPro song’:
<bantersata> im on a gopro
And what looks like a ‘type as much nonsense as you can’ competition:
Of course, all of this needs to be taken in context – for example, I know from my notes that <Tom> above was actually another child mischievously logging in using using his name. This, in fact, is also played out in the chat log, as <bantersata> (a misspelling of <banterSANTA>) suggests:
<bantersata> TOM ISNT FOOLING ANYONE
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.
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.
Signs also appeared outside rooms, indicating ownership:
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
LAW, John (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. London, Routledge.