‘This is not a door’: thoughts on directions in representation

Collecting a few quick thoughts, ideas and references, starting with a ‘sign’ above a ‘door’…

this is not a door 3

During a Minecraft ‘virtual models’ discussion session, I noticed that a player had placed a sign above a door. It read ‘this is not a door‘. Asking why he had placed this particular sign here the player, <Castaway112>, simply insisted, ‘because it’s not a door’. Another player, <yoloface23jr>, repeated this assertion and, after my own comment that ‘so, everything is not always as it seems in Minecraft…’, we moved on elsewhere in the game and in our discussion. I wish I had pursued the issue further, but I didn’t.

Here, months later, returning to this screenshot of door (the ‘not-a-door’ door) provides me a ‘way in’ to thinking about representation. Recalling this sign now I am reminded of this image by Rene Magritte called ‘The Treachery of Images’.


Of course (of course?) it’s not a pipe – it’s a picture of a pipe; a representation. Similarly, <Castaway112>’s door ‘n’est pas une porte‘; a number of other possible (imagined) responses could be…

“It’s not a door, it’s a picture of a door.”

“It’s not a door, it’s a Minecraft door.”

“It’s not a door, it’s pixels on a screen.”

“It’s not a door, it’s a sign.”

“It’s not a door, it’s some writing about a ‘not-a-door.”

Each of these possible answers return to the idea of representation, albeit from different directions (I’m resisting saying ‘layers’ as layers don’t feel very rhizomic). Throughout this project I have considered issues of representation;  how I am representing the lived experience of others, how different  ways of collecting and representing data have implications and, specifically, how comic strip transcription can represent a scene differently to a textual transcript.

horse funeral comicDeleuze and Guattari’s (1980) rhizome as an ‘image of thought’ has underpinned my thinking, itself a representation of a way of thinking about stuff (and one which includes itself). This has led me to, increasingly, exploring and representing my own thinking visually. For instance, in the following panel from a longer comic strip I use text and images to explain the idea of approaching the club’s soundscape as a rhizome, as an alternative to pursuing a more linear, chronological reading (or ‘listening’). Nick Sousanis’ ‘Unflattening’ (2015), which challenges ‘the primacy of words over images’, helped me to consider using images to explore metaphors of thought.

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Also in relation to the the soundscape of the club and considering the challenges of representing (and, in particular, visualising) sound, I have producing a number of visual representations (or non-cartographic, composite maps) of the club’s sound, drawing on John Cage’s (1969) anthology of unconventional music manuscripts.

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Here I was also recently inspired by Jon Dean’s recent presentation which included his representation of a particular soundscape, performed simultaneously verbally and through composite sound. I must also credit Diane A Rodger’s recent talk on underground comic strips as part of #focussheffield – in particular her drawing of ‘Rivelin Valley’ in Sheffield helped me to consider how a drawn composite image of a place can effectively represent a location in a particular way.

So, what is this door that’s not a door? It’s likely that I will never fully know what it represented for the player. But for me? I suggested at the beginning of this post that it was a way in: an introduction. But equally it could provide a way out: a conclusion. Whatever it is, for me, at this point, it definitely represents the challenge of representation.

This is not a door


Cage, J.  (1969) ‘Notations’ Something Else Press, New York.

Dean, J. (2015) “Submitting Love?” A Sensory Sociology of Southbourne. Qualitative Inquiry. 1-7.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1980) A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia

Magritte, . R (1929) ‘The Treachery of Images’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images

Rogers, D. A,  Blog here: https://missytassles.wordpress.com/

Sousanis, N. (1995) ‘Unflattening’. Harvard University Press, London.

Multidisciplinary Research Cafe Presentation

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…
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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:


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.


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.

#LRA14 Conference

I was really fortunately to be able to attend the Literacy Research Association Conference in Florida earlier this month. I presented my work on children’s singing around Minecraft. Here is my presentation, and the audio files that go with it (I have removed the video to preserve anonymity of participants):

Minecraft Songs Medley:

‘The Sheep Song’:


It was a great pleasure to present alongside Christian Ehret and Ty Hollett on the first day, as part of a symposium. I presented again with colleagues from Hallam later in the week, this time with a focus on collaboration around Minecraft with Cathy Burnett, in a symposium with Roberta Taylor and Karen Daniels.

I attended a large number of presentations and made copious notes, which I won’t try and condense into a single blog entry – suffice to say I have plenty to think about.

Oh, and the beach was good too.



Avatars, Griefing and Screencasting (Minecraft Club #5 18.11.14)

Three observations from this week’s club:

1. Avatar names / More singing / Transcribing

I asked a number of children to talk about the user names that they have assigned to their avatars. Many of them used the same avatar name each week, others change the name regularly – even during the course of a session. For instance, <TimJim> was a new name this week, apparently reflecting a discussion around a song of the same name that some of the children had invented during a sleepover. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song received a number of airings during the club:

‘Tim… / Jim… / I’m all… / alone… / Tim Jim / Tim Jim / Tim Jim / etc’. 

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.18.46

<CBTekkersOP> was a name I had noticed every week. The player behind the avatar explained that the name reflects three things about him:

1. CB means centre back, the position he plays in football.

2. Tekkers means skills – which he has chosen ironically as – in his own words – he doesn’t have any skills. (Talk then turned to the origin of the work ‘tekkers’, which apparently comes from ‘Bob the Builder’ which – you guessed it – let to more singing: ‘Bob the Builder /  He has tekkers…’ etc)

3. O.P. was short for overpowered.

Foshee and Nelson (2014) suggest that avatar personalisation can create a connection between a player and a virtual environment by increasing the personal relevance and appeal, whilst also contributing to their sense of relatedness (p. 12). This may be worth considering in light of the children’s different appropriations of usernames for different purposes and from different origins.

Transcribing this name in particular led to me to tweet:


This transcription process is challenging for a couple of main reasons – firstly, due to the sometimes impenetrable nature of the discussion in terms of the content – without insider knowledge the sentence above is akin to an unknown language. Even where the word itself is clear, there is also a danger in misrepresentation if assuming the intent behind it (eg. the above example of ‘tekkers’ being chosen to indicate a modest lack, rather than a confident presence, of skills)

Secondly, the number of voices present in the classroom at the same time and the ever changing network of discussions means it’s difficult to work out who is speaking to who, and frequently the other participant’s voice – often over the other side of the room – can be lost in the general noise.

2. Griefing / Changing the game mode

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.32.36

A group of three boys seemed intent on causing mischief in the game, in spite of the reiterated objective to create a community space. (See also Burnett and Bailey, 2014, p. 56). This took the form of a bottomless pit – named ‘ the eternal hole’ – dug beneath the spawn point, hidden inside what otherwise appeared to be a normal house. Griefing extended to the embodied space too – when children left their desks there were attempts by others to sneak up to their unguarded laptops and direct their avatars in to this hole. There were also some familiar types of large scale, potentially anti-social, in-game behaviours, where individuals dominated parts of the game space through the mass spawning of animals. There is a perception that this then led to glitches in the game, where the world slows down for all players. This is worth considering in relation to Barltle’s (2003) four types of player, where ‘Controllers’ seek to establish control over others. Additionally, there may be similarities to the player types or ‘orientations’ seen in Jackson, Gauntlett and Steemer’s (2009).

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.34.59

Some victims of this griefing found the behaviour funny. Others appeared to be less amused by these actions. When, towards the end of the game, it was discovered that someone had destroyed part of the water slides created during the previous week, the reactions of some children were akin to those that may have come about if their physical property had been damaged. One child suggested that ‘community service’ might be a suitable punishment, where the perpetrator is ordered to create things for the good of the community. There was speculation that this griefing happened because of the game being played in creative mode – the unlimited resources meaning that none were valued. Again, there were calls to change the club to survival mode, starting with a new map. I think this is actually worth pursuing.

3. Screencasting / Playthrough 

The use of screencasting software is popular with the children as a research method – the children requested to have their screens recorded and were disappointed that I had not set this up on all of the laptops. However, different children interacted and acknowledged the presence of this tool in different ways. I recorded the play of three children this week – for fifteen minutes each – and have transcribed two of the videos in full. One player makes constant reference to the video being recording, suggesting that he will take the imagined audience on a tour, using an ‘announcer’ voice to introduce himself, partly using it as a means of producing his own ‘playthrough’ video (Menotti, 2012, p. 81). The second player, however, makes no reference to the software at all. So, while this is a useful tool for charting children’s actions during the game, therefore, the different adaptations of the tool made by the players themselves should not be written out of the final account.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 15.17.26


Bartle, Richard, 2003, Designing Virtual Worlds, New Riders, Indianapolis.

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

Foshee and Nelson (2014), ‘Avatar Personalisation: Towards the Enhancement of Competence Beliefs’, International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, (6)2 p. 1-12

JACKSON, Lizzie, GAUNTLETT, David and STEEMERS, Jeanette (2009). Children in virtual worlds: Adventure rock users and producers study.

MENOTTI, GABRIEL (2012). Videorec as gameplay. Video game subcultures, , 81.

2012 Music

As it’s the thing to do at this time of year, here’s a list of my favourite music from 2012.


The undisputed winner:

‘Kill for Love’ – Chromatics

The score for an imaginary film from the people who compiled the soundtrack for the actual film, Drive, last year. Amazingly atmospheric, capable of evoking feelings of all shades, this album has accompanied me on many many runs this year and has become my default listen in most situations that allow for the use of headphones.

And the runners up, in no particular order:

‘Piramida’ – Efterklang
‘Blondes’ – The Blondes
‘Channel Orange’ – Frank Ocean
‘The Defenestration of St. Martin’ – Martin Rossiter
‘Unpatterns’ – Simian Mobile Disco
‘I Know What Love Isn’t’ – Jens Lekman
‘Confess’ – Twin Shadow
‘WIXIW’ – Liars
‘Coexist’ – The xx
‘No one Can Ever Know’ – The Twilight Sad
‘(III)’ – Crystal Castles

And finally, a special mention should go to ‘The Age of Adz’ by Sufjan Stevens that I somehow missed when it was released in 2010 but spent a LOT of time listening to during 2012.

So, before my Christmas Spotify subscription runs out, here’s a playlist with a track from each album:

Songs of 2012 on Spotify