Using Virtual Models #5

I have been using discussion activities throughout this year’s research of Minecraft Club in order to gather reflections from the children about the club. As before, this is inspired by David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ work. A small group of children build virtual models using a shared map in the iPad version of Minecraft.


Yesterday I conducted two group interviews (#5 and #6) in school before the penultimate week of the club.

My intention was for discussion in each session to focus on three areas:

1. For the children to reflect on the nature of the club itself, with a focus on their motivation to continue attending weekly for a whole academic year.

2. For the children to discuss their perceptions of Banterbury, their ‘virtual community’. I asked them to describe what kind of place Banterbury is…

3. For the children to suggest some ‘episodes’, ‘events’ or ‘instances’ for me to look more closely at during my data analysis, based on what they felt had been ‘particularly interesting or important’. In order to prompt this part of the discussion I gave them two examples that I was already looking at – the horse funeral and the sheep song.

The following is a brief outline of the discussion session 5, centred around the models produced by the children, based on repeated re-watching of the screencast from the sessions.IMG_0470

Discussion Session #5

  • Model 1 created by Callum <Yoloface23jr> – A Place to Relax to convey the value of social gameplay


Callum’s model represented relaxation in the game, which he suggested is one reason to play the game. He then began to focus on the importance of social gameplay, particularly for him as a new member of the class at the beginning of the year, who joined the group from another school: ‘It’s a really great way for me to join in….I’ve got to know people so well through Minecraft Club. I don’t think I’d know anyone this well or be this best friends with anybody without Minecraft Club.’ Asked why a club around Minecraft was a good place for this social time he replied:

‘People talk more, there’s a bit more chance to talk and demonstrate their feelings in what they build… so I think I’ve got to know them quite well… and what they like and stuff’.

I asked if, for example, a chess club would have helped in the same way. He replied that he wouldn’t have gone, neither would anyone else!

  • Model 2 created by Alex <Castaway112> – Mushroom House to convey variety in the game

Alex directed me over to his mushroom house and, after a bit of time establishing how to enter, he gave me a guided tour. This model was intended ‘to explain all of the places you can go’ (in Banterbury) ‘the forest… sand… mushrooms’. Above one of the doors was a sign reading ‘this is not a door’. Confused by this I asked why, to be told that ‘it’s clearly not a door’. Things are not what they appear to be.

As he led me around the house I saw ‘the most dangerous fireplace in the world, a baby sitting room, a room with a sign that says ‘do not enter because of chickens’ (we enter – there are no chickens) and a farm with cows with mushrooms on their heads’. He suggested that this ‘reminded him of the craziness of the world’ in Minecraft Club.


  • Model 3 created by Joseph <Steve> – A Gallery to suggest ‘infinite possibilities’

Joseph created an art gallery as a chance to try out using things he had not used before. He said that this reflected that ‘there are lots of items that they don’t use in the club’ and therefore possibilities that they had not yet explored.

IMG_0469 IMG_0468 IMG_0465Additional points

Alex began by suggesting that I should look more closely at the events around the creation of Banterbury Library. This was interesting as this is already the focus of some of my data analysis. When asked why he suggested, ‘definitely when they were making the books… we were actually doing writing…. We actually tried to do something that is exciting’. Callum agreed and suggested that a focus on the library was important because ‘a lot of people think that Minecraft is just about building structures but you can build books and stories and stuff as well, which is quite good… It’s a feature that is in Minecraft all the time, and it’s part of real life… there’s books in real life…’

Joe discovered a glitch in the game where the doors were only half rendering. They then began to notice that it was possible to change skins in this new version – they left the game to change their skins: ‘Awesome! That is so cooool! Epicness!’

There was also some discussion over the legitimacy of the naming of the town Banterbury. Callum expressed frustration about the town being called ‘Banterbury’ – ‘WHY IS IT CALLED THAT?!’ He attributed its naming to one specific player’s particular interest in the word ‘banter’. Alex suggested a possible origin for the name Banterbury – a youtube video of another game ‘Terraria’ where a player names his world ‘Banterbury’ (I could not find this, however). There was a suggestion that there were some ‘power’ issues relating to the naming and the subsequent perceived ‘ownership’ of the town and control over certain activities was something that they found potentially frustrating and potentially led to the forming of groups within the club. They talked about how the girls (and some boys) like ‘all their stuff private and make a massive fuss when someone goes in’. I will pursue this more specifically elsewhere.

They also further emphasised the important of the social aspect of the gameplay in the club: ‘You can work together… sometimes we talk about other things, we talk about things while we are playing’. This ‘makes it more exciting’.


Video Games as Narrative Spaces

IMG_0846I will be running a workshop on Friday 27th March at Sheffield Hallam University for PGCE students, titled: ‘Video Games as Narrative Spaces’.

This workshop is built around three examples of video games being used in a KS2 classroom to enhance and supplement the literacy curriculum. Whilst demonstrating the potential for using video games in these contexts, each example will also be used as a springboard for discussion, encouraging you to reflect on your own teaching practice in relation to themes around technology, engagement and the nature of literacy itself.

Games discussed will be: Proteus, Thomas Was Alone and Minecraft

Storying in and around a Minecraft Community

unnamedI presented a webinar as part of the CAMELOT Project Webinars series on Friday 13th March. After a number of unexpected technical hitches at my end (my prezi had to be converted to a powerpoint, and then the university wifi wouldn’t let me access Adobe Connect from my Mac, so I ended up tethering through my phone – phew!) I enjoyed the unfamiliar experience of presenting online, which essentially amounted to talking to my computer in an empty room. There were some great questions and some really nice feedback, so the experience was overall very positive.

You can find the link to the archived recording on this page and my abstract is below.

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Storying in and around a Minecraft Community

Recent work around the use of Virtual Worlds in educational contexts has conceptualised literacies as communal processes, whilst considering complex notions of collaboration through participants’ multiplicity of presence. Screen-based virtual worlds can also be viewed as multimodal texts, constructed by multiple players. Shaped by these ideas, this presentation draws upon data collected during an extra-curricular Minecraft club for ten and eleven year old children, exploring the ways in which the players take up the narrative opportunities offered by the game, as they collaborate to build a ‘virtual community’.

With a focus on the literacy events and artefacts generated in and around a virtual space, this presentation describes how this established, self-directed group of children used this environment to compose and create improvised stories. It explores how the literacies constructed through their interactions were influenced by resources drawn from their wider experiences, shaped by their experiments with in-game multimodal creation. The children’s interactions enabled them to form their own individual and collective textual landscapes, through a set of emotionally charged manifestations of literacy, played out in the hybrid virtual/material world.

My original Prezi Presentation is here:


BAILEY, Fiona and MOAR, Magnus (2001). The Vertex Project: children creating and populating 3D virtual worlds. International journal of art and design education, 20 (1), 19-30.

BARTON, David and HAMILTON, Mary (1998). Local literacies: reading and writing in one community. [online]. Routledge.

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., .

CARRINGTON, Victoria (2005). New textual landscapes, information and early literacy. In: MARSH, Jackie (ed.). Popular Culture, New Media and Digital Literacy in Early Childhood. Oxon, RoutledgeFarmer, 13-27.

CAZDEN, Courtney, et al. (1996). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard educational review, 66 (1), 60-92.

CHARMAZ, K. and MITCHELL, R. (2001). Grounded theory and Ethnography. In: ATKINSON, P., et al. (eds.). Handbook of Ethnography. London, SAGE, 160-174.

COPE, Bill, KALANTZIS, Mary and New London Group (2000). Multiliteracies: literacy learning and the design of social futures. New York, Routledge.

DENZIN, Norman K. and LINCOLN, Yvonna S. (2011). The discipline and Practise of Qualitative Research. In: DENZIN, Norman K. and LINCOLN, Yvonna S. (eds.). The SAGE handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, Calif, Sage, 1-19.

DICKEY, MicheleD (2011). The pragmatics of virtual worlds for K-12 educators: investigating the affordances and constraints of Active Worlds and Second Life with K-12 in-service teachers. Educational technology research and development, 59 (1), 1-20.

GAUNTLETT, David (2007). Creative explorations: new approaches to identities and audiences. London, Routledge.

GEE, James Paul (2007). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second Edition: Revised and Updated Edition. Palgrave MacMillan.

GEERTZ, Clifford (1993). The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. London, Fontana.

HINE, Christine (2000). Virtual ethnography. [online]. Thousand Oaks, Calif; London, SAGE.

ITO, Mizuko (2009). Engineering play: A cultural history of children’s software. The MIT Press.

JENKINS, Henry (2004). Game design as narrative architecture. Computer, 44 , s3.

MARSH, Jackie (2011). Young Children’s Literacy Practices in a Virtual World: Establishing an Online Interaction Order. Reading research quarterly, 46 (2), 101-118.

MERCHANT, Guy (2009). Literacy in virtual worlds. Journal of research in reading, 32 (1), 38-56.

MILLER, Daniel (2010). Stuff. Polity.

O’MARA, Joanne (2012). Process drama and digital games as text and action in virtual worlds: developing new literacies in school. Research in drama education, 17 (4), 517-534.

STREET, Brian (2003). What’s “new” in New Literacy Studies? Critical approaches to literacy in theory and practice. Current issues in comparative education, 5 (2), 77-91.

WOHLWEND, Karen E., et al. (2011). Navigating discourses in place in the world of Webkinz. Journal of early childhood literacy, 11 (2), 141-163.

WOLCOTT, Harry F. (2008). Ethnography: a way of seeing. [online]. Lanham, Md; Plymouth, Altamira Press.

Minecraft Club: Paratexts and the Funeral of Thouga the Ocelot

I have made a decision not to try to summarise every week of Minecraft Club, mainly because I don’t have to! It is actually more fun (and less stressful) to take part in the club, or sit back and take in what’s going on from a distance. My more formal research will begin in September with a new group of children. Nevertheless, I will continue to post some thoughts on the club from time to time.

This term I have decided to have some impact on the children’s participation, after leaving them entirely to their own devices to create their community during the previous term. Over Christmas I purchased two copies of a book – ‘The Beginners Guide to Minecraft‘ – and intended to present these to the group this week to see what, if any, use they made of them. Unfortunately, in the hurry to pack my bags for the cycle into school, I completely forgot them.

However, as coincidence would have it, one child had brought in his own book – ‘The Minecraft Annual 2014′. He was quite eager to show me the book, which he them proceeded to use throughout the session, following step by step instructions to build a house – ‘Cosy Cottage’. In conversation with me, he likened this to the process of constructing a Lego model, which he also said he enjoyed. Later, he called me over to see his finished house, and seemed pleased with his creation:


Whilst this quiet, methodical construction project was taking place, elsewhere activities were more lively and less prescribed. Much of the action seemed to involve animals – horses, cats, sheep (sheep who seemed to be producing lambs, at one point), squid and ocelots. It was, in fact, the death of one ocelot in particular – Thouga – that provided a narrative thread for most of the group for a sustained period of time. I’m not sure how Thouga met an end (or, indeed, how an ocelot got the name Thouga) but my attention was drawn to events by a mass of hilarity and excitement stemming from an onscreen message, an open invitation:
Although I’m hazy about the actual procedures and arrangements involved, a virtual funeral was conducted, with the attendance of the majority of the group, and Thouga’s short life was celebrated with animated enjoyment.

Minecraft Mimesis

“Language has many words for the imaginative function: dream, simile, analogy, theory, fable, schema, game. All involve not just one-to-one correspondences, in the way indicated by the idea of copying and imitation, but whole imagined worlds.” – Keith Oatley (2011, p.16)


I have been thinking about the ‘storying’ that happens as the children are interacting with each other in Minecraft Club. During each session the children create their own stories in and around Bradborough – often verbally, occasionally textual, always enacted.

I’m currently reading Keith Oatley’s ‘Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction‘ which makes suggestions about what – and how – we learn from fiction. At the beginning he mentions the term ‘mimesis‘: ‘the relation of a piece of fiction to the world’, providing two families of meaning:

1. Mimesis as world reflection, where the fiction give a direct impression of the world as it is. Imitation, copying…

2. Mimesis as world creating / world simulating , where the fiction recognises ‘what goes on beneath the surface’.

Both of these definitions, but particularly the second, could apply to some of the children’s interactions and performances in Minecraft. Oatley also talks about play as ‘the gateway to fiction‘, making links between children’s imaginitive play and the creation of fiction. I need to go back and re-read some of his ideas, but I think there is scope here for examining some of the children’s storying activities with this in mind.


Oatley, K., 2011. Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, 1 edition. ed. Wiley.

Minecraft: The Social Capital of Virtual Secrets

Today’s Minecraft Club was the first for almost six weeks. Things have been hectic and real-life has repeatedly got in the way, in spite of regular requests from children. So, it has been a while…


As a result, children are eager to get going. They enter the classroom in fits-and-starts, depending on how quickly they were able to eat their lunch. The first children grab laptops and get going, only to find out that they had not been left on charge. (Cue the dreaded beeping battery alert…) Those who headed straight to the older desktop machines are able to work without such direct disruptions.

A couple of children begin the session with celebratory song as they boot up their computers – we are treated to the ‘Star Wars’ theme tune and ‘a song from Mario’ (I didn’t recognise this and had to ask – it certainly wasn’t the chart-topping ‘Gameboy’ Mario tune I remember from my youth).

I had not decided on any particular focus for my observations. I logged myself in and made my way around Bradborough – spawning in a house, under surveillance of a cow and a dog. Reading the reactions of some children, it soon becomes clear that something is happening. This turns out to be a continuation of the ‘secret’ building project outlined in this post, where two children are working away from the rest of the group.

Ever the tactless teacher, I loudly ask them about their project, unwittingly giving away their new location to some of the rest of the class who had been looking for them. Oops! It turns out that there is a growing interest among the group, relating to exactly what the pair have been planning, and where they are building it. They seem to have abandoned their previous building site (inside a sphere) for somewhere, in their words, ‘more out in the open’. Yet they are adamant that they will not voluntarily reveal their location to others, making it clear that they would not welcome any other helpers:

‘Too many people know already. They’ll wreck it’.

The secret project.

The secret project.

In spite of their protests, the pair seem to be enjoying the real-world attention and the fact that their clandestine activities are getting under the skin of others. One child in particular is becoming increasingly frustrated about his exclusion from this mysterious activity and decides, quietly at first, to exact virtual revenge. Soon, someone calls out, delighted:

‘The statue – it’s got a moustache!’ 

Individuals relocate themselves slightly, either in the real-world (to a different screen) or virtually (to another in-world location) to see that – yes – the Bradborough statue (previously built by one of the pair) is now sporting a fetching moustache and chest-wig. This gets a big laugh: home-grown humour is a currency in this class.


‘Revenge is best served hairy!’

It is the culprit – immodestly monikered mrfabulous – who responds, with dramatic timing:

‘Revenge… is best… served… hairy!’

Soon rebounding from the fact that his virtual response has not afforded him the knowledge he required – he is still none the wiser regarding pair’s whereabouts – mrfabulous then re-positions his protest to the real-world. Abandoning his computer, he moves across the room to the pair and begins to bargain with them, stepping up negotiations by withdrawing the offer of an invite to a forthcoming party. Interestingly, he does not take the chance to look at their screens to uncover their location – would this be cheating? It seems that the prize is not purely to know their location, but to be privileged with the imparted knowledge and welcomed into the group.

Concerned that mrfabulous’ exclusion may now become a distruptive threat to the peace of the group, I quitely intervene and ask the pair to let him in on their secret. They comply quickly, without question.

It is interesting to watch the location of these two children gaining social capital. This, more than any of the sessions so far, demonstrates how virtual events can have real-world consequences, and there’s perhaps a potential link to be exploited here relating to online and offline behaviours.


These children are now eleven years old, and I was also their teacher when they started school at the age of four. Observing them during this session I am reminded of the focussed, long observation notes I used to make when they were in the reception class, in order to record instances of learning. You can learn a lot about children by observing their actions, but there no requirement to do such things as they move further up the school and their learning becomes, necessarily, more formalised. There are some similarities here between the observations I made all those year ago, of children participating in parallel play in the sandpit and water trough. However, seven years on, many of these observations of the children using Minecraft focus on their interactions with each other, rather than their investigation of the objects that make up their environment. This virtual play seems inherently social, if not always sociable.

There is one point today – with the threat of impending fallout – that I find myself narrowly avoiding the words I’ve thus far forbidden myself from uttering:

‘It’s only a game…’

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