There are several options that the students who participate in the pull-in program can choose: being on a Destination ImagiNation team, a science or arts based retreat, a computer game design group or to work on an independent project. Of all the pull-in sessions the one that intimidates me the most is the independent project. While I tell students in advance that for this option they should have a passion that they can truly get lost in for two days, Some students can do this without any problem. Last week there was a girl who sat in a corner on the floor working on short stories for two days. She loves writing stories. The characters are like friends to her. She loves the two days she has to write. Other students move back and forth between things, as they explore learning to program, research topics, create claymations, transpose music, design cookbooks…it’s an interesting dynamic. I want it to be exploratory and playful, but also productive. The challenge is how easy it is for a student to slip into game mode, unbeknownst to me, while working on the computer. The most favored game: Minecraft.
Over the past few years, I have noticed many of my students are very involved in Minecraft. They seem to like to way the game allows them to “play” in it while also offers the opportunity to be creative in building aspects of it as you go. I have spoken to other educators about the game and it’s educational value and the reviews have been mixed. Some have tried to use it as an educational tool, while others see it as a distracting time sink. Parents have also commented on it, most worried about the time their children spend on their computer. Several of my students in the computer game design group have argued that it teaches them computer programming, and while I do have one team working intensely on a “mod” for the game, most just want to play.
What I learned about Minecraft this week surprised me. I decided to just let two boys in my independent group who are consistently distracted by Minecraft go into the game to observe what they are doing. And this is what I found out. They have been working on their own Minecraft server for the past few months. They started hosting the server on one of their computers, but when it got too big, they found another host in Calgary, and may in short order need to move to a bigger host: their clientele is growing. Their clientele is paying real money to be in the game and purchase some of the add-ons that are available to enhance their game playing experience. Not only that, they are also managing an online staff of sixteen people. These sixteen people are helping them to improve their server. All sixteen have had to go through an application process in addition to a trial period while these two assess their abilities. Over time, depending on the skills of the staffer, they are granted more permissions to go in and add to the game. They have also been advertising their game on different lists, and purchasing ads to attract to players. The goal of these two boys: to network their server so that eventually when this one gets too big, they have other high quality servers their clientele can access, with new enhancements to purchase. Yesterday, they sold $70 worth of enhancements in just the time they were with me while responding to and dealing with problems that their clients and staff were putting forward. They’re in grade nine.
As teachers we are often told that we are preparing students for a world that does not yet exist. On Friday I had this overwhelming feeling that they are already excelling in a world that we don’t know exists. While there is a part of me that struggles with the exchange of money over “virtual” things, as I research more about the game, there are possibilities that look amazing…if only I loved computer games..