Monday, August 24, 2015

Standing for Principles or Shooting Myself in the Foot

This is a challenging post for me to write. Let me begin it with a tweet.

Now let me rewind further back to fill in the blanks that led me to this position.

Back in 2014, Microsoft bought Mojang and Minecraft. As usual, my colleague and GBL guru Liam O'Donnell was ahead of the pack. He wrote this post lamenting the action. At first, I didn't understand the concern. Like a blow that doesn't develop into a bruise after time has passed, it began to impact me.

I am very cautious about corporate involvement in education. It's why I prefer the ECOO conference over the Connect conference in Niagara Falls. When I was younger, I didn't see the difference between a conference organized by a volunteer, non-profit group with business sponsors and a conference run by businesses. Talking with people like Liam and Tim King and Peter Skillen helped me realize the difference. The true purpose becomes a bit muddy when large companies join the party - it's to help student learning but it also involves selling a product.

Many groups have shown interest in the work that GamingEdus has done since 2011. Although I was initially flattered that this included organizations connected with Microsoft, I was reluctant to agree to assist in any way. It didn't feel "right". It felt like I was selling out. I don't want to be a shill or a drone, preaching the Minecraft gospel under a Microsoft banner. I didn't want the "company-approved Minecraft expert" badge. The more Microsoft became involved in Minecraft matters, the less I wanted to continue to offer workshops on the topic, or promote our server. The members of GamingEdus have provided free professional learning for years on our Professional Play server, but it was big news when Microsoft announced their big version. At ECOO, our Minecraft LAN party was an evening adventure of anarchy. No longer.

One of my colleagues was surprised at my negative attitude. "This is your chance to share with a bigger audience. You can share your message as you travel spreading theirs." (This is a paraphrase of our conversation.) The sad thing is, I couldn't and wouldn't be able to stay true to our message if I were to be Microsoft-sponsored speaker. You can't obey two masters. GBL isn't just about Minecraft. It's about student choice and voice, and acknowledging game culture and school culture. It's about pursuing your passion, be it making maps or executing explosions. It's about play, and discovering in ways you want instead of a forced tutorial. It's community. The Microsoft-Minecraft machine doesn't appear to be like this for me.

I don't want to exaggerate, but I've been experiencing a version of the stages of grief once I realized that Minecraft as I knew it has changed.
1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance
At first, I doubted that the corporate acquisition would affect me. Nothing would change. But it did. Every time I see a tweet promoting the Minecraft extension to Windows 10 or Minecraft toys sitting the local mall's Microsoft kiosk, I was forced to realize that it was different. Then, I was ticked off. I was offended when I heard that Microsoft wanted to send "experts" to come and talk to my school board about how to use Minecraft in the classroom. (Kudos to certain board personnel that realized that we had in-house expertise as well as external sources.) I was furious that people who knew and loved the game less than I did were now the idols that others admired. My bargaining stage was brief: Could I possibly still offer a workshop or two as long as it was local? What if talking about Minecraft can get me to Saskatchewan, the last province I need to visit? Our TLLP could remain at arms-length from the new developments, right? I'm firmly in the fourth stage right now - I've spent five years touting a game and a philosophy I believe in, exploring more via my GBL PLN, and it's the end of an era.

I'm not going to burn all my kids' Minecraft shirts, or forbid it from being played in the house. On the contrary, my son's 13th birthday party will probably be Minecraft-related, so that his friends in the U.S. that he plays with on the GamingEdus server can attend with his other pals. I'll still write for the GamingEdus website. If Ontario teachers are not in a work-to-rule position in the fall, I'll continue to run a Minecraft Club for my students, and offer Minecraft as one of many tools for students to use to support their understanding and learning. Heck, when I have free time, I'll jump on the GamingEdus server and do some leisurely virtual fishing. I just cannot promote the game as I once did to other educators. Just before I finished writing this final paragraph, I searched for the hashtag #minecraft on Twitter, and the results were dominated by Edutopia articles and teacher workshops. This authentic game has been co-opted and I can't leech the fun or the cash out of it like others hope to do.


  1. Luv ya. :-)

    I have seen this happen over and over throughout the last 35 years. Great stuff gets co-opted, goes mainstream, becomes homogenized, and loses its heart and soul in the bargain.

    I hope this does not happen with the 'making' movement—which realistically, in the digital era, started with Seymour Papert (& his colleagues) and Logo and the early Lego Logo.

    Good post. Brave post. Necessary post.


  2. Hi Diana,
    I know how passionate you are about Minecraft in the classroom and thus why the corporatizition of it is difficult. And like you, it makes me crazy to see it happening more and more at conferences and in schools. I don't know that we have much power or control over it, but I do think we have an obligation to talk about this with students and our own children. I admire your stance and your conviction and I appreciate you tackling this subject in your post!