Minecraft and Social Constructs

I’ve been meaning to discuss the idea and applications of social constructs of Minecraft for a while now. When the game comes up in conversation I’m very used to friends and colleagues not only telling me a bit about what they have achieved through Minecraft, but also that they find there are social constructs and a sense of community at play in addition. Kids reaaaally seem to like it.

This post will untangle the idea of social constructs within the game by looking at qualitative and social analysis from research groups that are aiming to define how and why participants regard the game as providing an affinity of space. It’ll also discuss some ideas about how traditional social constructs are now being translated through servers.

A basic theory within the idea of social constructs is that of affinity of space. This speculates that certain spaces, whether they are physical – for example within a city – or virtual, can offer certain traits. These range from the positive such as welcoming and nurturing of social connections, to exclusive and elitist.

There are a number of studies that have published strong evidence for Minecraft being a positive medium for affinity of space, and also in education, creativity and other desirable applications. The interesting aspect is why the game has advanced in virtual social constructs where others have not.

Certainly in MMO’s and RPG’s there will always be some kind of social order – after all we are still individual human beings controlling what happens in a virtual environment. In social orders participation is the first key, as there must be participation to develop a functioning social structure. Further aspects required include:

– Personal contribution

– The sharing of information

– Social support and guidance

– Discussion with other members

– Individual assignment and completion of tasks to fulfil larger planned goals

An excellent representation of social structures within Minecraft can be illustrated by Pellicone and Ahne (2014) who applied qualitative analysis on forum threads to generate visualisations of structures that may also be present within the game. An example is shown below in Figure 1.

Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)
Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)

Additional theories of online structures, most notably Butler (2000), argue that structures similar to figure 1 are applicable to larger volumes of games. He argues that the presence and usage of servers are most likely to have a defining role in this as they allow for greater levels of communication and delegation of resources, therefore resulting in more complex social structures.

This ties in neatly with the affinity of space theory, connoting that servers are constructive and encourage positive space and social interactions. Dedicated players are usually content in their constructs. Dave is happy to farm, Brian enjoys doing magic, Larry likes to build. No-one is sure where Colin went. They work together for a common cause, and usually because a social connection has been formed between them in the physical world.

However, in addition to the immediately visible contours of the affinity space, there also exists a broader community of people who identify as Minecraft players, with some further identifying with the elite level of producer found within the larger Minecraft meta-game (Maccallum-Stewart, 2013)

Minecraft unfortunately is not exempt from the way that a perceived gamer culture often results in unwelcoming attitudes towards those who fall outside of that culture (Pellicone and Ahne, 2014). The difficulty is identification of gamer culture norm’s in comparison with Minecraft norm’s. Norm’s in themselves are defined by the actions and interactions translated into the virtual environment, which provide a level of anonymity for players.

A critical aspect of the social structures within Minecraft is whether the game or indeed any social orders within it can overcome physical social inequalities (for example race, gender, income, upbringing) of players. This is pretty difficult thing to analyse on a scale that is representative of the whole Minecraft gaming community, but it’s certainly a focal point for social-based research in the future.

Assessment whether there is a connection between the overcoming of social inequalities and the production of positive space within Minecraft can certainly be inferred. The game features very few negative aspects that would impact the development and sustainability of social networks, which in turn lend to the continual production of affinity of space.

creeper

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The Human Face of Big Data

I’m imminently about to start my PhD in Web Science, beginning with the MSc. I’m a big ball of nervousness, excitement and the feeling of actually having the energy to do research that I’ll be interested in. One of the bi-products of this however, is that far more people are asking me about my course.

Generally I give them a brief description of how the web has effected things, and will continue to effect things. Often, this confuses people.

I used to get this a lot with my degree in Geography too. People say things like ‘All I remember about geography is Oxbow lakes LOL, what do you actually study? Colouring?’.

This really grated me for a long time, because geography is the study of how everything relates to one another. By the time I had finished my degree, when someone asked what I studied in particular I simply used to repress an eye-twitch and shout ‘Everything! Geography is everything!’ and then skulk off to get a drink.

Consequently I’ve begun to explain things regarding my new MSc and PhD in a way you would justify learning a maths equation – by giving it a context in which it can be applied.

So here are some excellent examples of crossovers between Geography and Web science that I’m interested in researching further. The first one is human-based, the second one physical-based, and the third is a little bit about my other posts:

‘The Human face of Big Data’ is a term used to describe and explain the human nature behind data. It addresses the growing desire to understand what data can tell us about ourselves, and why we use it in the way that we do. It is commonly used in the study of Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and how human usage can reveal insights in to real-life trends that make up who we collectively are: our cultures, our mindsets, who we favour or disfavour, and much more.

For instance, analysing billions of Tweets helped two researchers record new insights about public health issues and the way disease is spread. Further to this, they were able to tailor specific health warnings, targeting selected sites that the data indicated to them were the sites of choice most individuals would encounter. As a result of the increased connectivity of our culture, metrics and city structures, people were able to spread information regarding health warnings far faster via social media than they would have relying on previous methods (i.e. by watching the news, or by word of mouth).

Additionally the same analysis and smart application of data can be done with physical hazards as well: change out ‘disease’ for a ‘natural hazard’, for example an earthquake, and the same kind of responsiveness of social media can be recorded to similar effect.

The interesting development with using social media as data streams is that one can ask how and why a population may be affected by these notifications. How can the data be used in prediction systems and 3D modelling of communities. It also lends to the development of maps, virtual realities and other visualisations to adapt to different mediums and scholarly discourses.

Producing the most detailed and applicable results is another substantial task, as one is effectively waiting for a natural disaster to occur in order to collect the data. Once this happens the applications it may be used for are endless, and there are certainly other big data sets other than social media that may help to answer, or build on, the same hypotheses.

If you have read any of my other posts you will realise that there is also a pretty cool crossover between geography and the gaming industry. Again, big data is used in game development in order to analyse, assess and tailor games to target audiences.

However, the gaming industry is one of the leading developers of Geographical Virtual Environments (geoVE’s), usage of real geographic data in game play, new methodologies of recreating virtual city-scapes, combined with ever improving graphics.

Great examples of this can be seen nearly continuously over time as games evolve with softwares. Assassins Creed, Skyrim, Civilization, and Grand Theft Auto to name a few are leading not only in real reflective city-scapes, but also in the virtualization of mapping and other geographic data.

The modification of geoVE’s and VR’s (virtual realities) will be a key-stone in the future prediction of disaster management systems. They aim to do this via transforming the visualisation of a predicted event and tailoring responses to it.

By hosting geoVE’s using gaming platforms and online big data storage, a more accurate and intricate representation of city metrics, human nature and city infrastructure can be mapped out in a way never before achieved.

Certainly, having more information from multiple sources which are able to update instantaneously would be a viable and productive goal in real-time disaster management.

Hopefully this has given you more of an idea of the areas I will be studying, and some of the content that is to come on this blog. Keep Reading!

Featured image Copyright of ‘The Human Face of Big Data’ Rick Smolan 2012-13.

 

Minecraft and boobs.

Minecraft is a multiplayer sandbox video game based in a virtual world, which is modelled on the real world. Players are able to build and craft everyday items using blocks. The cubic geometry of Minecraft lends itself to the teaching of various academic subjects, and is immensely popular in the gaming world.

Minecraft also has a functioning ecology, with chemistry and physics aspects interwoven within the game that can be used to develop the scientific literacy of players. Not only does it function in many core aspects of the environment (though cubey), it represents an excellent case study in human geography via gender divides in a community.

One of the most common social representations of video games is the imbalance in the gender divide. Most people assume that a significant proportion of players are male. In 2012, 47% of the gaming community were actually female. The applications of minecraft in teaching and learning environments has been argued to have been a considerable boost to this figure in years to come.

Obviously the balance of genders in video games is a result of a plethora of positive advances in the gaming industry. However, getting all genders to understand the real-life application of games at a young age has proved to contribute to greater cognitive development at an early age, more respect for women in the gaming industry, a reduction in prejudices against female gamers, and an increase in the number of women taking further studies in a game-based course.

To understand why the gender divide came about in the first place one must understand one of the biggest factors associated with the gaming industry: the fact that one of the biggest drivers of the gender disparity is the dearth of women involved in making games. Once a designer has reached an age where they are able to develop or design games, quite often strong opinions on the industry have already been formed, and subsequently cannot be changed easily.

Unfortunately, this usually leads to games which only address a male perspectives and expectations. Often this is to the detriment of the female perspective and expectations, for example rarely having a strong female lead. Even less likely to have a female lead that is not basically naked.

Boobs. So many boobs.

Minecraft, is one of the building blocks for the balancing of equal opportunities for the next generation (see what I did there?). In situations where its used in learning environments, no previous assumptions or prejudices are discussed, and this creates a positive atmosphere to all kids, whether they have or haven’t been exposed to game-learning before.

Game analysts and educational staff for the first time have been able to predict figures of the likelihood that a person will experience or develop their gaming knowledge at a later date, after they have been introduced to learning through minecraft. This is only based on a handful of individual cases in the US at the moment, but certainly has the potential to expand in the teaching curriculum over the next few years.

Their preliminary results show these main points;

– The kids exposed to minecraft showed a reduction in gender stereotypes when exposed to gender specific testing.

– The kids exposed to minecraft were able to problem solve at a higher level to those who had not.

– The kids who were exposed to minecraft we statistically significantly more likely to continue gaming and problem solving in later life (thus more likely to bring more female game developers on to the scene).

Although there are many other learning-based games specifically targeted at children, minecraft is set apart from the pack as it is used by a range of age groups with no modifications dependent on age. As a result when kids develop a bond with a game that they enjoy as they are growing up, minecraft offers the ability for someone to keep playing without feeling that they have outgrown it.

Despite it’s cubey nature, minecraft has some pretty cool geographical crossovers, and also social prediction algorithms that further establish it as a medium for human expression in a virtual environment, rather than simply a game to pass the time. It is regarded as being engaging to all ages, genders, and across many levels of gaming expertise. More importantly, it can be all of these things at once. 

(This was actually a social experiment to see whether the use of ‘boobs’ in the title would generate more post views. We shall get back to this subject, and hopefully you’ll have more human geographical knowledge as a result).

What other aspects of minecraft do you think apply to geography, or vice versa? Do you think there are other social phenomena that occur in the minecraft world?

Virtual Queenscliff (Virtual Reality Environments)

An innovative new product in the blurred area of virtual geography and games is currently in the works. This project is entitled Virtual Queenscliff, and is being developed by the school of mathematical and spatial science at RMIT University.

Queenscliff is a coastal town located in the urban outskirts of Sydney, Australia. This is the site for an innovative geospatial virtual environment, or geoVE. Previous examples of geoVE’s generally focus on hypermedia/multimedia approaches, which have a tendency to lack meaningful interactions and realism, especially when compared to games.

Hypermedia and multimedia approaches generally rely on programmes such as GeoVRML, Flash, Director3D etc.,Computer Aided Design (CAD) or Geographic Information System (GIS) applications. These are difficult to use and require some sort of background knowledge. Pipe dreams to those normal folk who don’t have a degree in geography.

Step in, Virtual Queenscliff.

No more ‘just enough’ data or flat mapping for you, no sir. Virtual Queenscliff is a geoVE project specifically designed to be a crossover point between virtual geography, spatial data storage and game-based multimedia. Spawned by a new age of 3D geographical data, it takes the ideal aspects of mapping urban areas and applies classic game-based aspects such as unlocking achievements and badges.

Initially the project sought to provide new ways of mapping and representing data over the web. Since it’s start it has developed further by providing a new way of looking at reality, allowing analysis of user-specific perception of place and space, and by utilising a platform which does not limit the availability of geographical knowledge in a way that journal articles or paper maps do.

Essentially, it’s way more interesting than that map your GCSE geography teach told you to colour in.

So on to the game engine side of the design we go. It was decided that Epic’s Unreal Editor 2 was the most appropriate 3D game engine in satisfying the research requirements.

Obviously this took into account a number of alternatives, such as Criterion’s RenderWare, id Software’s Quake III, 3D GameStudio, and String Collaborative Virtual Environment (CVE) (an altered version of GarageGames’ Torque Game Engine which was used for the initial prototypes before further analysis forced a switch to Editor 2).

By using a game engine the geoVE of Queenscliff encourages non-expert usage from the general public, and aims to generate more informed and visual learning about the town. Eventually, the virtual reality, or VR, of the area will be available for individuals to add their own data about an area within the town. This will create one of the few functioning live data storage systems using a game engine.

In a nutshell using a game engine and basic game traits in a geoVE makes data simple to interpret, easy to use, and most importantly engaging to the public. As soon as the real thing is available I’m sure I’ll post a review, where more importantly you guys will be able to check it out too.

For now, have some pretty pictures and imagine what they will be like virtually, so you can imagine what it would be like in real life. Ah, geoVE’s, you crazy.

 

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