Tal is a 6th grader who likes to write and draw, and who socializes with a close-knit group of cousins about her same age. One of the cousins goes to the same school and is a sometimes-gamer. His current game of choice is a videogame called Minecraft. Tal’s cousin found out about the game from one of the adults that works at his school and quickly fell in love with it. The game is played on a computer and is primarily about creativity and building.
Tal started playing Minecraft at her cousin’s house. They decided to help form a Minecraft club at school, and soon many more students had joined. Lunchtime was spent sharing building tips, playing each other’s levels, and talking about what they were going to do in the game when they got home. The adult who had originally told them about the game set up a school Minecraft server that the club could access, and the community of players continued to grow and diversify to include younger and older siblings, friends from other schools, parents, and even some teachers.
Tal got the idea to write scripts for her and her friends to film as animated plays in the game from a post on a Minecraft online forum. She got support for doing so from her social studies teacher, who had noticed Tal’s interest in creative writing. While the teacher wasn’t a Minecraft player herself, she did recognize that the game created a socially rich and creatively driven context for nurturing Tal’s writing interests. Tal was allowed to share her Minecraft-inspired stories during class and was interviewed by other students as part of an online newspaper club. The status and recognition she gained from these outlets fed her confidence and supported her burgeoning identity as a creative writer.
Tal started writing more frequently and found that the practice paid off in her writing for class assignments, mostly because her teacher challenged her to develop her own voice, no matter what the topic. She still went to the Minecraft club at school, but usually spent the sessions working on her scripts and getting ideas for new stories from the levels created by other players on the server. By the end of the school year, Tal was writing every day and sharing her work with teachers, family, and peers in the community that had developed around the school’s Minecraft server. She also became interested in enrolling in a summer program for writers so that she could continue to write with support over break.
The case of Tal illustrates the ways in which a school can provide the key scaffolds to connect a gaming interest to academic achievement. By providing an afterschool space for exploration of an interest with peers, and drawing this activity into a classroom context, teachers at Quest to Learn provided the connections for Tal to make her Minecraft play a pathway to developing creative writing interests and skills.
This piece republished with permission from the report, “Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research And Design” written by Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, S. Craig Watkins ; with contributions from: Shaondell Black, Neta Kliger-Vilenchik, Dilan Mahendran, C.J. Pascoe, Sangita Shresthova
Mimi Ito is the Research Director of the Digital Media and Learning Hub at the University of California Humanities Research Institute. Mimi is a cultural anthropologist who studies new media use, particularly among young people in Japan and the US.
Illustrations by: Anthony Llewellen