KEN TOWL on the latest cheap publicity stunt that seeks to patronise the borough’s youth and encourage them to sign up for an addictive video game, rather than to study design or architecture
The first thing to point out is that today is not April 1.
You know that feeling you get when you read a news article and it sounds barely credible and a little voice tells you “Look at the date!” and you have that Aha! Moment and you feel good because you can spot nonsense when you see it?
Well, that’s how I felt when I read one of Croydon Council’s press releases issued this week. Except it isn’t April 1, so what I read is either a deliberate lie or the truth. And I am not sure which of those would be worse.
The press release ends with a quote from Jason Perry, the Mayor of Croydon, that purports to explain how he is going to delegate the planning process for the regeneration of Croydon.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas that come forward and how we can potentially use them as we progress with the planning and regeneration of our town centre,” Mayor Perry is supposed to have said.
Ideas from where?
The title of the press release gives it away: “Council invites young people to build a Minecraft Croydon”.
I mean, the inescapable first reaction is that this is exactly how much of central Croydon has been “designed” already, a couple of interesting brutalist blocks surrounded by cheap-as-chips tower blocks.
Still, as the press release would have it, “Croydon Council is encouraging young people to help design a future town centre using Minecraft… The task, aimed at all young Londoners, is to think ‘outside the blocks’ and create a healthier, greener and safer Minecraft version of Croydon town centre.”
About 15 years ago, I attended an IRL version of this form of pretend consultation. I was working at a pupil referral unit based in the north of the borough and the council reached out to professionals working with hard-to-reach young people across Croydon to encourage us to bring them to the 4-star Hilton Hotel on the Purley Way, where they were to take part in an event entitled, in the most shamefully down-with-the-kids sort of way, “Design my Endz”, all so that the council could elicit ideas from them.
The consistent demand from the young people was, unsurprisingly, for more youth provision, particularly for youth clubs that were staffed and safe. The sort of places that the council wasn’t funding even then.
Does anyone remember a sudden boom in the provision of youth clubs across the borough 15 years ago? No, me neither. There wasn’t one. I suspect this is because it is cheaper for councils to book the Hilton for a day than it is to build and staff youth clubs. It is also possible that councils love to be seen to be “consulting”, but are loathe to actually listen to young people.
Fifteen years on, and our council has decided to patronise kids through the medium of Minecraft. They can now design their endz and everyone else’s endz, block by block. Though they might do a better job than the council’s IRL bankrupt builder Brick by Brick.While Minecraft is undoubtedly popular with young people (Minecraft’s own website acknowledges that children as young as three years old play it regularly) it is not entirely clear that it is something we ought to encourage.
I was interested in checking out the Minecraft-playing demographic so I Googled “Who plays Minecraft?” and found an article entitled “Who plays Minecraft?” on the Minecraft Inc website, so all the information I have is from the horse’s mouth and it is damning enough.
The boys who play Minecraft, and it is mostly boys by a large margin (68per cent boys to 29per cent girls – Minecraft was unable to determine the gender of the remaining 3per cent) carry on playing it until they are boys no longer.
As Minecraft are happy to explain, “People were so addicted to the game, [that] the developers were able to secure an impressive revenue through in-game purchases.” Lovely. Impressive. Revenue.
Perhaps to contrast this bare-faced honesty about the nature of the products – hook the kids early and maximise revenue – they then go on to make what turn out to be spurious claims about its educational value, claims that Mayor Perry has no doubt taken at face value.
According to Minecraft Inc, “There is concrete evidence that Minecraft as a video game can be used to enhance and increase interest and abilities in areas that are related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industry work and careers.” It even puts a couple of surnames in brackets so that they look like the authors of academic papers.
Presumably, they don’t expect you to click on the links. I did. One of them was not accessible. The other, “Magee”, turned out not to be an academic paper but an article by a journalist, Maureen Magee, writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune about one (Yes! One!) school in California that had based some lessons around Minecraft that were popular among students. Behaviour had improved since the kids were able to play Minecraft in lessons. There was even a visit from a friendly “Minecraft executive”.
It seems Minecraft think that the words “anecdotal” and “concrete” are synonymous.
Even Magee’s breathless article, that features so many people extolling the virtues of Minecraft as an educational tool, has one of them describing the game as “addictive”, almost as a selling point. Well, it has certainly boosted school attendance.
Of course, Mayor Perry cannot take all the credit for this “innovative” idea of using Minecraft to redesign Croydon. He is merely piggybacking a London-wide initiative that appears to be the love child of an unholy alliance between Minecraft and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.
There’s a promotional video that features Mayor Khan inside a virtual City Hall, interspersed with drone-generated shots of Croydon, in which we are asked to be innovative and, “above all, have fun”.
He is followed by Jules Pipe, who turns out to be the Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills. As he stands outside a real-life City Hall, cable cars overhead, Pipe describes the project as “a special and quite blocky challenge” for young Londoners to “help re-imagine Croydon town centre”.
Pipe explains that any student in London, aged from five to 24, can participate.
It is no joke. No absurd, elaborate April Fools.
A five-year-old from Farringdon or a six-year-old from Streatham may be designing a new “safer, fairer, greener and more prosperous” Croydon. No joke. Just a Pipe dream.
So, children, join up. You can register for a licence here and then be guided through a Minecraft version of Croydon by “NPCs” (non-player characters, apparently) who look like quite blocky versions of Pipe and Khan, “from the North End Quarter, walking through the Whitgift shopping centre and stroll towards Poplar walk”.
Well, a bit of exercise never hurt anyone. You then get to “reimagine” the centre of Croydon by moving blocks around and adding safe blocks and green blocks and inclusive blocks. Pipe “can’t wait” to see your innovative solutions.
Anyway, as Perry says, “This is a free, fun opportunity for young people to use Minecraft to design a future town centre.”
That Minecreft executive must be rubbing his hands with glee.
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