Minecraft: New Dawn for Education
It would be an understatement to say that Minecraft has made waves across many different spheres, not just gaming. From its initial unfinished release back on May 17th, 2009, Minecraft quickly gained traction amongst many in the gaming community and soon enough became one of the most beloved and iconic games ever created. Whether you like it or not, it is hard to deny the impact that Minecraft has had and is still having on the world. Through the many facets of the circuit of culture we will explore the cultural impact and educational potential Minecraft is having on the world. With that said, let us dive into the origins and future of Minecraft for education.
So, where did Minecraft begin?
Crafted by Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, Minecraft began as a forgotten project previously named “RubyDung” which ‘Notch’ himself described as “a base building game inspired by Dwarf Fortress, but with a heavy focus on accessibility” (source). Through various ideas and iterations for a game, one day ‘Notch’ came across Infiniminer, “an open source multi-player block-based sandbox building and digging game, in which the player is a miner searching for minerals by carving tunnels through procedurally generated voxel-based maps and building structures” (source). This became the major inspiration behind the super successful Minecraft that we know today. After a lot of work implementing a first-person style to the gameplay mechanics of Infiniminer, ‘Notch’ was able to construct a game which quickly sparked attention and interest among many in the gaming community. This support pushed ‘Notch’ to further improve the game and even port previously made models from his other projects for enemy sprites, improving on those he had seen on Infiniminer. Thus, ‘Notch’ continuously improved Minecraft over time leading to the creation and first few stages of the game we now know and love (source).
The Game we know today
Today, Minecraft is one of if not the most successful video game of all time having sold around 200 million copies since its full out of beta release date on November 18th, 2011. This is for a good reason. Minecraft has been proven to not only be a fun game in and of itself but the creativity and life that many of its players and creators have brought onto the platform has made it an incredible gaming powerhouse. Its design being one of simplicity yet endless complexity and possibilities has compelled many to imagine and create, making Minecraft one of the best games/platforms to unleash endless creativity. This observation is even noted by Sean C. Duncan in his article titled “Minecraft, Beyond Construction and Survival” in which he describes the many aspects that make Minecraft one of the most successful videogames of all time. He notes that Minecraft “suggests a space in which the player is given free rein to create whatever he or she wishes from the pieces provided.” Minecraft gives the player the power of creation and endless expression. Many of Minecraft’s players have used this ability to their advantage and have constructed amazing pieces such as the ones made by Blockworks in collaboration with Minecraft, which I will show later in the article. Creators, such as the ones at Blockworks, can give way to their imagination and give their ides life inside of Minecraft. Some have even gone as far using the platform as an agent of good such as the famous uncensored library which serves as a hotspot for the sharing of censored news which would otherwise not see the light of day. It is insane to think that things such as these have taken place inside one of the most kid-friendly and successful video games of all time but it just shows you the power that Minecraft gives its users. As such, it might not come as a surprise that many have looked at Minecraft as a tool to further improve education for many teachers and students.
Being one of the best-selling games of all time, Minecraft has amassed users and fans across the world. Despite being primarily thought of as a children’s game, Minecraft has presented opportunities that are hard to deny. Minecraft brings forth a set of tools perfect for the creation and production (more on the importance of production here) of almost anything you can imagine. Because of this, people of all ages have adopted the game contributing to the game’s gigantic success. Amassing a large demographic of all ages but especially kids made it incredibly easy for Microsoft, Minecraft’s current owner, to adapt an Education centered version of the incredibly popular and powerful game. Minecraft’s malleability has been proven again and again by its community, producing anything from custom game modes and maps to even having a renowned user among the Minecraft community, “Mr. Squishy,” build a fully functional Gameboy made to play Pokémon Red inside the game. This creativity has not only enabled those skilled enough to begin making their custom maps and games but for many others to enjoy others’ creations in a unique and self-sufficient environment of production and consumption (details on consumption here). It is then easy to see why Minecraft would be an appealing tool for many in education. Minecraft can give both students and teachers a platform on which to engage in a more fun and interactive manner, especially during our current time amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Minecraft gives a perfect set of tools for teachers and schools to craft custom made maps and servers for their students providing not only a safe space for not only interaction but learning and engagement. Teachers and schools from across the world could produce worlds for other teachers, schools, and even students. This could create a dedicated and active network aimed at interactive and engaging content to further improve the quality of learning. A short article by Steve nebel, Sascha Schneider and Günter Daniel Rey details that Minecraft is already in use today to approach many different topics such as “spatial geometry,” “sustainable planning,” “language and literacy,” “digital storytelling, ” “informatics, ” “computer art application, ” “project management,” “and chemistry” (source). Through this, Minecraft has advertised itself as the perfect platform for teachers as well as students (more on representation here) while giving us a glimpse of what the future could hold when more schools and subjects are able to implement Minecraft as a tool and platform for learning.
Is it a viable option?
As with a lot of cutting-edge technology, especially in education, Minecraft aims to be a tool which could be employed by everyone in the world. Unfortunately, as a lot of us know, many schools and students are already struggling to keep up with the costs of their basic classroom supplies making it difficult for a lot of underfunded tools to adopt Minecraft as a tool to use at their disposal. But what gives Minecraft a leg up in the race as opposed to a lot of other technologies and competitors is the already gigantic userbase that Minecraft has accumulated over the course of its lifetime. As a result, it is common to hear people from all walks of life having if not already a copy of the game, at least a notion of the premise. What is more impressive perhaps is the amount of different identities (more on identity here) the game has been able to attract due to its ability for creation. Love Pokémon? how about playing Pokémon red inside on a Gameboy inside Minecraft? or maybe even become a Pokémon trainer inside a custom Minecraft game named Pixelmon. Whatever community you are in, there is probably something there for you. Because of this, everyone in your classroom is most likely already familiar with the game, making it easier for both teachers and students to hop right in and start using the tool for learning. Another even greater win for Minecraft is its availability through a Microsoft Office 365 account. As an example, our very own JHU provides all students and staff with a fully equipped Office 365 account which opens access to not only the Microsoft suite of productivity apps but also to an education version of the incredibly popular Minecraft. This means that if your school provides you with an Office 365 account you and your peers are ready to jump in to play and learn. And with its infinite possibilities for design, art, and creation, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy and learn out of using Minecraft.
Safety and Restrictions
Like previously mentioned, the power that Minecraft brings to the table is made possible not only because of its usability as a platform but also because of the community behind the game. With many dedicated creators and crafters, teachers could tap into a world of resources used to drive engagement and learning like never. That support and community drives forward a tool which is very powerful and could prove incredibly beneficial to education. Of course, with a great power comes a greater responsibility. Like many already familiarized with online activity, keeping users safe, especially if they are students, is a must for anyone trying to incorporate technology into a school environment. The ace up its sleeve is that Minecraft has been known to be a kid friendly game sporting gameplay elements that are safe for all to play with and explore as well as community guidelines which, like the ones in the image above, detail what is and is not appropriate on their platform. These steps and regulations (more on regulation here) ensure that all users, especially those that are using Minecraft to further their education, are safe and protected from malicious actors. Aside from the basic guidelines there are not that many regulations which halt the progress and creativity that students and teachers could have inside the game. One particularly interesting thing to note, however, is Minecraft’s strict no advertisement policy in game. What this boils down to is nobody, aside from select Minecraft partners, can construct custom maps and worlds for the purposes of advertisements. Although it seems unlikely, this could result in a loss for many brands and businesses trying to provide teachers with content to use for learning while using the platform for advertisement at the same time. Think of a sponsored experience that a company could bring to a school for the purposes of advertisement and recognition while providing students with opportunities to learn in new and exciting ways ultimately benefitting both the company and the students. Despite it not being a huge loss, it is important to consider when deciding what and why to start building in Minecraft. Regardless of this, most people will still be able to create and share amazing worlds with their peers which could make it easy and effective for students and teachers to get new content from which to learn and engage. Even after all this one of the most compelling aspects of a Minecraft enabled education does not solely lie on the teaching potential but also on the potential for socialization especially during these trying times. Like many other video games out there, Minecraft makes possible the creation of many more communities in which students can explore not learning but also interests and passions. This opens the door to a safe environment in which one could develop not only as a student but also as a person.
Although Minecraft seems to promise a world of boundless possibilities it is still a good idea to consider the viability for Minecraft to become as widespread as it is in education as it is in gaming. Despite being such a powerful tool, Minecraft still has its limitations. Even though in comparison to many other programs out there, Minecraft is easier for teachers to create worlds for their every teaching needs, there is still a learning curve to be had in terms of handling the game as well as creating the game worlds themselves. This along with what could possibly be the biggest downfall, that of which becomes giving the students/players autonomy in the map. While most teaching usually operates in a structured manner with some in between time to collaborate and explore, giving students a tool which they could use with autonomy could perhaps lead to misuse and wasted instruction time. Some other concerns such as “a scenario [not being] automatically more fun by using Minecraft,” and “skilled players may dominate in competitive or collaborative scenarios” are outlined by this article from Steve Nebel, Sascha Schneider and Günter Daniel Rey which detail “the use of Minecraft in Education and Reserach.” There is more work to be done to make Minecraft, or at least some version of it, one of the best tools for education. After all, Minecraft is not an educational game but rather a tool with the potential to revolutionize the way we teach and learn. Its capabilities to adapt to any teaching scenario, making lessons more interactive and engaging, as well as making students explorers and curious thinkers could be the way forward for education. Even if Minecraft does not ultimately become the educational hub of choice for many educational institutions, its forward thinking and humongous possibilities are sure to spark more games and platforms that could better the way people teach and learn all across the world.