“IN the second of a three-part series looking at how Scotland’s gaming sector intersects with education, Martyn McLaughlin speaks to the team behind the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft to discover how the hit sandbox construction title is helping children learn complex skills.
NEARLY four and a half years have passed since Minecraft was unleashed on an unsuspected games industry. In that time, it has come to occupy an influential plinth in our cultural landscape. Devised by Sweden’s Mojang studio, it deposits players at the centre of a randomly generated cuboid domain abundant with raw materials. Creativity is essential to progress; the fundamentals of existence such as shelter are the first priorities, but in time, the game allows those who master its techniques and tools to raise wonderfully intricate structures and entire cities from the ground.
Since its official release in November 2011, the title has shifted upwards of 33 million copies, a sales figure in excess of seminal albums such as Sergeant Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band, Hotel California and Born in the USA. In an industry too often obsessed with graphical prowess and the awkward aping of cinematic techniques, its constantly evolving universe has captured the imagination of not only gamers, but an increasing number of educationalists who see the merits of applying its mesmerising form of digital Lego to learning environments.
Around the world, Minecraft is slowly becoming accepted as a legitimate classroom tool waiting to be exploited in the same way as established media like films, books and television. In Stockholm, the home of Mojang, the Victor Rydberg school has declared it compulsory for 13-year-olds, with pupils using it to learn about city planning and environmental issues. In New York, Joel Levin, a computer teacher at a private school, helps run MinecraftEdu, an international resource geared towards promoting the game’s use in classrooms.
‘Exciting and engaging’
One of the earliest advocates for the game’s educational values, he first realised its potential after introducing it in favour of a Google Earth geography project in January 2011. “In my eight years of teaching I have never seen students so excited and engaged,” he recalled. “They run up to me in the halls to tell me what they plan to do [in the] next class. They draw pictures about the game in art. They sit at the lunch tables and strategize their next building projects. And not only the boys, but girls too.”
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