Minecraft: Evil Zombie Zone or Epic Educational Tool?

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When looking for a way to engage kids in learning, community building, intergenerational interaction, and technology it would be great to think that a video game could encourage all of those skills. If you like research, and want to know the best scientific knowledge on the subject, I, unfortunately can’t assure you that Minecraft is your game. Sorry, kids, Minecraft has not been officially studied to find out whether it is the educational panacea you would love to tell your mom it is. There is, however, a fair amount of information out there that tells us people are finding very beneficial ways of using Minecraft to affect some very awesome outcomes in people’s lives. I will give you a glimpse into what creative people are doing with Minecraft, but first, should we even be toying with video games at all?

Video Games: The Science

There are studies on video games in general, but a lot of that information can be confusing and sometimes downright contradictory. [2]  The study of video games in general is also just beginning. The American Psychological Association recently came out with a report that has taken a look at more than 150 research papers. Their analysis leans toward indicating that video games can be connected to violence, but also says that video games do not act alone and many factors contribute to violence. [3] The report has come under fire from many critics. It isn’t surprising that the Entertainment Software Association would take exception to it’s clientele being picked on, but they aren’t the only critics. A large group of academics are casting doubt on the validity of some of the studies included in the paper, and pointing out that the APA has shown a bias against video games in the past.[4] [5]

Then there are the studies that say gaming increases gray matter in the brain. [6] If you want to get a good glimpse of both sides of the argument take a look at this great page from procon.org on the subject. [7]    It doesn’t seem to help that video games can affect so many parts of a person. Do they affect how violent a person is? Do they affect people’s eyesight, their brain? With so many possibilities it may be a very long time before we get a clear picture of what video games do to and for people.

Enter: Minecraft

In the meantime, with that obligatory debate summary aside I can tell you that the violent video games that have starred in the flurry of debate about violence are not Minecraft. They are games like “Call of Duty” or “Grand Theft Auto”. These have probably been replicated somewhere on some server in the Minecraft universe, but for the most part are not the core of Minecraft. Whether Minecraft increases your gray matter is still undecided. What we have when we look at Minecraft are testimonies of many people in many walks of life that are telling us Minecraft has changed things in gaming, children, education, and possibly the world in ways that haven’t yet been measured but seem to exist.

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Minecraft and programming

The most obvious difference between Minecraft and other games is that it can actually teach programming. One way it teaches this is by promoting programming type thinking. For example, take the kid who used a pressure plate and a mooshroom to make a random number generator as sited in this NY Times article. [9] There are innumerable ways to solve problems and create, not just cool, creative, or historically accurate structures, but awesome games for your friends to play. Command blocks allow children to delve into a realm that is a step closer to programming. When young people transition to working with Java, Python and other programming languages these aren’t completely foreign to them if they have been playing with command blocks. That can then lead to modding, which allows players to access and change the code of Minecraft themselves. [10] They can do things with modding like make a cheese block that has properties like melting, or even change the entire look of Minecraft when the mod is downloaded.

Another aspect of technology that Minecraft is now connected to is 3-d printing. Stacking blocks to make 3 dimensional objects is similar in many ways to designing an object in a computer aided design program minus the precise measurement that would take the fun away and/or make the design a legitimately useful pursuit. Minecraft objects can now enter the real world via 3d printers. You can design things in Minecraft to print yourself or have them printed for you on websites like Printcraft, or Mineways.

Minecraft and Social Skills

The affect of Minecraft can go well beyond the technical, however. Minecraft is easily made a social tool where friends, and even strangers interact to build things and play games. The lack of specific guidance in Minecraft can lead to children working out their own relationships with each other. Kids can choose to be mean and selfish with little disadvantage, but most find working together more satisfying and profitable. [11] Some have found that Minecraft can allow connections between autistic children and their non-autistic peers. [12] When children work together within Minecraft, both the good and bad emerges. They work together, making amazing things and forging friendships, but they also may endure children who destroy their things, and they are able to negotiate those tough circumstances in a relatively safe environment. [13] Another social aspect of the game is the sharing of information. Young people also find that the more they know about Minecraft the more they have opportunities to share, make new friends and gain popularity “In Minecraft, knowledge becomes social currency,” says Michael Dezuanni, an associate professor of digital media at Queensland University of Technology in Australia.[9]

Young people also look to older players for advice, leading to purposeful intergenerational interactions. Even if they don’t talk to the adults face to face they may feel they know them pretty well through youtube videos.On rare occasions the idea of sharing what you know translates not only to gaining friends as a youth, but has boosted some adults into completely Minecraft fueled careers. Take Captain Sparklez for example, he began supporting himself by posting Minecraft videos during college. [14] Then there’s a guy calling himself Kurt J. Mac who has figured out how to make a living by documenting his hike to the fabled end of the Minecraft Universe.[15]  Companies like Youth Digital have also spring up that have begun turning Minecraft into money by offering classes teaching things like modding. The entrepreneurial aspect of Minecraft may not be as direct as earning money straight from ad profit on videos. Young people may prefer more of a lemonade-stand approach, offering their skills in the form of classes for a little side money, and testing the waters to discover what skills they have that may translate into a career someday.

Minecraft and Education

Getting kids engaged in their futures is something many innovative educators have been attempting to do for decades. Teachers are attempting take the creative addiction of to use Minecraft and use it to their advantage. They have begun to teach everything from math to history, and one can imagine it being used to teach things like art or engineering. It is said to help teach civic literacy and help young people learn how communities and governments can work. [16]

Minecraft and our future?

Who knows how video games will fully affect the younger generation. Without truly scientific knowledge of how this force is affecting us and our children we are blindly trusting the instinct imparted from a pretty irrelevant upbringing. There is no question that research could enlighten our approach. Already the research that has been done, when done well, sometimes draws rather surprising conclusions. Until then it is up to us to decide whether it is best to convert to Luddism, or embrace new technology and try to use it for good.

  1. “How Video Games Changed the World.” Channel 4. 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 31 Aug. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xAIpVxL3HU&gt;.
  2. “Study Finds Gamers are Better Learners.” iflscience.com. Ed. Kristy Hamilton and Katy Evans. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <http://www.iflscience.com/brain/study-finds-action-gamers-are-better-learners/&gt;.
  3. Casey, Michael. “Do Violent Video Games Lead to Criminal Behavior?.” cbsnews.com. N.p., 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/do-violent-video-games-lead-to-criminal-behavior/&gt;.
  4. Kleinman, Zoe. “Do Video Games Make People Violent?.” bbc.com. N.p., 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-33960075&gt;.
  5. Puiu, Tibi. “Do Violent Video Games Really Make Children More Aggressive?.” zmescience.com. N.p., 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <http://www.zmescience.com/research/technology/violent-video-games-child-aggression-0534/&gt;.
  6. Gong, Diankun, Hui He, Dongbo Liu, Weiyi Ma, Li Dong, Cheng Lou and Dezhong Yao. “Enhanced functional connectivity and increased gray matter volume of insula related to action video game playing.” Nature.com. N.p., Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <http://www.nature.com/articles/srep09763&gt;.
  7. ProCon.org. (2016, June 3). Violent Video Games ProCon.org. Retrieved from http://videogames.procon.org/
  8. “Is Minecraft the Ultimate Educational Tool.” Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios. PBS Digital Studios. PBS, 6 Mar. 2013. Web. 31 Aug. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI0BN5AWOe8&gt;.
  9. Thompson, Clive. “The Minecraft Generation.” nytimes.com. N.p., 14 Apr. 2016. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/magazine/the-minecraft-generation.html?_r=2&gt;.
  10. Shankland, Stephen. “Mindcraft.” cnet.com. N.p., 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <http://www.cnet.com/special-reports/minecraft/mindcraft-helping-students-learn&gt;.
  11. Jones, Reese. “How Minecraft is Teaching a Generation About Teamwork & the Environment.” gettingsmart.com. N.p., 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Aug. 2016. <http://gettingsmart.com/2013/01/how-minecraft-is-teaching-a-generation-about-teamwork-the-environment/&gt;.
  12. Willingham, Emily. “Minecraft is Shaping a Generation, and That is a Good Thing.” Forbes.com. N.p., 26 Apr. 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2014/04/26/minecraft-is-shaping-a-generation/#50a6c0b934db&gt;.
  13. Rock, Margaret. “Hey, Parent. What Minecraft is Doing to your Kids is Kind of Surprising.” 2machines.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2016. <http://2machines.com/183040/&gt;.
  14. Takahashi, Dean. “Jordan “CaptainSparklez”Maron Lives the Fairy Tale Life of Getting Paid to Play Minecraft.” venturebeat.com. N.p., 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2016. <http://venturebeat.com/2015/09/30/jordan-captainsparklez-maron-lives-the-fairy-tale-life-of-getting-paid-to-play-minecraft-interview/&gt;.
  15. Parkin, Simon. “A Journey to the End of the World (of Minecraft).” newyorker.com. N.p., 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2016. <http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/a-journey-to-the-end-of-the-world-of-minecraft&gt;.
  16. “Minecraft and Spontaneous Order.” learnliberty.org. N.p., 4 May 2016. Web. 21 Aug. 2016. <http://www.learnliberty.org/blog/minecraft-and-spontaneous-order/&gt;.

 

Questions

  1. How was your childhood influenced by technology. Was there a lot or a little influence? Were you happy with the amount of technology, wether tv or computers that was in your life?
  2. what are some of the problems you see with using Minecraft as entertainment? What about the drawbacks of using it as an educational tool?
  3. What are some positive things that can come from using games like Minecraft as entertainment? What are some positive things that can come from using it for education?
  4. What is your best guess to where our future is headed based on Minecraft and other games that are monopolizing our children’s time?
  5. What would a world with an ideal balance of technology and effective education and community building look like? Would there be less technology? More? Would it be a different form that blended better with the outside world?
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One Comment Add yours

  1. Paul-NL says:

    Great post! I definitely feel like Minecraft can be used to educate and foster all sorts of talents. Heck, I’ve seen my 8-year-old nephew create an entire community with functioning hotels and elevators. Blows my mind.

    Like

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