I am often surprised about the computer games my children play. For one I would have expected them mostly to be playing games with amazing graphics, immersive sounds and digitized soundtracks. Instead many parents are peering over their children’s shoulders and seeing a game that looks like it has a 1980s graphics engine behind it. I’m talking about a game called Minecraft that many of our children are completely obsessed with.
It’s a building game, using blocks and to say it wouldn’t look out of place on a Sinclair Spectrum is not really exaggerating. The game involves creating structures and houses, places to live, places to admire and of course places to defend from zombie attacks. It’s a huge virtual world consisting of lots of different basic materials like sand, wood, metals etc. You can use these raw materials as building blocks or refine them to make other materials for constructing.
Minecraft now is a phenomenon, a game that has risen in popularity almost everywhere on the planet. The numbers playing this quirky construction game are now over 33 million – mainly boys aged 9 -16 (of course not exclusively male but the vast majority are).
But for those of us who have Minecraft obsessed kids there is hope, you see it’s supposedly educational. The game is thought to be an excellent introduction to computer programming as it can be customised using custom code written by users. Even navigating throughout the world involves inputting codes and instructions on a command line using it’s own built in operating system.
Schools everywhere are starting to use Minecraft as an inexpensive teaching resource. In the UK, the Ordnance Survey have just completed a complete map of the United Kingdom using Minecraft again available for educational use. You can download the map for free although you’ll need a computer with about 4Gb worth of disk space and plenty of RAM to run it properly. There was a TV program about this project in the BBC last week – which you should be able to access using BBC iPlayer and a British IP address. Here’s a web page explaining the process if you need help.
This video – BBC Iplayer USA.is also available on YouTube.
Simply put many of the skills children use when playing Minecraft are easily transferable into the world of IT and computers. It’s one game we probably should be encouraging our children to play more often. There’s certainly much more educational value and possibilities than many of the other online games. There’s now even an educational version which you can find here – Homepage | Minecraft: Education Edition which teaches players to code in Python. The other modules are related to other subjects and educational concepts across various disciplines. What’s more the program doesn’t need a high powered PC or games console to run on. The platform even has a version that will work on devices like Chromebooks which make it ideal to use in schools and classrooms all over the world.
There’s no end to the educational possibilities across all sorts of subject areas. There are obvious ones of course which are computer related using modules to teach programming or networking concepts like using proxies and routers. Although one of the biggest successes has been to use Minecraft in subjects like geography creating simulations of different countries and geographical features which can be explored and examined by children.