Minecraft builds better brains
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 14:10
In pop culture, there are symbols and figures that are universal even among the out of touch, such as Superman, Disney and Justin Beiber. Being a society that craves these pillars of generational transcendence, students will sneak whatever they can into their boring classes only to, inevitably, have it confiscated by the teacher. But now a change is coming to turn the norms of the everyday classrooms upside down. Teachers are bringing games like Minecraft in and encouraging the students to play for the purposes of education in math, science and more.
Not a new idea, but one rarely explored through such titles as the classic “Oregon Trail,” video games have been recommended as a possible teaching tool for the future by various experts. Recently, Minecraft has become a popular template for educators because of its unique flexibility and modability. It is quite possibly the most versatile game ever created, boasting specially designed maps and games from fans to full scale models of famous structures, both real and imaginary. Many teachers were quick to see the potential and began exploring the virtual sandbox.
Originally developed as an Indie game by Swedish programmer Markus “Notch” Persson in 2009, the game involves an open world aesthetic with the goal of gathering materials, building tools and structures, and surviving monsters that roam caves in order to explore a 3D world of blocks that is different every time you play.
One can play alone or with friends online, customize their game with downloadable mods and switch between survival and creative mode depending on the players mood. The game soon led to Persson co-founding Mojang Games with friends and fellow programmers. As of Sept. 3, Minecraft has sold more than 45 million copies across multiple platforms.
Jessica Hogland, senior English major of Wynne and fan of the game, described her first time playing the game.
“I started playing Minecraft after I discovered the pocket edition,” Hogland said. “I was hooked instantly. I like the way the game has endless possibilities. The only restrictions you really have with Minecraft are your imagination and, well, lava.”
In 2011, Swedish computer teacher, Joel Levin, and Games Based Education advocates approached Mojang to create an affordable and highly accessible teaching tool based on the game and MinecraftEDU was born. Giving power to the teachers to manage fully customizable servers for each individual class and creating features unique to this particular product, students were now able to play math and language games, explore virtual cities and museums, even participate in life-size science experiments with various tools at their disposal. Eventually, the game was being featured in schools in more than 20 countries across the globe with more than 250,000 students.
Minecraft player and junior chemistry major of Wynne, Hannah Hamilton has been playing for the better part of a year.
“I think using games as a teaching tool is a great idea. It could bring students together in the classroom. Even non-gamers could get into the experience.”
Joel Levin has demonstrated the unique features of his product, time and again. From the easy to use build functions to quickly create new class projects and experiments, to the simple point and click method of turning certain elements of the game on and off. Custom blocks have added further to the experience with information blocks for text and teleport blocks to easily transport a student to another area. Teachers have the option of building their own assignments or downloading hundreds of premade maps from the home site. As a bonus, Mojang has even agreed to sell the game at half the price of the original game, making it cheaper to buy in bulk than most textbooks.