As we can see with the stalled state budget, our legislators often struggle to build almost anything, especially a consensus. But there’s hope for the Minecraft Generation.
Lego for the 21st century, Minecraft—the digital sandbox.
For the uninitiated, Minecraft is just a game. But is it?
Isn’t the Lego sold in stores Lego of the 21st century, some may ask? Technically, yes. But what drives the market today is licensing, so that kid can buy this year’s version of a Batman vehicle, assemble it following the precise instructions included in the box, and then pine for another set.
“Lego used to be just a big box of bricks, and you used to take the bricks, pour them on the carpet and then make stuff. And that’s exactly what Minecraft is,” explains game designer Peter Molyneux in a 2012 documentary about Minecraft.
What kids learn in Minecraft
1. Managing Resources
There are no instructions. Upon starting the game, you’re just supposed to figure things out, like how clicking on the ground creates a hole and how the dirt enters your inventory as a resource. Same with chopping down a tree, which creates a block of wood, which you can turn into planks, which you can turn into sticks. You can assemble tools, like a pick axe to mine for minerals like stone or iron, and fashion better tools. Kids learn about the trade-off between labor and efficiency at the cost of limited resources.
There’s no over-arching narrative or points-based objective, but there are rules and systems that govern Minecraft and it requires a fair amount of determination to accomplish what you want to do. You’re always learning and using what you’ve learned in new and more interesting ways, but only if you’re paying attention.
The most exciting aspect of Minecraft for most kids is playing with others in the same virtual environment. You learn it’s much more beneficial for everyone if you can cooperate and share resources, especially when monsters draw near. While there are always exceptions, kids learn that disrupting the efforts of their peers is ultimately self-defeating and that there’s a social and practical cost to being a jerk.
Kids are used to video games that demand that you do what the developers want you do to in exactly the way they intended for you to do them. These are games where mistakes are punished, leaving you howling. But because Minecraft is really about open exploration, there are no ‘mistakes,’ just skill development and refinement. It’s one of the best examples of how video games can build actual confidence.
5. Critical thinking
One of the resources that you can “mine” is called “redstone,” the Minecraft analog for electricity and circuitry. With your resources, you can fashion switches, minecarts, pistons, etc. and create various contraptions using redstone to power them. But, just as you find in actual circuits (and coding), one oversight can stall the entire enterprise, demanding constant analyses and encouraging experimentation and refinement. According to one study, game-based play can raise cognitive learning and problem-solving ability and improve memory.
Managing resources. Focus. Teamwork. Overcoming fear of failure. Logical thinking. That’s not bad for just another video game. Come to think of it, those are a set of skills that could help kids tackle complex, real-world problems when they grow up, like budgets.
If you know a child who loves Minecraft (or would like to learn it) who would want to play with hundreds of new friends and might enjoy learning about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in a fun festival setting, get your tickets to the Block By Block Party. It’s happening September 16 and 17 at the University of the Sciences. Learn more at pccy.org/blockbyblock!