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Defining an Impact Game: Minecraft and Educational Relevancy

This is part three in a three part series on defining Minecraft as an impact game. Did you miss the previous posts in the series? Check out Defining an Impact Game: Minecraft and Environmental Sustainability and Defining an Impact Game: Minecraft and Engaged Citizenship!

Self-powered railroad using redstone circuitry.
Decorating the inside of a small house

Though Minecraft effectively ‘teaches’ what it means to be environmentally aware through the implementation of renewable plants, that does not comprise the entirety of its educational content. In fact, Minecraft works both to provide content to understand and opportunities to problem solve and think creatively in a way that is important to a player’s learning. One could come to learn about the physical act of sustainability through the experience, for example, and could also exercise their mind by trying to create efficient farms when plants have wildly different water and soil needs.

Minecraft includes a resource known as redstone, which can be found deep underground and subsequently mined for redstone dust. The dust, often called ‘wire’ acts as a power conductor, essentially, allowing players to experiment with a rudimentary form of circuitry, adding the ability to create new elements in the game space. Though the game itself offers pistons and push blocks intended to be used with redstone wires, members of the Minecraft community have gone on to create incredible powered structures, such as working lighthouses, clocks, and rudimentary computers.

At the same time, Minecraft is entirely resource based, where constructions and contraptions must be made using either raw or crafted materials. From a handful of raw materials, near infinite iterations can be made, giving players all sorts of options to implement in their creations, whether for aesthetics or functionality. Using these materials, players can create anything they could possibly imagine, from the deepest underwater bases to the highest skyscrapers and cityscapes.

Any sort of building within the game requires planning and design minded thinking in order to be successful. The game engages with players, putting them into the role of a master architect as they are confronted with the challenges of the game’s cube-based geometry. Everything in the world exists in terms of 1 x 1 x 1 blocks, from which players must make logical meaning in order to create working structures, mines, farms, or anything they might need or want. There is no ‘right’ or ‘correct’ way to build anything; a player need only be creative and patient, fully willing to problem solve, to make anything they set their minds to.

Minecraft remains one of the Center for Games and Impact’s core games, for which we offer resources for its use in the classroom, specifically focusing in on some of the themes and topics we’ve discussed this week. Primarily, we use the educational build of Minecraft, known as MinecraftEdu, which gives teachers ease of access and complete control over the Minecraft core game in order to use it in any kind of classroom activity they can imagine. For more information on MinecraftEdu, check our our MinecraftEdu teacher page. Be sure to also check out our MinecraftEdu Impact Guide, which offers some example lesson plans centered around environmental sustainability and building.

So, why is Minecraft an Impact Game?

If you’ve been following along with out blog so far, hopefully you will have noticed the pattern that starts to emerge between environmental sustainability, engaged citizenship, and educational relevancy. On the surface, Minecraft offers engaging play experiences in environmental sustainability, with renewable plant life and farming opportunities, engaged citizenship, with its thriving multiplayer community, and educational relevancy, in the ways that it offers opportunities to problem solve and asks players to adapt to new logics when building or using redstone wiring.

What really makes Minecraft a standout Impact Game is the way that it approaches all of these points; the meaning consistently lies in the mechanics, where players are able to learn through active doing within the space. Though the argument could be made that all games harness learning in this way, Minecraft in particular forces players to learn completely on their own, without any prompting from the game itself. They are engaging in active learning, where they must put forth the effort to learn, and be willing to pick up from their mistakes as they try again. As they find tree saplings, they will soon learn how to plant them and grow new trees for wood. As they play with friends online, they will learn to work collaboratively, taking on roles within a community. Even as they just spend time alone in the game, they will confront the need to build a shelter, and will learn though their exploration how to make the best homes or shelters to fit their needs. Every time a player sits down with Minecraft they are learning implicitly, constantly confronting new problems and needing new ways to solve them.

How would you define Minecraft as an Impact Game? Let us know in the comments below!