What is it About Minecraft?

August 27, 2015
By Liana Gamber-Thompson

Earlier this month, community members and counselors from Summer of Minecraft gathered at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts to reflect on their experiences in the online summer camp organized by Connected Camps. Summer of Minecraft enabled kids ages 9-13 to hone their skills in the creative, construction-based game with the help of experienced counselors. Campers also had a chance to learn coding in the programming language, Lua, and were able to explore and build in a safe environment on Connected Camps’ moderated servers—all from the comforts of home.

At the summit, which was held on August 4, 2015, Summer of Minecraft counselors showcased the work students developed in response to building, game-design, and problem-solving challenges in front of a distinguished panel of tech, scholarly, and creative leaders. Participants also toured the USC School of Cinematic Arts digital and game design labs. The day started with a roundtable discussion on Minecraft in Education, which was facilitated by Mya Stark, Director of LA Makerspace, and Brendon Trombley, game designer for Institute of Play and Connected Camps.

“What do players like so much about Minecraft, which has become a huge phenomenon over the past few years?” asked the facilitators of the roundtable, which was attended by counselors, educators, and others interested in game-based learning. Many attendees in that last category were new to Minecraft, so much of the conversation centered around why and how Minecraft represents a space of possibility for players and students. Counselors narrowed in on the following characteristics of the game, which they felt maximized its appeal:

  1. Minecraft is a wholly constructive game in a gaming environment that is largely dominated by first person shooters; it gives players an opportunity to build things up rather than tear them down.
  2. Minecraft is also about sociality and community at its core; players develop friendships with each other both online (in the game and in the robust Minecraft YouTube community, for instance) and off (in makerspaces, libraries, and classrooms across the country).
  3. Successive versions of Minecraft have taken player feedback into account, making players feel their input is valued and important to the evolution of the game.
  4. Because there is no “winning” in Minecraft, it can be played multiple times with different styles and strategies. The absence of a “right” way to play Minecraft can create an “I can do this” mentality for young players.
  5. The limitless world of Minecraft provides limitless possibilities.

It’s easy to see how many of these values could translate directly to the classroom. As one counselor put it, Minecraft can pave the way for teaching 21st Century skills, problem solving, and effective communication. Mimi Ito, co-founder of Connected Camps, said that she is often asked what the learning outcomes are for the game. She explained that there is no learning outcome for Minecraft. Rather, it is a medium for many different kinds of learning and thus open to a range of evaluative methods.

Ito went on to say that, though it was important that campers worked to improve their coding and math skills, for her, the most valuable outcome of Connected Camps was that campers became such good friends with each other, forming close bonds over the course of the summer. For others, she said, different aspects of the game might prove more valuable. The bottom line, though, is that the possibilities for learning through Minecraft seem as boundless as the game itself. With creativity and community as its most important values, one of the counselors explained, “even if Minecraft itself is not around forever, the core concepts will live on.”

If you are interested in learning more about Connected Camps; seeing highlights from Summer of Minecraft; and learning more about how you can get involved as a camper, counselor, or educator, visit the Connected Camps website.

By Liana Gamber-Thompson
Photo/ Connected Camps