Well, I’m pleased to report that nearly 40 years after I began playing my handheld Pac Man (max score HHH easily attainable) my eyes are quite definitely not square. What has happened though, after a time when computer games just seemed to get more and more violent, they have turned a corner. They are beautifully rendered other worlds encapsulating complicated tales and dedicated fanbases. Little Nightmares makes me want to play games again.
So where does Minecraft sit with this with its chunky 3D blocks and pixelated graphics? What is the enduring appeal of this game. How has it remained relevant today?
First launched in 2011, children took to it like ducks to water. There was a lot of writing about its appeal to children on the autistic spectrum. It’s a game that can be played alone, or in groups and this is where, even among children with autism, it comes alive. I’ve lost count of the anguished cries of “so and so destroyed my world” and so practice at conflict resolution and teamworking comes in. Rather a lot of it to be fair, as we’re talking about children playing in a world largely unguarded by parents. Before you worry – the Minecraft worlds remain quite safe to the average internet savvy child.
So…what are they doing with Minecraft?
The game can be played in five modes. Most often, in Survival mode players use cubes (even the fluids are cubes) which represent building and other materials, such as dirt, stone, ores, tree trunks, water, and lava. The blocks are placed down in a 3D grid, often with little regard for gravity and the behaviour of liquids. Nevertheless, over time, a high level of planning and spatial awareness is nurtured in these blocky worlds, with or without a competitive edge (Creative Mode can be chosen for pure constructive play). In advanced play, redstone can be used to make primitive mechanical devices, electrical circuits, and logic gates.
Much of Minecraft is based in geological fact. The materials, what can be created from them, the alternative dimensions of the Nether and the End, both of which draw on ideas from popular beliefs, literature and folklore. By stealth almost, learning takes place.
Planning, building, adapting in a virtual environment develops spatial awareness. Imagining potential aims and outcomes relies on using the memory and learning from mistakes. Working with others online is now an essential life skill and increasingly valuable in these times of isolation. There’s a lot to Minecraft and if your child is enjoying it, the likelihood that it is screen time well spent.
Coming up: How teachers use Minecraft
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