Minecraft has been around for a number of years now and has been providing heaps of entertainment to millions. It is thus odd for me to be writing a review on it now but my intention here is not just to tell you about the game, but also to focus on the various benefits to be enjoyed from this marvelous creation. Today I'm bringing you my take on Minecraft, not just as a form of entertainment, but as a tool to be used to shape young minds.
Minecraft is available on the official store for $26.95.
MY JOURNEY WITH MINECRAFT
When Minecraft was first launched I, like so many others, looked at it and thought, why? What's the point of this? Why, in the 21st century, would I want a game that's basically just a glorified Lego set (minus all the cool pieces) that uses 30 year old graphics? The entire concept baffled me, and thus I never paid much attention to it.
Recently though, I had to look into Minecraft as part of a work related project. It is now a few weeks later and I admit that I have been converted to the Minecraftian way of life. This game is fantastic. Yes, it is a glorified Lego set and yes, the graphics are terrible, but that's because it doesn't need fancy graphics to be enjoyed. In fact, I'm of the opinion that modern visuals would actually take away some of the game's charm. Minecraft isn't anything like modern games, it doesn't give you a great storyline, mindblowing action or stomach wrenching gore. It gives you something completely different… Freedom. Freedom to let your mind wander and create something beautiful.
My wife doesn't always understand my gaming obsessions and she gets frustrated when I spend so much time in front of my PC. However, the first time I launched Minecraft at home, she couldn't stop watching me play. In fact, she frequently asks if I'll be playing that night and if so, if I would sit somewhere where she can watch. Not only does she accept me playing Minecraft, she wants me to. No other game has ever had that effect and I suspect none ever will again.
What really impressed me about Minecraft is how child-friendly it is. I've been a gamer all my life and I've played some pretty gruesome games, even at a young age. This has made me think twice about what I'll let my own kids be exposed to. Do I really want my son slicing through nightmare inducing demons or picking up prostitutes for a "fun time" in a dark alley by the time he turns 6? I think not. However, I would have no objection to him spending countless hours with Minecraft.
The gameplay mechanics of Minecraft are incredibly simple. In survival mode you start with no resources whatsoever and are forced to use your fists to harvest the first few blocks of wood from a nearby tree. These blocks are then turned to planks, the planks to sticks and the sticks to tools. Once you have some basic tools you can gather other materials such as stone, coal, iron and more, then you can craft them into more complex items as the game progresses. The better your items, the more amazing your creation possibilities.
Your immediate goal is to create a basic shelter before the sun sets because at night monsters come out to play and you certainly don't want to be around for that. Some players choose to assemble a basic shack from stone, wood or even dirt and hide there until morning arrives. Others just craft a shovel and dig themselves a cozy little cave to wait out the dark. When the sun reappears you continue your quest for resources and get started on your first home. Later you'll create farms and animal pens to ensure you have a lasting food source. Decorate your house by using basic items to create furniture and when you're done with that, create a bigger, more lavish home. Just beware the creepers who'll explode on contact and destroy your landscaping efforts without a second thought.
Minecraft will have you mining deep into the earth and uncovering various precious materials which can be used to create tools, potions or even automated systems. You can also build a boat and sail to the ends of the earth, all while discovering forgotten landscapes that just beg to be explored. Later on, you'll travel to the Nether realm where you'll encounter brand new creatures and resources which can be used to brew potions and enhance your tools and weapons. If you feel brave enough, you can even take on a fearsome dragon.
There is just so much to do in this game, to the extent where I actually had to make to-do lists to ensure I don't forget anything.
If spending hours upon hours collecting resources doesn't appeal to you then there's also creative mode where players have an unlimited supply of materials and can spend their time designing and constructing freely. The sky is quite literally the limit when playing creative mode but the downside here, a sentiment which seems to be shared by many, is that your creations are less special when you didn't make the effort to collect the building material first.
Like most games, Minecraft puts a lot of emphasis on online play. Connecting with your friends lets you play in a world together so you can show off your creations and explore the world in groups. You can also exploit your neighbor's defense weaknesses and steal their loot when they're not home or even have a duel to the death.
Another side of the community aspect in Minecraft is the vast number of maps available online. Some people clearly have way too much time on their hands and spend that abundance building phenomenal things. You are then able to download those maps so you too can explore their worlds and expand on them or use them to get ideas on how to improve your own structures.
If you're seeking an item not available in the game then you can simply create them with one of the many modding apps available. Modding has been made so easy that you are even able to edit certain templates using Paint.
MINECRAFT EDUCATION EDITION
A few years ago, some very smart people looked at Minecraft and thought that it had some untapped potential. They got together, consumed a few energy drinks and some time later, Minecraft EDU was born. Minecraft EDU was a variation of the game, meant for classrooms, that allowed you to enter as one of two types of players, teacher or student. Teachers would create teaching scenarios for their classes and with the use of some additional features like the ability to fly, teleport students across the map and disable damage, could provide a proper genuine experience. Minecraft EDU has since caught the attention of Mojang who bought the rights to the software and turned it into the more official Minecraft Educational Edition.
There have been many arguments for games to be used in education but none have been as convincing as this. There are some great videos available on how teachers incorporated Minecraft into their classes, here are some of the exercises they used.
- Students work in groups to build something together according to a spec they were assigned.
- Teachers create shapes which the students need to duplicate.
- Students have to run through custom made obstacle courses.
- Student reaction times are tested by dropping them from a platform and seeing how quickly they can place a building block on a wall in front of them while they fall.
- Teachers design quest sheets where kids are awarded points for completing the various tasks.
- Creativity is unlocked by letting the students create freely or by recreating scenes from books and history lessons.
- Teachers download maps that feature educational systems like human anatomy or solar systems for students to explore.
What are the benefits of using this in a classroom you may ask? Well, here's just a brief list based on what I experienced.
The controls in Minecraft are simple and thus provides an easy platform for novice computer users to train their fingers.
Planning and preparation.
Before going on an expedition, especially when exploring underground tunnels and mines you need to be sure you have the supplies needed to get through the trip. This takes a surprising amount of thought.
How many units of each material is required to complete a project? The answer is usually surprising.
Building together can be a lot of fun and also very challenging.
Like common sense, online etiquette is becoming rarer every day. Having kids work together on a Minecraft project helps them develop good online manners from an early age and might prevent some of them turning into online trolls.
This might sound strange but not all kids understand that in order to get "A" you need to first harvest "B", send it to a company refine it and produce "C", then use it in a complex manufacturing process until you end up with "D", and only after moving through the alphabet do you get back to "A". Crafting in the game puts this nicely into perspective.
Creating mods for Minecraft is relatively simple but still requires some technical skill.
Basic programming skills can be learned through applications that let you code your Minecraft world and the behavior of everything in it.
With so many wonderful maps and wikis available for this game, you are encouraged to do some research before planning your next project.
One thing to note regarding the Minecraft Education Edition is that it is not freely available like the normal version of the game. Only through request may you obtain access to the Education Edition and you need to be part of an official educational institute. If approved you may then go ahead and purchase licenses at $5 per user, per annum.
You'd think that Minecraft only appeals to kids. It may surprise you then to learn that the average age of Minecraft players is actually 27. Astonishing, but after my brief time with the game, not unbelievable.
My eyes and heart have been opened to something truly special here. I'm enjoying this game so much and I keep thinking of new things I want to try. Minecraft is not only a game that I personally find highly fulfilling, it's also something my son will be using as soon as he's old enough to stretch his fingers across the A, W, S and D keys.
Of course, this game can't be perfect but the problems are slim pickings. My biggest gripe is the lack of in-game crafting guide. This forces you to consult online guides to figure out what can be created in the game and what base materials are required. This isn't a big problem but I simply can't fathom why it's not already included in the game. The other problem is that, similar to The Sims or SimCity, after doing everything you can think of and starting over a few times, you are bound to get bored. And depending on how far your imagination stretches, that could be sooner rather than later.
These minor issues aside, Minecraft is a real gem. Even doing something as basic as wandering through a cave in search of iron can be a rewarding experience. It's a fantastic game and the creators are true visionaries. The addition of the Education Edition is a nice bonus, and it also opens the door for games being more widely accepted.
As a gamer, I love Minecraft and will enjoy many more fun-filled hours with it. As a father, I am excited to see what my son gets up to when he starts playing and I truly believe we need more products that can have such an impact on our children.