Since its inception back in 2009, Minecraft has essentially put indie developer Mojang on the map, with over 40 million registered players and 17.5 million copies of the game sold worldwide. The formula behind the title is simple, and if you've ever enjoyed playing with Lego, immediately attractive: using 'voxels' (volumetric pixels), the engine procedurally generates a world, then turns players loose. From there, they build pretty much any structure they desire, stacking block upon block to create grand masterpieces.
I play it, myself. I can vouch for the fact that it's all too easy to spend countless hours happily building, not realizing that daylight is slowly fading. There's something about the title - known as a 'sandbox' game - that simply oozes creativity.
The Viktor Rydberg School in Stockholm, Sweden has come to realize this. As a result, the teachers at that school have opted to make the title a mandatory aspect of their curriculum for all thirteen-year-old students. But...how exactly does playing with voxels teach?
"They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done, and even how to plan for the future," explained English-language teacher Monika Ekman. "It's not any different from arts or woodcraft." The teachers also hope that students will learn about interactivity and develop computer skills and safe online habits.
Somewhere around hundred eighty students have a part in the lessons, where they design virtual worlds complete with electrical grids, water supply networks, and other vital infrastructure.
"It's been a great success, and we'll definitely do it again," she
continued. "It's their world, and they enjoy it. The boys knew a lot
about it before we even started, but the girls were happy to create and
build something too."
"We think it's a fun way of learning, and it's nice for the students to achieve something," Ekman concluded.
To be honest? I'm not terribly surprised. Minecraft is considerably more complex than a lot of people give it credit for, particularly where redstone circuitry comes into the equation. A few particularly ambitious (and
likely thoroughly bored) players have even gone so far as to design working computers which function entirely within the game engine. Further, a number of player-created plugins can teach students valuable lessons about marketing and the economy.
I've spent more hours than I'd care to recount building whole worlds within Minecraft. Those were wholly creative endeavors. The students at Viktor Rydberg are crafting worlds of an entirely different sort, and in so doing, learning valuable lessons that will serve them well later in life. And they're doing it all with little digital cubes.