Friday, March 4, 2011

Rambling: Minecraft as a teaching tool.

(Later, I'll put up a post about using minecraft for psychoanalysis.)

I will admit that I was once something of a Minecraft enthusiast- now I'm really more of a casual minecraft player. I occasionally check up on it and discover that new features have been added (courtesy of Notch), and I've slowly come to the realization that Minecraft possesses the potential for use as a medium for nonverbal communication.

That's a bit of an odd concept on its own, I'll admit- but there's more to it than just the words up there.

Minecraft is, at the core, a sandbox game- the player is technically free to do anything that they'd wish to do, within the constraints of physics and other in-game rules.

In playing, you need:

A mouse or other pointing device to control the direction the player faces.
Two "action" buttons (Right and Left click?)
Four directional controls (Forward, Left, Right, and Backward)
A jump key
An "Inventory" button that opens the user's "backpack". (the extraneous inventory could be omitted)
A method of selecting the active item
A "crouch" key (also omissible)

In essence, you could get away with a pointing device, a control pad, three action buttons (Clicks and Jump), and some sort of item-selection control.

You also need a screen, of course- but my point is that it presents an interface that transcends the otherwise normal association of sounds and words with images and ideas.

It's kinda difficult to think abstractly in Minecraft, given that everything in-game is concrete and (within reason) doable. There aren't any "points" in-game, only how much you possess and whether you're alive or not.

There would have to be some sort of introductory gradient- starting the player (potentially a young child) in a bare room with nothing doable except for interaction with something like a button, for instance.

This button might be linked to a dispenser, for instance, which would then drop the first tool - an ax, perhaps - into the room. A door would also be switched "open", and allow procession into another room containing a tree and another button.

That's just a suggestion of sorts- but the idea is that the level would be an introduction to the ingame world. Upon "introduction" to all characteristics of common blocks, the player would be stripped of their inventory and placed within a new level that introduces the concept of crafting- complete with more buttons for dispensing raw materials. This can be conducted with visual aids if deemed necessary, or left as a discovery-based process (which could possibly lead to confusion and/or frustration).

After they've got basics and crafting down, I might consider dropping them into the "normal" world, on the peaceful setting- once they've established a regular living cycle, they should be gently introduced to monsters- not in the same sense that they were introduced to everything else, though. The user should be introduced to monsters subtly enough so that they realize that there are malevolent forces ingame but are not inexplicably killed or otherwise frustrated by the game (a la creeper clusterfucks).

At some point they'll begin mining and discovering interesting things like redstone and saddles or records- while the rules for their operation are not inherently obvious, it might be worth introducing to the player how they work.

Within this framework, we can teach the concepts of construction, physics (and lack thereof with floating blocks), some electromechanics, and do all of this without any direct teacher-to-player communication.

More to come at a later date.


  1. It's a good idea, but I think minecraft is too simple to do this well. Actual construction physics take so much things into consideration, that's why it's a college major haha

  2. I should really start playing Minecraft..

  3. I think you are onto something, my friend! there a lot of lessons to be learned in this little game, and I'm surprised that no one has thought of incorporating the more social and mentally stimulating video games into educational curriculums. The best we got was Oregon Trail, and you can only die of dysentery so many times before the fun just stops...


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