If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or have even been around kids for an extended period of time, you likely are familiar with Minecraft. If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically a game that provides the user with a blank slate where you can create your own world – sort of like high-tech Legoland, but without the mess.
My youngest daughter had been bugging me for a while to let her have it, and this summer I gave in and purchased it for her Samsung Galaxy tablet so she can play with her friends while at camp and at home.
While few things hold my daughter’s interest for long, Minecraft has gotten a hold of her and I am finding (to my surprise) that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I asked her why it’s so compelling and her answers made me think that while this may be a game, it’s also a form of social interaction and a teaching tool.
At first she said she liked it because “you get to build what you want” – and build she has. In the span of a week she had an entire “village” complete with a wishing well, hair salon, library, housing for her butlers (who assist her) and a storage unit for her food, which she has filled with lots of cake.
Here’s where the social interaction and teaching comes in: Minecraft also allows users to connect with, share and learn from others. She spends time in-person with friends learning and talking about the game. Going to a new camp can be scary when you don’t know anyone, but the game has given her something she has in common with new acquaintances. When she is home, away from her friends, she also can visit their worlds and spend time with them virtually.
The game doesn’t come with a set of instructions, so players have to figure things out as they go along, adding to the creativity appeal. “You can make up your own rules,” says my daughter. Which adds to the appeal for a kid who doesn’t necessarily like to color between the lines. It also forces kids to explore and learn as they go along.
It’s also helping her learn about math (don’t tell her that) because there are different gems that you can dig up and trade with others. Some gems are worth more than others, so gamers have to figure out how and when to use the gems to make things. As in real life, there are people out there who don’t play nice. Their sole purpose is to come into your world to pillage and destroy – so the game teaches kids to be careful of whom to trust and allow into their world.
Even the animals can get a little wild and crazy. When she first started she had cows and pigs wandering around aimlessly – until a few got in her house and things got out of hand. She even found some of them riding a rollercoaster she built! At first she penned them up, later she decided they were not worth the hassle and got rid of them. Now she has a few dogs that she has “tamed” and she’s taking in more farm animals on an as-needed basis – i.e. for food and wool.
I wrote this blog a few days ago and was about to post it when the Miami Herald ran a story headlined “Rethinking Games as Teaching Tools,” which focuses on several video games – including Minecraft – that teachers are using to help children learn in a non-traditional, entertaining way. Although still a small niche in the booming game industry, I can see where there is great potential for growth seeing as how today’s youth almost come out of the womb knowing how to use hi-tech tools.
As for my daughter, she finds the game entertaining and fun, and even if she doesn’t know it, she’s learning along the way.
Susan R. Miller is founder of Garton-Miller Media, a full-service, South Florida based public relations firm. Susan is a former journalist with more than 30 years of experience.
Garton-Miller Media is a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Founder Susan R. Miller has 30 years of experience as a writer, journalist and PR professional.