Minecraft isn’t about creativity anymore

I’m being provocative. Of course Minecraft can be used in creative mode and allow kids to build amazing things. However, in educational tropes, Minecraft is represented as almost entirely about being ‘creating’ and ‘making’ – the pinnacle of digital games based learning software. Add ‘multi-user’ and the necessary subjective frame to interpret what all some kids are making and another myth is born. Minecraft is a safe, virtual world where kids can make anything. Well I’d like add a new line of discussion. Minecraft is not the nirvana of children focused MUVES (multi-user virtual environments) but that is what is being presented though the lens of educational technology innovation at conferences and online. Minecraft is software that allows cultural reproduction.

Once again, these minorities fail to discuss the broader cultures. In particular, the growing culture of play among Minecraft players. A few years ago, most servers were about building and community, I’m not going to argue otherwise. It was a period where the Minecraft community (early adopters) created the necessary tools and infrastructure to homogenise the game for a broader (now majority) audience. Servers popped up which ran some ‘hunger games’ type arrangements and people shared that code on the forums. Creating a ‘game’ within the sandbox world was primitive, but fun to do in the way that Code.org isn’t.

If you are a parent of a Minecraft kid now, chances are your kids are playing on some very sophisticated servers and watching multi-million dollar Minecraft YouTube channels about those servers, games and mods. It has become a huge media business. Kids perform a form of work in these servers — often paid in gems or some other micro-payment item that allows them to ‘get’ or ‘play’ more later. This is not what the educators talk about, as it’s got some very concerning media-effect by products. Kids log on to game servers, which are vast pre-made, rule based arcades. They line up in lobbies to join games which have been created by some very clever people – in – Minecraft, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is Minecraft as the educators would have you believe. This little more than mini-games (or snack games) which appeal to the decreasing attention span of the emergent snack-gamer. Kids are working by playing, collecting ‘gems’ while sitting on servers simply to rack up time.

Minecraft is now a platform which hosts thousands of competing mini-game servers, which lack just about every characterstic of the game routinely espoused as part and parcel of the game. These kids are having fun, playing online … but so are those kids playing Sky Pirates, Candy Crush or Clash of Clans. In that regard, kids who play Minecraft are not choosing a more creative game which requires the juicy 21st Century skills which get technology salivating teachers going … it’s little more than Habbo Hotel for a new generation, full of the same potential issues. But then most people didn’t play Habbo either.

While schools might well insist on using Minecraft towards educational goals, it has also evolved into a network of game servers which I’d argue have little more value cognitively than any other online snack game arcade. It’s just in 3D (ish). What is more interesting to me is the media which surrounds this phenomenon, the advertising, the merch, posters, books etc,

Often it seems, Minecraft is said to be educational in order to sell more product, as though calling it ‘educational’ somehow stops the broader Minecraft server/media messages having a negative impact on kids. If you’re a parent of a Minecraft player, you will probably agree with me when I say they spend a heap of time watching videos about Minecraft. But do you know what they are watching, or how these videos create breadcrumb trails to these arcade servers? Do you worry that your kid is idling on servers to collect gems and not creating much of anything? Do you even notice?

Then we have teachers, who believe that their Minecraft server is somehow immune and isolated from this media-circus. Oh yes, Minecraft is unlike any other game (for kids) because it has created a network of media consumers in ways no other game has achieved. Its important (I think) for educators to realise that Minecraft exists beyond school and to consider the issues raised in these online arcades and connected media that moves kids from one space to another. That is a literacy that kids are actually building – on of optimal consumption. It’s time to put this out there. As much as I love Minecraft’s potential, there is a BIG culture online that don’t see being discussed by educators … Introducing kids to Minecraft in schools will introduce them to the culture beyond it. Is that being adequately explained? Is that something teachers need to be accountable fot?

Let’s play some Habbo and find out …

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