Ever since Minecraft’s creation by the then 30-year-old Swede Markus Perrson in 2009, the video game has catered to two basic human desires — adventure and building. Players create bridges, castles, skyscrapers, roller-coasters, landscapes and any other structures and environments they can conceive of using an online dashboard and simple square building blocks reminiscent of plastic Legos. They also can define rules — no knowledge of computer programming required — via which their avatars explore these fictional worlds, create art, pursue treasures, slay beasts, combat one another or simply hang out in open-ended narratives of their own invention.
Bought by Microsoft for $2.5 billion in 2014, Minecraft has become the second-most successful video-game of all time with more than 105 million registered users1 worldwide by tapping into an apparently universal desire to explore and tinker. Anyone can become a fictional self and create the virtual spaces in which they travel, bathe, communicate, transact, compete and die (often), among other activities. At the heart of the game’s appeal, apparently, is the enjoyment users get from incubating new structures, environments, tools, and even mini-games within the game for other players. Judging from some of the many videos users have posted to YouTube, they invent, debug and play inventions of sometimes astounding complexity. Some even use it to participate in crowdsourced urban renewal projects.2
Minecraft’s creator Perssons incubated the first version using an open-sourced game from the US called Infiniminer,3 and he further benefited from software code and ideas provided free-of-charge by developers and gamers worldwide who adopted his open-architecture creation. “Minecraft does not merely present a complete universe to explore; it is a DIY (Do-It-Yourself), open-source, digital construction system that is set in a collaborative environment,” writes Digicult, an online Italian magazine investigating the impact of digital technologies on art, design and culture.4
Perrson was perhaps influenced by craftsman values and skills transmitted to girls and boys in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland through compulsory Sloyd educational programs starting in primary school.5 Begun in 1875 by innovative educator Otto Salomon,6 Sloyd (“craftwork” in Swedish) nurtures manual and intellectual dexterity in the design and realization of progressively more complex artisanal objects made of wood, metal and textiles.
Minecraft tinkerers, nearly as many females as males, readily share their creations and knowledge. Less experienced players, including millions of children as young as 7-years-old, seek guidance from more experienced players via chat rooms. “[I]t’s similar to how guilds have passed on knowledge for ages: knowledgeable adults mentoring young people,” wrote The New York Times in 2016.7 Minecraft has become for a new generation of tinkerers what amateur electronics clubs and RadioShack were for the generation of Wozniak and Gates. It is an educational crucible in which young girls and boys learn how to think logically, explore creatively, persevere patiently, and transform failures into learning opportunities.
1 Callaghan, M L (6/2/16), ”Minecraft Is Now The Second Most Popular Game Ever”, Popular Science
2 How ‘Minecraft’ is Transforming Developing Cities Around the World, Mashable
3 Goldberg, D and Larsson, L (11/5/13), “The amazingly unlikely story of how Minecraft was born”, Wired
4 Levine, J, “Build your world: Minecraft and open source architecture”, Digicult, retrieved 6/1/17
6 Thorbjorsson, H., “Otto Salomon”, Prospects: The quarterly review of comparative education, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education, Paris, vol. XXIV, no. 3/4, 1994, p. 471–485; (pdf available in archive at http://www.ibe.unesco.org)
7 Thompson, C (4/17/16), “The Minecraft Generation”, The New York Times magazine, April 17, 2016