What is Minecraft?
Originally released in November of 2011 by Mojang AB and Microsoft Studios, Minecraft has revolutionized not only the structure and economic model of the gaming industry but the broader gaming experience. Specifically, Minecraft is not bound to the binary of winning or losing, instead, the game encourages exploration, resource collection, and imagination— a basis that was not necessarily the norm within the gaming industry prior to 2011.
With more than 141 million active PC users of all ages, Minecraft has doubled down on these features, priding itself on its ability to embed educational principles straight into the framework of the game. Reported to enhance creativity, problem-solving, self-direction, collaboration, and a global perspective, Minecraft is consistently ranked among the best games for young people.
The Introduction of Minecraft: Education Edition
As video games increasingly look to communicate ideas about the past, Minecraft is no different. Understanding both the makeup of their audience as well as the potential of their platform, Minecraft invited a whole new generation to build and explore models of the past with their release of Minecraft: Education Edition in 2016. Having already faced extreme amounts of success with the original version of the game, Microsoft Studios sought to expand the game’s impact directly into the educational sphere, effectively taking a medium that young people were already familiar with and transforming it into a useful learning tool.
My Research Interests and Goals
Simply put, I want to learn more about the relationship between gaming and history, including the benefits and downfalls of video games in a history education setting. In order to get a better sense of the design and success of Minecraft: Education Edition‘s history education components, I will focus my attention on Minecraft: Education Edition‘s History and Culture guide. Moreover, since each lesson plan and model world contains its own unique set of learning objectives, I will be analyzing three projects that are situated in a variety of historical fields and marketed towards different age groups in hopes of gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the landscape. In particular, I have initially chosen four projects from among Minecraft: Education Edition‘s most popular: “The City of Florence” (updated in 2021) submitted by Marco Vigelini, “World War I Lesson” (updated in 2021) submitted by Phygital Labs, “A303 Stonehenge Through The Ages” (updated in 2022) submitted by Block Builders, and “Juneteenth Build Challenge” (updated in 2022) submitted by Minecraft Education.
In using these models as a lens into Minecraft: Education Edition, I hope to understand what makes these particular models more appealing and promotable than others on the website (and, more generally, other educational tools). With this, I am interested in the overall design of these world models, both in terms of content accuracy as well as the assumed role of teachers vs. students within the game.
I will also search to better understand the method by which these models are presented to educators and whether or not they are ultimately successful in completing their proposed learning objectives. That is to say, I will use these models to better determine the broader relationship between immersive videogame play and the potential for education. I find this particularly important in the case of Minecraft: Education Edition as the tool is designed to filter models based on country, region, grade, and subject in order to ensure that the educator is choosing a model that complies with standards of learning in their location.
Additionally, since Minecraft: Education Edition largely relies on community submissions, an oral history component would add a lot of structure to this paper. Interviews focusing on the small teams/educators that create the models as well as those who are implementing these models within the classroom space could be an interesting point of comparison. These interviews would also do much in the way of providing a behind-the-scenes look that would hopefully complement my own analysis.