Youth, Popular Culture and Minecraft Earth

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As a child of the seventies and eighties, I was lucky enough to experience a cultural revolution: the birth of video gaming. From pumping coins into Space Invaders and Asteroids to sitting in the cockpit of a Star Wars X-Wing fighter or driving a Ferrari Testarossa in Outrun, these experiences were shared ones. Watching my friends play, laughing, shouting and ‘encouraging’ them was (almost) as much fun as playing. The bonding that happened around gaming was part of my friendship group’s shared culture.

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The popularity of gaming waxed and waned in the intervening decades, but with the advent of tablets, phones, and portable systems like the Nintendo Switch, collaborative gaming is once again part of popular culture. Games such as Fortnite and Overwatch have become particularly popular due to their cross-platform availability, but perhaps the most well-known of them all, with 91 million active users worldwide (Crookes, 2019), is Minecraft.

Minecraft allows players to build worlds using resources collected from the game’s environment. It’s possible to play solo or share worlds and work collaboratively with others. Through YouTube, it has spawned a vibrant maker culture where people create and consume content around the game (Niemeyer & Gerber, 2015).

The development of augmented reality (AR) adds exciting new opportunities for real-world interaction, gaming and collaboration. AR allows users to see and interact with virtual objects while working in the real world via phones and tablets and is therefore potentially accessible for many young people (Khan, Johnston, & Ophoff, 2019). This space between the real and virtual worlds has been termed the Third Space (Schuck, Kearney, & Burden, 2017), and its educational benefits are starting to be explored, particularly the way it interacts with communities (Chen, 2018).

Minecraft Earth (ME) is an AR version of Minecraft allowing users to create and share virtual constructions in the real world. It has a head start on other educational AR applications due to being free, and a ready-made user base already familiar with Minecraft’s concepts and operation. Sharing structures with the wider community will encourage exploration and interaction. Exploring, creating structures, finding resources, having adventures and discovering other users’ constructions will be an important aspect of this interactive experience (Crookes, 2019). With collaboration central to using ME, it could become a sophisticated tool for encouraging interaction and communication amongst students.

This collaboration might result in the creation of a participatory culture (PC). There are several defining markers of PC which ME could align with. These include having few barriers to entry, an aspect of mentorship and an ethos of sharing (Jenkins, 2009). An advantage is students can take greater ownership of learning, unrestrained by location and time.  Learning experiences started during school hours can potentially continue and be built upon during pupils’ free time (Schuck et al., 2017). Communication within this culture can also occur within the application, face to face and through other forms of social media such as YouTube, which extends the community’s reach (Kuhn & Stevens, 2017). This could create ever-expanding circles of interaction and learning.

If video games reflect the society they are created in (Bradford, 2010), then the popularity of Minecraft is a positive reflection of popular culture and young people’s desire to work together. Some educators, undervalue or are unaware of the sophisticated literacies present in gaming’s social practices (Niemeyer & Gerber, 2015). However, with gaming becoming more popular as an educational tool (Kuhn & Stevens, 2017), Minecraft is beginning to be used regularly, particularly for developing collaborative skills (Davis, Boss, & Meas, 2018). This means ME is also likely to be well-used in educational settings.

The use of AR has been shown to increase learning motivation (Khan et al., 2019; Taskiran, 2019). Motivation and finding tasks meaningful are key if learning is to occur (Chen, 2018). Choosing applications and designing learning experiences that are accessible, inclusive and meaningful is therefore important. Minecraft Earth may be an early contender for being a valuable collaborative AR application for education.

There are some assumptions to be mindful of when advocating for the use of ME or other AR applications. Firstly, it should not be assumed all educators have the necessary skills, knowledge or understanding to use AR and related technology. Schools may need to provide professional development for their staff (Kuhn & Stevens, 2017). Additionally, some educators and learners may find these new roles challenging (Schuck et al., 2017). Continually introducing new technology can be responsible for change fatigue, and schools should try to stagger new initiatives. Secondly, not all play equals learning. Educators should have clearly defined reasons why AR is the best tool for their learning intentions. It will only be a good tool if it is suitable for the learners and helps them to achieve the learning intentions or develop skills.

ME has lots of potential for encouraging collaborative learning in new and exciting spaces. If educators can be mindful of the areas of caution such as staff development and having clearly defined learning intentions, ME and other AR applications could revolutionise the spaces students learn in and the collaborative skills they use.

References

Bradford, C. (2010). Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, The, 33(1), 54–64. Retrieved from https://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?T=P&P=AN&K=48000988&S=R&D=eue&EbscoContent=dGJyMMTo50Sep7Y4zdnyOLCmr1Gep7dSsqu4SbeWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMO%2Fr8lPr1%2BeGudvmh%2FHq

Chen, I. (2018). The application of augmented reality in English phonics learning performance of ESL young learners. 2018 1st International Cognitive Cities Conference (IC3), 255–259. https://doi.org/10.1109/IC3.2018.000-7

Crookes, D. (2019). Minecraft Earth. Web User, (481), 38–39. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/2275076713/

Davis, K., Boss, J., & Meas, P. (2018). Playing in the virtual sandbox: Students’ collaborative practices in Minecraft. International Journal of Game-Based Learning (IJGBL), 8(3), 56–76. https://doi.org/10.4018/IJGBL.2018070104

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/book/60823

Khan, T., Johnston, K., & Ophoff, J. (2019). The impact of an augmented reality application on learning motivation of students. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7208494

Kuhn, J., & Stevens, V. (2017). Participatory culture as professional development: Preparing teachers to use Minecraft in the classroom. TESOL Journal, 8(4), 753–767. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.359

Niemeyer, D., & Gerber, H. (2015). Maker culture and Minecraft: Implications for the future of learning. Educational Media International, 52(3), 216–226. https://doi.org/10.1080/09523987.2015.1075103

Schuck, S., Kearney, M., & Burden, K. (2017). Exploring mobile learning in the Third Space. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 26(2), 121–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/1475939X.2016.1230555

Taskiran, A. (2019). The effect of augmented reality games on English as foreign language motivation. E-Learning and Digital Media, 16(2), 122–135. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042753018817541

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Image credit: Photo by Kirill Sharkovski on Unsplash

2 Replies to “Youth, Popular Culture and Minecraft Earth”

  1. Robert, I am new to using Minecraft as an educational tool and my fist experience was filled with positivity. I often sense that adults today view children gaming as problematic and may not wish to see their children gaming during school, so I really liked your nostalgic introduction. I think it is very effective in reminding your audience of the fond memories we have all had at some point playing games and interacting with friends and the positive experiences we all gained from that. This was a clever way to lead in to what you had to say next regarding its positive impact on future focused education. I also particularly agree with the point you made about “if video games reflect the society they are created in (Bradford, 2010) then we could say some positive things about our youth” particularly through the lens of Minecraft and how it fosters effective collaboration.
    Like you, I enjoy teaching using Minecraft for the purpose of education and have observed positive impacts to facilitate future focused learning but had not heard of Minecraft Earth. So, thanks for the heads up on that one and I will be eager for its introduction to Australia and giving it a go!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Rob. I was really interested in reading this post as I have an 8-year-old son who is right into Minecraft at the moment. I also grew up playing on my Atari so could reminisce along with you.
    agree that gaming can be a great motivator and chance for collaboration between students. I also think that you are completely correct in saying that educators can undervalue (and be unaware) of the literacy benefits of gaming. It is a tricky situation because you don’t know what you don’t know. Unless teachers are gamers themselves, it probably isn’t likely they will use gaming in the classroom. I wonder how many schools provide any sort or encouragement or professional development in this field? I wonder if there are any online resources available for this purpose? I will certainly be more aware of how I can used gaming within my classroom.

    Like

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