With all the emphasis on screen time and the debate about whether our kids are getting too much of it, making the claim that a video game can actually be educational may fall on deaf ears. But it shouldn’t. Our kids are growing up in a digital age, and as parents — it may be a good idea to start realizing where tools like video games can help our kids grow, rather than blatantly regarding them as the enemy.
There’s been a lot of talk about the educational benefits of Minecraft recently. Parents, maybe we should start listening. Anyone who has kids old enough to be interested in gaming is probably familiar with Minecraft’s block walls and caverns. The game allows players to build structures out of cubes in a 3D generated world, and is nothing if not great at capturing attention. But it’s the skills needed to excel at the game that parents should be paying attention to. In short — not all games are created equal. Some are actually helping our kids become better problem solvers. And Minecraft may be one of them.
At its core, Minecraft is about placing and mining blocks. There are different “game modes” that allow a player to choose their level of involvement: survivor, creative, hardcore, adventure, spectator, and demo. In survival mode, players must collect resources, build structures, battle mobs, manage hunger, and explore the land in an effort to survive. In creative mode, the survival aspects of Minecraft are stripped away and a player’s focus is on creating and destroying structures and mechanisms. This isn’t the video game parents grew up with. Children aren’t just chasing edible dots around a board or trying to assemble a burger. They are trouble-shooting and constructing in a way that may build real-world problem solving skills.
The game is designed in such a way that it’s “open-ended.” It doesn’t come with instructions, players are forced to explore to “figure it out.” And that exploring isn’t just restricted to the game board. In order to figure out how to build new terrains, forage food, and protect their structures, they have to read sites like Minecraft Wiki or watch tutorials on YouTube. That’ right, advancing in the game takes research. 2Machines.com explains it like this, “Kids are forced to explore — first in the game, then out of it… Slowly, they begin to see what’s possible, and develop skills of observation and perseverance.”
Even educators are getting hip to how Minecraft can be used as a teaching tool. A new Education Edition is being made available this summer to schools, libraries, museums, and nationally recognized home-school organizations. The software will allow students to interact with the game while simultaneously teaching them about art, poetry, and STEM subjects they’re expected to conquer anyway. “Many of the skills required to enjoy Minecraft to its fullest are important to educators who might be searching for inventive ways to engage their students,” explains Microsoft’s announcement of Minecraft: Education Edition.” By bringing Minecraft into the classroom, we are empowering educators and students to teach and learn through building and exploring within a fun, familiar environment.”
The game is inherently about problem-solving and its open-endedness allows players to push their imaginations to the limit. In this day and age our kids are practically born digitally-savvy. Maybe it’s time we embraced the idea that they can actually learn something from their screen-time.