The Minecraft Generation: How the computer game became the new Lego for kids of all ages
The New York Times published an article about the popular game Minecraft. Journalists talked to avid gamers and video bloggers and learned how the game educates a new generation of children, teaching them to think technically and create complex systems, as well as communicate with each other. The editorial staff of Game Market publishes a translation of the article.
Jordan wanted to create an unpredictable trap.
He is only eleven years old and wears black horn-rimmed glasses. Jordan is an ardent enthusiast of the game Minecraft, in which you can create any objects from virtual blocks: from tall towers to entire cities. Jordan recently read Runner in the Maze, a sci-fi thriller about a teenager who tries to survive in a trap-filled maze. The book inspired Jordan to create his own maze that he could take his friends to.
Jordan came up with many different traps, including water filling the dungeon, walls shrinking around the victim, just like in the Indiana Jones movie. But most of all he wanted to create a trap that would behave unpredictably. To think of something that would take his friends by surprise. But how to do it? The task consumed him.
And suddenly he realized: the animals can help him. In the worlds of Minecraft there is a vast and diverse menagerie, which the player can hunt to get meat (or to tame animals). And among all the beasts there is the mushroom cow, known for walking completely aimlessly. Jordan realized that he could use the cow's walking algorithm to create a trap that worked on a random principle. He built a stone room and arranged pressure plates across the floor, each one responsible for a different trap in the maze. Jordan then placed a mushroom cow inside, which began wandering around the room, pushing the plates at random.
Jordan guessed to use the cow's strange behavior to create a random number generator inside Minecraft. And that's a pretty interesting idea, one that would be the envy of even sophisticated computer engineers. Jordan was able to get the system to do something it wasn't set up to do.
When I went to visit Jordan in New Jersey, I found him in the living room. He was sitting on the couch, his face lit up by the Mac screen, and suddenly he said a very interesting phrase about Minecraft: "It's like a whole new Earth, a whole world, and you're its creator." On the screen, his character approached the entrance to the maze, and I got a chance to admire the clever mechanisms Jordan had created. "My art teacher always said games weren't creative. But people who make games are people of creativity. There is, however, one exception. I think Minecraft is really a creative game." Jordan flew up to the exit of the maze, and I could read the inscription that any person who has experienced a journey through it reads: "The journey is always more important than what you get at the end."
Minecraft came out seven years ago, and since then it has held a very important place in the lives of an entire generation of children. Officially, 100 million people have purchased the game, and it is currently the third best-selling game in history, behind only Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft, as well as Mojang, the studio that created the game, for two and a half billion dollars.
Successful games have existed before, of course. But the example of Jordan and his parents looking at the computer screen over their child's shoulder shows that Minecraft is not just a successful game.
For one thing, it doesn't even feel like just a game. Minecraft is more of a way of implementing ideas, a tool, a whole cultural phenomenon. Minecraft is all of that in sum. It's a place where any kid can build complex machines, make stories about their adventures on video and put them on Youtube, create, set up servers to play with their friends. It's a whole world where kids learn from their mistakes, make discoveries, uncover secrets, learn secret recipes and text commands.
Most importantly, Minecraft is different from most modern games. It goes against today's software trends. Companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google go to great lengths to keep computers simple and create rudimentary interfaces that hide from the user how their computer works. But Minecraft encourages kids to figure things out for themselves, break things, then fix them back up. And, for example, make a mushroom cow into a random number generator. Minecraft inspires them to invent things.
In a way, Minecraft takes us back in time to the dawn of the digital age. The advent of the first personal computers - the Commodore 64, for example - in the late seventies and eighties brought up an entire generation of computer-savvy kids. They learned how to program