Educators and parents are always looking for unique ways to make learning exciting, and quite a few have found success with the video game Minecraft. While to many, video games might seem like the antithesis to learning, not all video games are created equal. And some have special attributes that help in the classroom. The game can also be used as a way to teach kids about cyberbullying, as many teachers who use Minecraft also teach their students about being good online citizens. As a writer of books for Minecrafters, I know how Minecraft can be used meaningfully for educational purposes, and I especially explore the cyberbullying angle.
For the uninitiated, Minecraft is a sandbox video game (meaning it’s an open world) that allows you to pretty much create the world however you want. If you choose to play in survival mode, you have to collect supplies to shelter. You have to find ways to feed yourself, like making your own farm. You can also play Minecraft in creative mode, which is how I like to play. There, you already have all your supplies, and you can make whatever you want with them. Here’s where education really comes into play. Instead of just doing straight math problems, why not have students use that math, like, say, having them build a pyramid? Microsoft, the company that owns Minecraft, also has its own Minecraft Education Edition designed for students.
Minecraft can be played online with groups of people, leading to the possibility of cyberbullying. Teaching kids in a classroom about cyberbullying is one way to deal with it, but I’ve also approached the subject in a creative way with my books.
My Overworld Adventure series, aimed for ages seven through twelve, takes place as if Minecraft is a real world, though it’s written so that you don’t have to play the game to know what’s going on. The main character is 11-year-old Stevie, who feels insecure about his monster fighting and building abilities. All kids (and adults!) know how it feels to be insecure, and I wanted to tap into real emotions on top of writing adventure stories. Portals play a role in the Minecraft game, so I have Stevie accidentally find a portal to Earth (a type of portal that does not exist in Minecraft) and befriend an 11-year-old girl on Earth named Maison.
The series consists of six books, designed to be read in order: Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither. The books have Stevie and Maison going back and forth between the worlds, dealing with both high adventure and real-world stuff, including cyberbullying. The cyberbullying angle starts in the second book, when cyberbullies hack Maison’s computer and let themselves into her Minecraft game — and into Stevie’s world. While there, they turn the land into eternal night, which means monsters are always prowling.
In the next book, The Rise of Herobrine, it comes to light that a cyberbully put a mod of Herobrine (a fictional villain in Minecraft mythos) into the game. Again, because the books treat Minecraft as a real world, Herobrine does become real, gradually gaining his own consciousness. Because he was created out of a cyberbully’s anger, all he knows, he goes on a rampage of destruction and cruelty.
Talking about cyberbullying was done with intention. It’s not an easy subject to talk about, especially with young kids. But I know my readers are generally in an age group where they’re either just starting to go online or are about to, and online is not always a very friendly place. I use a fantastic story about cyberbullying, but it also allows me to talk about how to behave online and how to protect yourself. Maison is at first scared to tell her mom she’s being bullied online, but in the end she realizes it’s the best thing to do. I would love for kids to be able to talk with their parents or teachers after reading about the cyberbullying in my stories, or for teachers to write up lesson plans to go with the books. This could also go well with teachers who are already using Minecraft in the classroom. Talk about cyberbullying done in a comfortable, non-lecturing way can help kids be better prepared and know how to handle situations. Likewise, it can remind kids the importance of how they use their own words online.
The possibilities of education with Minecraft is pretty much endless. With the game itself, it can give way to lessons on anything from history to math to a child’s own creativity. My books are a little different, and beyond the cyberbullying element, they can be a way to encourage reading for kids who are already fans of Minecraft. I want kids to have a blast while they’re reading my books and get hooked—while hopefully taking away words on friendship and kindness. However a person uses Minecraft for education, it’s bound to be fun and memorable.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, mureut.kr.