By Richard Corzo
December’s meeting was a departure for DACS. I think it was our first presentation about a computer game. Andrew Kwashnak and his son Thomas introduced us to the world of Minecraft. Drew informed us that Minecraft, which first came out in 2011, was the second most popular computer game in history, after Tetris.
There are three main versions of Minecraft: the Java desktop edition that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux; the Bedrock edition for mobile devices such as Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile; and the console versions for Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo. Minecraft was created by Swedish game designer Markus Persson who founded the company Mojang, which was later bought by Microsoft. This year Microsoft released a Better Together Edition that allows players on different platforms to use the same server to play each other.
You need to create a Minecraft account in order to play. The world of Minecraft includes many biomes, climate zones such as desert or forest, holding natural resources that you “mine” and can use to build or “craft” things that help you survive in the Minecraft world. Everything you see has a very blocky look, including the sun and moon. It’s possible to play alone or with others over a network. In the latter case you can use a public server, or run your own server at home.
Successively more durable materials you may find are wood, stone, iron, and diamond. Gold is also available and has magical properties. You can mine blocks of these materials if you have the proper level tools. Tools you can make are an ax, pickaxe, shovel, hoe, and sword. Creatures such as cows, chickens, and sheep can provide useful materials, such as leather, feathers, and wool, respectively.
As you play the game, you’ll see status bars showing hunger, health, and armor levels. As your food level drops, you’ll have less energy to expend on tasks. Nighttime is perilous as that is when hostile mobs can go after you. You need to make a bed before nightfall to protect you from the mobs. In addition to the survival mode, there is also a creative mode where you just concentrate on building things.
After the break Thomas showed us what “programming” is like in Minecraft. It’s a visual task that to me looked a lot like playing the game without the landscape background. Thomas showed how he could program different “doors” which look a lot different in the Minecraft world than any door I’ve seen in real life. It’s possible to build working models that are similar to designing circuits.
A teacher in the audience asked what the educational value of Minecraft might be, since it seems to be popular in schools. Drew gave an example where someone created a biome that taught children what it might be like to survive on Mars. Another teacher created a world where the Aztecs might have lived.
Minecraft is a very open world that seems to capture the imagination of young people. Perhaps it’s a virtual version of the wooden blocks and Tinkertoys that I played with as a child.