I have Minecraft on my iPad, can I play on WHIMC?
No, sorry not at this time. The mobile version of Minecraft isn’t designed to be modified in major ways so we can’t add elements like adjusted gravity, tools to check on science variables like atmosphere or collect automatic data on participation. As a result we’re just offering it for the Java Edition. We hope Microsoft will open up more options with Education Edition in the future so we can include younger learners on mobile devices.
I don’t get it, there are multiple versions of Minecraft? Aren’t they all the same thing?
Minecraft comes in 3 different versions:
- Bedrock Edition, which is mainly designed for cell phones, tablets (iPads) and game consoles (xBox) and emphasizes a closed-access marketplace full of purchasable daily vendor-created content.
- Education Edition, an alternative version of Bedrock, featuring elements like robots to help learners code, chalk boards and barriers to keep them on-track and qualitative data tools for school assignments, such as a camera and journal. It runs on Chromebooks too!
- Java Edition, the original, largely open-source version of the game that is enjoyed by the older, computer-based and dedicated player and development community. This version has seen tremendous variation in its implementations and use and arguably remains to this day as the ideological core of the entire game.
It also features several different game modes:
- Survival mode, which involves exploration, gathering of resources, creating tools, and combining materials (referred to as “crafting”), finding food or trading in order to build shelters and to survive in a world full of zombies, skeletons and other stranger, now-famous, monsters such as the green-speckled quadrupedal explosive “Creeper” monsters seen all over Minecraft imagery.
- Creative mode empowers learners to by unlocking all block types and items in the game giving players the ability to fly around and build as they please without fear of damage or monsters. In this mode they may work with advanced computational-thinking elements, such as command blocks (code snippets to control the world) or redstone and sticky slime blocks to create new interactive components and game functions (Minecraft’s version of electricity for building circuits and machines).
- Adventure mode, where players participate in a pre-designed experience, which may range from a puzzle-solving mystery story to “Hunger Games” style combat arenas, or to astronomy science simulations like those found on our server.
- Spectator mode, which transforms the player into a ghost that can pass between walls or floors to see the inner-workings of creations or observe others unnoticed.
Just like many things (TV, books, sports) Minecraft is what you make of it. All versions of the game have the potential to be fun, creative or educational or hazardous and destructive. It comes down to the context in which it is played and if good influences, like parents, teachers or peers are present and taking an active role in shaping the experience. We highly encourage adults to learn more about the game and jump in to learn how it works. Better yet it’s good practice for kids to learn how to perspective-take to explain what the game means to them and give instructions for how it can be played in a way that’s fun for everyone.
So what is a Minecraft Server, exactly? How did you make yours?
One of the key elements behind the success of Minecraft is how easy it was to set up and host local a server. In the earliest years of the game, a major contributing factor to Minecraft’s popularity and eventual success was the ability to host a local server. Unlike many popular games, where players connect to company-controlled servers to play with others online, Minecraft (Mojang) provides participants with the option to create their own personalized server to play with just their friends. This pairs remarkably well with the open-story sandbox style of the Java Edition game, where players follow their interests in determining their own narratives and purposes in playing it. For some this may mean a server with a focus on creative building elements, for others it may be more about violent or competitive outlets, and for others still it could be a social gathering grounds and associated community. Ultimately, playing on a Minecraft server is second nature for most players and thus made the decision very easy for us to configure one for our project. Over the years, thousands of community-created variations on the basic “vanilla” Minecraft server platform have emerged, open source and commercial, all customized to emphasize specific forms of play. For instance, Minecraft Forge leverages “mods,” short for modifications, that facilitate entirely new game elements, from tornados to dinosaurs to programmable computers.
Our server emerged out of a summer camp series and collaboration with teen interns as an experiment in modeling alien worlds. Our project, What-if Hypothetical Implementations in Minecraft (WHIMC) emerged fromwas based on these early prototypes and evolved into an server environment that allowsed kids to explore a range of hypothetical versions of Earth and several known exoplanets, all implemented in Minecraft. Several resources were leveraged to make it possible:
- A web-hosting company, Beastnode, which provides an IP address, dashboard and and game server derivative (Paper-Spigot) so players can connect from anywhere in the world on a regular “vanilla” Minecraft Java Edition installation.
- Individual world files, like “Earth with No Moon,” created manually with 3rd-party open-source programs like Worldpainter, or algorithmically with in-game generation utilities such as WorldEdit or Datapacks.
- Resource packs and feature-enhancement plugins (add-ons), which include textures, lighting effects, sounds and more advanced additions, such as customized images or floating notification text in-game.
- Active immersion and data-management plugins, which enable new kinds of interactions, such as the ability to jump higher on the moon, talk to Non-Player Characters (NPC’s) or make floating text observations about science variables such as pressure or temperature.
We use a database to keep track of participant engagement with commands (actions), quests (tasks) and exploration, which in turn allows our team of designers and developers to shape the server experience and learning opportunities based on what participants do. We intentionally chose Java Edition over Education Edition because it allows us the ability to create more realistic and interesting astronomy simulations, and, more importantly, automate parts of our data-collection to create a learning system that is responsive to player actions. Java Edition offers the additional benefit of more powerful design and user performance tools, allowing WHIMC developers to constantly alter and improve simulations based on constant pilot, user and camp or workshop feedback. In this way the server is an example of “research through design” (Stappers & Giaccardi 2013) in that it is never finished, very responsive and has been shaped by dozens of researchers from multiple partner academic perspectives and institutions to surface different kinds of data connections and learning outcomes.
Minecraft is addictive and my kid can’t stop looking at the screen, what do I do?
As kids grow up their brains are shaped by many kinds of experiences. They have to learn to shape the ways they think and act by developing good habits and the discipline to mindfully direct their attention. Many kids haven’t developed cognitively enough to know how to do this very well so sometimes boundaries and structure can help. Talking about and agreeing upon time limits in advance as well as reminders along the way may ease task transitions. A lot of the time the resistance to disconnecting is about losing something they’ve worked very hard on or invested emotional energy into. With desktop computers or consoles you may be able to turn off just the display without ruining the game, or help kids learn how to pause and save it. With laptops we often teach kids to tilt their screens just out of view below 45 degrees, but not close them so the computer doesn’t go to sleep entirely.
I hear Minecraft is just for boys, how do we ensure girls can participate too?
Interest in STEM-related games like Minecraft often drops off for girls around junior high. Many factors contribute to this, but we believe at least two that matter that can be controlled are:
- Role models and mentors that girls can identify with present during learning and play. If adults are not able to fill this capacity often older teens may be able to.
- Activities that are relatable for a broader range of learners. For instance programming robots could be about making them fight one another or race in a competitive manner OR it could be about making robots dance together or collaborate to accomplish a task, which could be just as technically complicated or fun.