Kids find inspiration in the oddest places. And it never fails, the minute you think you can predict what your children will do in a given situation – they throw you a curveball.
My oldest son is a Cub Scout. A few months back his den had an outing at our local science museum. What happened that afternoon surprised me.
We bought our tickets and made our way inside. Hmm, what to see first…the giant T-rex? …the life-sized Apollo I Capsule? …the airplane cockpit? Maybe we’d start by panning for gems or digging for fossils.
No such luck…
His den leader headed straight for the mineral gallery. Yes, he was taking a group of 3rd graders to look at rocks. I thought my son would find it as exciting as our dinnertime chats about what I do at work, which last about 30 seconds before he asks to be excused from the table.
Would you believe we spent more time looking at rocks than at anything else in the museum?
“Daddy, daddy…look…I found granite!”
I watched as my boy ran from stone to stone rattling off the names of each. He knew the difference between igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks too. I couldn’t believe how excited he was about…well…rocks…especially when the activity didn’t involve throwing them at someone.
That’s when it clicked. Not only did he learn about them in school, but his true inspiration was his favorite video game – Minecraft. When I say it’s his favorite, I mean he loves the game like a preteen girl loves One Direction. And he’s not alone. As of October 2014 – more than 60 million copies of the game had been sold. The game even won the “Most Addicting Game” category at the 2015 Kid’s Choice Awards. Please don’t ask how I know that.
This may be why they love the game:
“Players begin on any number of randomly-generated terrains — square blocks that make up deserts, mountains, prairie and even clouds. To survive the unknown world, they’ll have to create buildings and items — like say, an indestructible pickaxe or a stove to cook on — which means they’ll need to gather raw materials from the world around them.”
“Minecraft is an open-ended “sandbox” that doesn’t come with instructions, so the gameplay is confusing — but that’s what makes it irresistible. Kids are forced to explore — first in the game, then out of it.”
The raw materials used to make and build things vary, but many are stones. Obsidian, cobblestone, limestone, sandstone, diamond, gold, granite, iron ore and others are my son’s Minecraft building blocks. And the entire time we were in the mineral gallery, he hunted for the real stones matching the ones he uses in the game.
We eventually saw some other things in the museum, and got soaking wet panning for gems – but rocks certainly ruled the day.
I have to say, it was a pretty neat afternoon. Who would’ve thought a video game, especially one with graphics that look only slightly better than Pong, would inspire an interest in science. I sure didn’t.
I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention that Minecraft ventures well beyond geology into other scientific areas. Biology, ecology, physics, chemistry – and even a bit of electrical engineering – are part of the game. Check out this paper by Daniel Short, which goes into much more detail.
So there you have it. An excellent reason to let your kids play video games.
…oh, did I mention this game has zombies too?
The Geology of Minecraft (video) by Sam Baker. This video digs a bit deeper into the rocks used to construct things within the game.
Teaching Scientific Concepts Using a Virtual World – Minecraft by Daniel Short for the Australian Science Teachers Association. This article explains the “key scientific and mathematical concepts” within the game.
Great Britain Geology With Minecraft. The British Geological Survey has reproduced the 2D geology of mainland Great Britain and surrounding islands within the world of Minecraft.
To Teach and Delight, Denmark Recreates Itself in Minecraft by @BelindaLanks for Bloomberg.com
Why Microsoft Bought Minecraft: To Lure Kids to Science by @markhachman for PCWorld.
The Geology of Minecraft YouTube video by Sam Baker