What is Minecraft, what is it and why is everyone talking about it?


In recent months , everyone has been talking about Minecraft as a tool in education . The launch of Minecraft: Education Edition has made many interested in the video game, which from now on will have its own version specifically designed for the classroom.

What is Minecraft and how to play it
minecraft flickr

After having talked about the possibilities and benefits of using Minecraft in class , there are many who continue to have a major question: Really, what is Minecraft? How is it possible that a video game can have a place in the classroom and in education?

For those who do not know what it is about or for those who have never seen it in action, today we are going to break down the details of Minecraft, which as if that were not enough, is considered by many to be one of the most successful titles in the history of video games.

What is Minecraft? An open world… based on blocks

Minecraft grabs your attention the moment you first see it. Not only the numbers – they have officially sold 22.4 million units, and only counting the PC/Mac version – are impressive, but also the essence of the game will catch your eyes.

Minecraft play mode
Image via Minecraft

They are not elaborate graphics, contrary to the most common trend of the large franchises in the market. In Minecraft, everything is pixelated , which gives it a special charm while allowing it to run without problems on computers that are not the latest generation. It may even seem like an old game, already rusty over time; the reality is that this is its great charm.

The world of Minecraft is infinite and is based on blocks , the vast majority of them cube-shaped and of the same dimensions. And yes, we say well, infinite, because you could start to go through it without ever reaching the edge; sooner your computer’s storage will run out.
In addition to infinity is dynamic.

No two worlds are the same, because every time you start a new game, a new world is created, different from the previous one. Although your vision is limited, you can walk around the world to discover different things: villages of people, animals, natural events (volcanoes, caves, faults, etc.), and the most interesting of all: you must collect materials to go advancing in the game , building new objects or improving the ones you already have.

Square topiary tree in Egyptian formal garden
image from ShutterStock

One of the main objectives of Minecraft is precisely this: to discover new objects, recipes and possibilities with which, for example, you can replace your wooden sword with an iron one, and then a steel one. Only in the original game there are hundreds of objects that you can – must – discover.

Also read: This player has been scouring Minecraft for 11 years, and he still hasn’t reached his destination

Dozens of blocks available

These objects have, in most cases, a cube shape, since this is the most general unit. There are objects that occupy several ‘cubes’ (for example a bed) and others that have different shapes, although they are placed occupying the space of a cube (for example a torch).

And as we have said before in the original game there are hundreds of objects, either in nature itself (cut down a tree and you get wood; kill a sheep and you have wool; stone spades and you get… stone) or through the combination of several of them (to make a bed you will need different proportions of wood and wool).

What can be found or created in Minecraft? Almost what you imagine. There are very complete resources on the web, such as the Minecraft Gamepedia, which in addition to enumerating also lists, defines and describes all the elements and practically everything we can do in the game.

Objective: create what you want

We mentioned before that in Minecraft there are two game modes: survival and creative . And your objectives will depend on the one you have chosen, of course.

Minecraft survival mode

The survival mode is the closest to the video game as such. In it you will have to survive the ‘enemies’ that appear at night (yes, in Minecraft there is the natural day cycle, but proportioned so that the 24 hours are really a few minutes).

What enemies are there? For example, the creepers (in the image) are the best known, although the list is quite extensive and there are various levels and with different attacks and abilities.

Fortunately (for players) there is the option to ‘sleep’ at night, thus avoiding contact with mobs that, I remember, act only in the dark of night. However, logic tells us that to sleep you will need a bed, and that it must be in a closed place, or else the mobs will wake you up (and you don’t want a mob to wake you up, of course). How to start playing?

There are small guides that will help novice players to progress during the first moments of the game. For example, this Gamepedia guide, “your first ten minutes” in Minecraft, talks about the first steps you should take in Minecraft, and that includes collecting wood and food, making your first weapons, breaking stones or building your first shelter with a bed to rest. You must do it quickly, because the night will come and you will have to be prepared.

As time goes by you will advance and improve your survival. It will be increasingly difficult for you to find certain materials, and you will have to create your own mines for the less common ones, such as Redstone or, above all, diamond. Minecraft, as its name suggests, is a combination of creating mines and mining them to get the necessary elements to improve your equipment and possibilities.

Creative mode is radically different , although the basics of the game remain the same. We will be a character in a world (also infinite) but the goal is to create everything you want. Unlike in survival mode, in creative the game itself gives you the basic materials, so that, for example, you can get the amounts of wood you want without cutting down trees. And so with many other materials. oh! It also allows you to fly, something without a doubt essential.

In the creative mode, everything is created much more quickly and comfortably, because precisely the objective is that you have at your disposal the possibility of putting your ideas into practice, that you build what you have in mind . You won’t need to create a mine and mine for hours to get a thousand stone blocks with which to make the outer walls of a palace; you can get them from the game itself in an instant.

Video: Demonstration of Minecraft modes

In addition to the survival and creativity mode, we have the mods , modifications and additions to the original game . There are thousands of them available on the net and, in fact, anyone can create their own (and although it’s not easy, there are tools like MCreator or McModGen that try to make it available to anyone, even people who don’t know how to program).

With the mods new possibilities are added to the game.

More, still: new objects, modifications in the monsters or almost everything that we imagine. It is about adding almost what we want to the original game, re-programming the aspects that we are interested in having. And there are all kinds of them, including those that improve the performance of the game on low-power PCs, those that transform the world, those that facilitate the creation of objects or those that add improved maps. As we said, there are thousands of possibilities for practically everything we have in mind.

Redstone, basic (and not so basic) Minecraft electronics

Of all the objects and possibilities, the redstone is especially striking, a special ‘stone’ that allows energy to be transmitted and, with it, to create small basic (and not so basic) electronic inventions. In survival mode you will need to mine a mine at a certain depth, finding redstone on time; in creative mode you will get it directly from the game.

The uses are of all kinds. There are repeaters, rails for wagons, automatic lamps or mechanisms and sensors, for example to create doors that open automatically when we step on a special block… or traps in case they try to rob us (yes, Minecraft can be multiplayer over the Internet and another user could ‘steal’ our home). If you want to know more about this material, take a look at the Gamepedia, where its possibilities are described in depth.

Video: Minecraft Redstone tutorial

In addition to small inventions, it also allows infinite and often incredible creations , such as calculators or even computer hard drives that simulate the operation of real ones:

Video: Minecraft Graphic Calculators

As if an infinite universe were not enough, redstone opens up even more possibilities and introduces electronics and programming to a video game.

And what does all this of Minecraft have to do with education?

We knew of MinecraftEDU ‘s existence , and the reason for the game’s success so far in the classroom. Following the purchase by Microsoft, the stakes are raised even higher with the next release in the form of Minecraft: Education Edition .

And here I fear that there will be an important change. More than creating, the use of Minecraft in efucation will be to usethe tool. Being an open world with infinite possibilities (especially in the creation mode) anyone can make a creation with an educational spirit and make it available to users for them to download, use and learn with it. For example, a walk through Ancient Rome that the kids can go through to recognize the buildings, neighborhoods or many other details of civilization.

Video: Minecraft Mega-Build

But not only history, of course, there is currently content applicable to other subjects, such as science:

Video: MinecraftEdu Class

MinecraftEDU was looking for this line of work that Microsoft will now continue with the special edition on education. In it , the community will create the scenarios, so that later the teachers use them in the classroom together with the students.

It is true that Microsoft’s goal is to transform the classroom, making Minecraft an additional tool to consolidate some knowledge, and that an interactive education in which kids play while they learn is also part of the classes.

Video: Minecraft Education Edition

Obviously there are doubts about how they will do it, if the acceptance will be as positive as many foresee or if the benefits of using this tool will be attractive enough to make a difference. There is still a lot of time for it.

We’ve taken the header image from Alan Montavon’s Flickr , CC-licensed. If you want to know more, you can visit the official Minecraft website (I’ll tell you in advance that there isn’t much to scratch either) or the MinecraftEDU website (much more interesting). If you want to know what this game is like ‘live’ you can also take a look at the people who are broadcasting their Minecraft games ‘live’ on Twitch, which is kind of like Youtube.