New kid on the block: Minecraft Code Builder
Minecraft is a fun, blocky, Lego-like virtual environment in which to build anything you want, or play as a survival game. Each procedurally-generated world is a unique place to explore, mine for materials, and acquire ever more sophisticated tools. The catchy combination of immersive reality and alchemy has had child and adult geeks hooked since its first release in 2009.
Since its inception Minecraft has offered strong educational possibilities, and its lack of the kind of violence found in many other leading video game titles has led to it being perceived by many parents and teachers as a child-friendly game. Violence is possible (throwing sheep off towers, anyone?), but it is not built into the game. Minecraft is literally what you make it. Survive peacefully by making tools and growing food, or turn to the dark side and destroy rather than build; the very nature of the game encourages the former, as the latter presents little challenge and quickly gets old.
This makes it prime territory for educational initiatives. In 2011 an organisation called MinecraftEdu was formed with the goal of introducing Minecraft into schools. This led to educators doing extraordinary things like building virtual computers in the Minecraft environment and showing schoolchildren how to program them. But the code of Minecraft itself remained inaccessible.
In September 2014, Microsoft bought Mojang and the intellectual property to Minecraft for US$2.5 billion. In January 2016 it announced Minecraft: Education Edition, designed to be used in schools to teach creativity, collaboration and problem-solving.
The new edition opens up the hood of Minecraft to reveal the code that is used to move, create and build in the game. At an education event in New York this week, Microsoft announced Code Builder, an upgrade that allows students to bring up a list of commands and code snippets. These can be used to program a robot avatar to do things like work when the player is away, dig for resources, or protect your fortress while you are off doing other things. The avatar exists as a character in the virtual environment and physically executes the code that has been written, which is a great way to visually show what code does.
“Using Code Builder, students will be able to create some really cool stuff … and they’ll be learning as they play,” said Dierdre Quarnstrom, Head of Minecraft for Education, at the New York event.