Minecraft has shaped a generation of gamers. It’s popular with all ages, but elementary age kids live and breath it. Inevitably, someone starts to wonder whether this is a good thing, whether that be parents, teachers, or the media. But something that is often overlooked is the influence that Minecraft Mods can have on that equation. Minecraft Mods come in many different flavors and varieties. The Minecraft Modding community is perhaps the largest such community to exist, and Minecraft lends itself well to presenting real world problems as part of the game world. Due to the shear number of mods, you can find many examples that incorporate some form of beneficial learning that has real world applications. For example, there are mods that incorporate aspects of engineering, systems design, genetics, logic puzzles, computer programming, and more. Vanilla Minecraft aside, let us take a look at the kinds of challenges and tasks that foster learning in various Minecraft Mods.
Many mods include some kind of interactive machine system. Whether it be pipes or wires, they all have specific rules for construction and present the player with the challenge of combining a bunch of simple pieces together to create something more. Usually the end result is a factory for manufacturing more items and blocks to build yet more machinery or a power plant for powering all that machinery. Construction typically requires logical problem solving and spatial comprehension. Running a pipe from one end of your factory to the other can be just as complex a piece of spaghetti as in a real factory. There are many mods that focus on these challenges, including Buildcraft, EnderIO, IndustrialCraft2, PneumaticCraft, and more. These mods are also generally capable of interacting with each other seamlessly for even more creative solutions for your factory floor. But factories aren’t the only logic problems that mods present.
There are also many logic puzzles built into mods. My own mod, Railcraft, has a fully functional Train routing and signaling system. It’s strongly based on real life examples of railroads and provides many of the same solutions you’ll find real railway engineers using to solve the challenges of a railway. Problems that a budding railway engineer faces include scheduling, routing, best usage of track, avoiding collisions using signal logic, and more. But there are many other mods out there with similar types of puzzles. Some item management and piping systems are very logic driven. Logistics Pipes and Applied Energetics 2 are a couple such mods that take things just a step beyond normal pipe mods, in terms of both the amount of logical thinking required and the system’s overall capabilities. Both mods allow you to intelligently manage supply and demand of items across an entire base using logic modules that you install in the machines and pipes. This is all well and good of course, but there are some mods that take this even further.
When it comes to logic, some mods allow you to actually write computer code. ComputerCraft and OpenComputers are two mods that allow you to use LUA to control in-game displays, robots, and more. There are even add-ons to these mods that allow you to control a Railcraft railway network from an in-game computer screen. Robot programming is generally very similar to the old “move the turtle around the screen” introductory programming lessons; ComputerCraft even calls its robots Turtles. You can instruct them to move and interact with the world, creating complex structures or just mining out an entire area for ore. The more complex the task, the more complex the code required. However, while mechanical and logic based problems are great, they are far from all that Minecraft Mods have to offer.
Another area that has received a lot of attention from mods is Genetics. The first major mod to pioneer Genetics was IndustrialCraft2 with its Crop Breeding mechanics. As an added bonus, IC2 also provides an interesting power system. However, when most people think of Genetics in Mods, the first mod they think of is the Forestry Mod by SirSengir. In Forestry, you can breed Bees, Trees, and Butterflies. But there are other mods, too, such as Mariculture, which allows you to breed Fish. Genetics systems generally provide a wide range of traits and abilities that can be bred into the organisms: for example, increasing the yields of crops or improving the speed at which your bees work, and even breeding in more interesting traits, such as bees that heal you when you get close to the hive. The systems are generally fairly representative of Mendelian Inheritance: each individual has two sets of genes, each one a random set of genes from each parent. There are dominant and recessive genes and the two sets combined give your individual its specific traits. Punnett Squares are encouraged, just like those taught in school.
Speaking of school, no discussion of learning and Minecraft would be complete without at least mentioning MinecraftEdu. TeacherGaming, the company behind MinecraftEdu, partnered with Mojang to provide a version of Minecraft specifically tailored for school programs. Of note is the fact that MinecraftEdu ships ready for use with mods and even recommends some of the mods mentioned in this post, including a special version of ComputerCraft created just for the MinecraftEdu project. Real schools use this stuff in real classrooms, teaching kids lessons using Minecraft and Minecraft Mods.
So yes, there are many things that can be learned by playing Minecraft, especially if you play with the right mods. So should we be worried about the current generational obsession with Minecraft? Probably not. There are much less edifying things these kids could be playing. So next time your kid starts lecturing you about Mendelian Inheritance, remember it’s quite possible he learned about it while playing Minecraft.
About the Author
Aaron Mills was born in 1983 and lives in the Pacific Northwest, which is a land rich in lore, trees, and rain. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and studied at Washington State University Vancouver. He is best known for his work on the Minecraft Mod, Railcraft, but has also contributed significantly to the Minecraft Mods of Forestry and Buildcraft as well some contributions to the Minecraft Forge project.