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The Minecraft Generation

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The world as it might be represented in Minecraft

The popular Minecraft computer game is encouraging children to become computing tinkerers and engineers.

Credit: Christoph Niemann

The extremely popular Minecraft computer game is turning children into a generation of computing tinkerers and engineers with its encouragement of experimentation and exploration of computer science principles.

Minecraft's main thrust is the construction of structures out of blocks, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Colin Fanning notes block-based games have long been advocated by European philosophers as a form of wholesome play that fosters abstract thinking.

The complexity of Minecraft culture is embodied in children's use of the game's "redstone" element, which serves as electrical connectivity between blocks designed to mimic real-world electronics. Players use redstone to build logic gates that operate like the Boolean logic programmers routinely use in code, which enables the construction of complex machines.

Another key element is the inclusion of a command line that players must learn to use in order to play the game. Such components help stoke children's interest in and cultivation of computational thinking, with Minecraft's emphasis on the need to often debug the devices they produce.

In addition, University of California, Irvine researcher Mimi Ito says Minecraft spurs children to consult actual programmers for gameplay advice, with such coders becoming mentors. Ito also says children's impulse to tinker with the game furthers their proficiency in real-world technical skills.

From The New York Times Magazine
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