Minecraft: When learning is the game

A Librarian Villager oversees the Minecraft: Education Edition room at MoPOP in Seattle.

I have never played Minecraft.

However, I’ve written and tweeted about its prevalence in education, a presence potentially more far-reaching than its huge popularity as entertainment. So it was with that perspective I walked into the new “Minecraft: The Exhibition” at the Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP) in Seattle.

What I discovered is in my EdSurge story, “World-Premiere Exhibit Explains Minecraft to the Most Challenging Audience: Parents.

Not everything I saw or heard at MoPOP made it into that EdSurge piece, though. That included some additional salient observations by Brooks Peck, co-curator of the exhibit and MoPOP senior curator. For gameplay as well as education, Peck finds Minecraft has “unlimited possibilities.”

“Once people get the hang of it, they really want to push the boundaries. They’re like, ‘How can I mess around with this? What happens if I do this?'” Peck told me. “So there’s a ton of experimentation that goes on. I see that everyday in the gallery where I’ve set up these little experiences for people and they ignore them completely and just mess around. But you can’t break it. So that’s great.”

MoPOP senior curator Brooks Peck (left) at the Minecraft: Education Edition station.

While there’s a lot that makes the digital tangible to fans, the exhibition also helps non-players — like parents and me — understand the appeal and reach of Minecraft. Think of it as Minecraft 101.

For example, there’s a physical crafting table for making things with natural resources that reproduces the virtual one inside Minecraft’s world. Yes, it’s cool for knowledgeable players. But it also serves an educational purpose.

“This is totally an opportunity for kids who are players,” Peck said. “It gives them the chance to be the expert, and they can sit down and show their parents or whomever what they know. They love that. They get so few opportunities to do that, to be the one in the know.”

That was pretty obvious when I visited the exhibition. Even though it was midday on an October Monday, there were lots of kids and parents, and the former led the latter.

A life-sized Minecraft panda waits as visitors leave the exhibition.

Sure, there are those who may wonder about the real-life benefits of playing in a world where you’re manipulating meter-high blocks made of pixels. Yet Peck sees a different kind of learning going on.

“Among other things Minecraft has a really interesting connection to the real world in this idea: You live in the world you make,” Peck said. “That’s a literal fact in Minecraft. You make your house; you might landscape it; you live in this world that you built.”