Minecrafting The Museum

If there is one thing that a museum is about, it is offering an interesting learning experience. Of course, learning is also about being taught, and many museums undoubtedly do their fair share of teaching, frequently by providing educational materials to accompany exhibitions that help visitors contextualize them. Indeed, many galleries and museums also provide teacher-led instruction, particularly when it comes to kid education. And yet, as many museum employees are well aware, teaching is simply one approach to get a learning experience. For many in the industry, the question is thus how museums can deliver an engaging, innovative learning experience while still allowing the target audience to learn for themselves.

While the subject may appear to be a conundrum, the rising usage of technology is undoubtedly a boon in this area, as demonstrated before by the importance of social media and virtual reality in museum settings. Minecraft should be included in this growing list of instructional tools. For many museums, Minecraft offers a plethora of chances for giving an entrance point to a specific subject area for novices while also contextualizing it for more experienced visitors. Indeed, within the context of a museum visit, Minecraft has the potential to change learning without ever relying on traditional teaching methodologies.

This is because Minecraft empowers players to choose their own path and pursue their own interests without the need for formal education. In other words, it gamifies the learning experience, which inevitably introduces another critical aspect into the equation — enjoyment. By incorporating user agency and enjoyment, museums may build a virtual environment in which some of their most important topic areas become explorable in ways that are not conceivable in a physical display. Rather than substituting for the typical museum experience, the goal is to enhance it and inspire the type of enthusiasm that only a really engaging learning experience can elicit. If done well, it may considerably contribute to what a museum should be about.

Before we dive into some museum Minecraft case studies, let’s take a closer look at what Minecraft is and how it may be used to gamify museum experiences.

What Exactly Is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a very successful computer game that was first released in 2011. It is classified as a sandbox game, which implies that it provides an immersive and occasionally fictitious gaming experience. With limited restrictions on what players can accomplish within the game, it frequently boils down to their imagination. Minecraft, which has been compared to a virtual Lego, makes use of blocks of varying colors and textures that players may combine to create anything they like. Most of the time, players create buildings, fortifications, and other structures to safeguard their character and improve their surroundings. When played by specialists, whole universes are created through the use of architecturally significant streets. Due to the game’s three-dimensional representation, Minecraft’s numerous fans feel as if they are within the game, experiencing it as a virtual world.

What Is A Gamified Experience?

When software transforms any work into a game, it is referred to as ‘gamifying’. If you’ve ever attended an online health and safety course, for example, you’ll notice that the quiz at the conclusion typically takes the form of a game. If you fail, you must repeat the module; however, if you succeed, you are often awarded a virtual certificate.

Of course, creating a game entirely from software is not novel. What is unique is how software developers are now attempting to gamify everything they create. As consumers, it appears as though the public prefers to play at something rather than work at it. Of course, the line between work and play is not always apparent when it comes to learning. In summary, software makers have masked the effort required for learning by making it more enjoyable and entertaining.

When it comes to Minecraft, which has no educational function in its own right, it is easy to gamify all sorts of things that museums are striving to achieve. By creating items in Minecraft that correspond to the kind of displays offered by many museums, it becomes possible for individuals – particularly youngsters – to study the principles underlying them in a familiar, albeit gamified, manner. In essence, it enables museums to provide an educational experience that is not taught but rather self-acquired in a pleasant and engaging manner. Minecraft is therefore a tool to an educational aim for museums, not to mention its marketing potential.

Minecraft And Museums

One of the most effective applications of Minecraft to enhance a visitor attraction was made by the Museum of London. In 2016, to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the fire, the Museum of London commissioned an expert Minecraft team to create a virtual reconstruction of London prior to the catastrophe. The crew captured the Thames shoreline, the City of London, and even the major churches of the day in exquisite detail. The idea was to provide a means for the Minecraft generation to access those city streets and freely roam about them, just like they may have done in the mid-17th century.

Of course, one might obtain a mental impression of how the capital city looked and felt by consulting maps and written reports, like Samuel Pepys’ renowned diary. Both of these modes of instruction, however, demand some commitment on the side of the student. Exploring the three-dimensional Minecraft rendition of London also demands a degree of dedication to learning. After all, it is simply another teaching tool. The critical issue is that for many members of the Minecraft generation – and fair many others who are a little older – there is no sense of investment necessary. Nor, though, does it appear as though any direct learning is occurring. It is an experiential method of learning that, in the opinion of those who have tried it, is self-satisfying.

Thus, rather than diverting attention away from the Museum of London’s Great Fire displays, the experience piqued the public’s curiosity in a manner that it would not have done without the Minecraft virtual environment. The incredible level of realism with which the Minecraft rendition of London was portrayed was critical to its success. Additionally, it did not end at the pre-fire stage. Users may also download two other versions of the city, both of which are three-dimensional.

The Museum of London provided an opportunity to view the city during the height of the fire and the devastation it must have wreaked on citizens at the time. Then there was a Minecraft recreation of the city in the midst of its rebuilding. As such, virtual worlds enabled a variety of forms of education, ranging from history and urban planning to social transformation and architecture. Bear in mind that all of those modes of learning resulted from excitingly gamifying the user experience.

Minecraft Museum Storytelling

Rather than trivializing the material, the use of Minecraft to assist in visualizing it results in a more engaging experience. However, the technique is not confined to the United Kingdom. When San Francisco’s de Young Museum presented a temporary display dedicated to one of Mesoamerica’s greatest architectural wonders, it enhanced the user experience with Minecraft. Teotihuacan: Metropolis of Water, City of Fire ran from September 2017 through the following February, delving into the culture of the ancient Mesoamerican city located in the Valley of Mexico. The de Young Museum created a free, downloadable three-dimensional map of the city in the run-up to the show.

Teotihuacan’s Minecraft rendition portrayed the historic metropolis in a beautiful 1:1 size. It enabled anyone who had taken the bother to download it to stroll along the Street of the Dead or climb the steps to the top of the iconic Sun Pyramid. Even freshly found aspects of the city, such as the passage beneath the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, were featured. The Minecraft recreation of Teotihuacan was created to provide an immersive, first-person experience of the Mesoamerican metropolis in a manner that models or poster-sized photos just cannot.

Notably, the team at the de Young Museum who commissioned the Minecraft rendition of the city cited the success of the Museum of London’s Great Fire virtual environment as justification for utilizing this type of software. Yes, the museum desired to generate interest in its exhibitions, and harnessing the power of Minecraft appeared to be an effective method of doing so. However, the overriding aim was to represent the Teotihuacan constructed environment in a way that would be impossible without the use of some type of digital technology.

Minecraft Use At The Victoria and Albert Museum

The world-renowned Victoria and Albert Museum has previously employed digital video game technology to bring some of its exhibits to life in an intuitive way for youngsters to enjoy. For instance, it has a game for constructing 18th-century wigs that teaches children about the culture of the era while also cultivating respect for fashion design abilities. As a result, it’s unsurprising that the powers that be chose Minecraft to commemorate the museum’s own significant architecture endeavor.

When the V&A Museum opened a new public entry on Exhibition Road in 2017, the museum desired to create a special digital tool that would allow visitors to create their own version. It turned to BlockWorks, which creates a variety of interactive experiences in Minecraft for commercial organizations and other institutions. Blockwork created a collection of pre-built building components digitally crafted from standard Minecraft bricks. Anyone who logged into the V&A’s Minecraft server was then able to participate in a virtual workshop. Attendees were not only allowed to tour the museum’s new entry, but also to create their own expansions and other layouts.

What may be even more thought-provoking for other museum experts is the possibility of different virtual workshop participants working cooperatively on the Minecraft version of the V&A’s design. By collaborating, numerous alternative ideas for the museum might be tested and evaluated. Finally, a design was chosen as the best, and the winner received a tangible three-dimensional print of the Minecraft-rendered design as a reward. Although the V&A utilized Minecraft for a single event, over 200 young people participated in the workshop over the course of one weekend, creating a diverse range of innovative concepts.

Minecraft And Art Museum

The Tate Gallery was an early proponent of Minecraft’s potential. In 2014, it commissioned Tate Worlds. The objective was to construct a series of Minecraft maps that each gave a unique perspective on some of Tate’s many artworks via completely explorable virtual environments. The three-dimensional maps let anybody who has Minecraft installed on their PC, tablet, or smartphone interact with artworks in ways never possible before.

In certain instances, the goal was to create an immersive fictitious setting inspired by a renowned photograph in the collection. In other instances, Minecraft depictions of real-world locations, as to the rendering of London in the aforementioned Great Fire edition, inspired a piece of art or expressed something about the artist in question.

What distinguished Tate Worlds from some of the other institutions’ Minecraft forays covered in this article was the inclusion of challenges related to the themes of each artwork in the virtual environment. This gamification of the user experience contributed to ensuring that Tate Worlds was not only a virtual gallery, which would have been a poor representation of the physical gallery space. Rather than that, it meant that users could discover how some of the most notable artworks in their collection were created, what motivated the artists, and some of the stories behind them using Minecraft. As so, Tate Worlds combined art appreciation, art history, and simple, free-roaming enjoyment.

The British Museum’s Use of Minecraft

Although the British Museum launched a 2014 initiative to reproduce itself fully in Minecraft, the game has been used for educational purposes in numerous ways since then. For instance, during the summer of 2018, the museum hosted a series of workshops geared for children aged seven and above that focused on Roman Britain. The organizers of the museum came up with the concept of having participants build a wall in Minecraft, which even newbies to the software could accomplish easily.

Crucially, the British Museum infused its virtual wall construction with a specific Roman flavor. The walls that the participants were urged to build would define the limits of the empire, exactly as Emperor Hadrian famously did when he suggested a wall that spanned from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. This form of the entry-level game enabled younger visitors, in particular, to grasp some of the notions associated with Roman Britain. For more sophisticated gamers, the software allowed for the building of completely original creations as long as they were inspired by the Roman period in Britain. Indeed, the sessions prompted participants to seek Roman artifacts in the Museum and recreate them in Minecraft. The project’s historical scope was also quite broad, spanning the time from Claudius’ invasion through the construction phase of Hadrian’s wall.

Gamification is becoming more prevalent, and museums and galleries will increasingly rely on it to generate and retain interest. While there are alternative methods to gamify museum material, Minecraft is a ready-to-use system that is widely recognized and, most importantly, trusted. It may be used to develop vast virtual worlds or smaller-scale projects. You may use it to conduct in-house training or distribute your digital material as a gratis marketing offer.

By its sheer nature, Minecraft’s design allows for nearly unlimited creative possibilities. Even among the few institutions that have embraced its potential, it is easy to discern widely divergent perspectives on what it is capable of. While designing educational tools within Minecraft requires knowledge, it is unquestionably more cost-efficient than developing your own bespoke software application that, to be honest, may not be as well-known as Minecraft.

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Martha Hall
Writer Martha has been with the team since she graduated from college on the top of her class years ago, and has been training new young minds on writing articles that makes it to our web pages today.