One of the best things about Minecraft is that it’s an open-ended experience. Although it seems like “just a game” to outsiders, the truth is that it’s a rich environment that can be molded into an infinite number of experiences. Kids can mine for the materials they need, build structures, grow plants and animals, and protect their creations. Even better, they can do it with friends, either in person or online. They can express themselves, build fine motor skills, develop stronger spatial awareness, and strengthen their ability to communicate. Not so bad for a video game, right? But what if there was even more?
For some kids, mining and building simple structures is as far as they will get in Minecraft. And for the uninitiated, that may be all you can see. But Minecraft isn’t just a static video game where you follow a pre-determined course of actions. In fact, Minecraft offers a few options for kids who want to take their worlds to a whole other custom level.
Redstone is a material in Minecraft, just like wood or stone, but it has special qualities. It is a bit more challenging to find than your other everyday materials, but it’s worth the hunt. Redstone is a conductor and you can use it to create virtual circuits, kind of like a wire. People make all kinds of automated things using redstone power, including elevators, trap doors, rollercoasters, and more.
Much like electricity in your home, redstone power is really only as helpful as the blocks it works with. There are a number of these blocks built into the game, including buttons, levers, pistons, and pressure plates. Using these and other similar blocks are what allow players to design elaborate creations that can be triggered to run without user intervention.
One of the most powerful of the redstone-friendly blocks is the command block. The command block is programmable and allows players to issue high-level commands from within the game. For example, you might choose to program one to give you a certain resource when triggered. Command blocks can also do things like teleport a user or send them a message. Since command blocks can repeat and use conditional behavior (i.e., if something is true, then do something else), they allow kids to basically create their own programs within the game.
Modding is a common practice for gamers. It’s short for “modifying” and it’s a way of customizing your game experience to make it your own. In Minecraft, modding typically requires using Java, a popular programming language, although there are tools for those who don’t want to do much actual coding. Mods can make small changes to the game itself or radically change the entire experience. You might change how a weapon works, or add a special toolbar to your screen. For kids who have mastered the basics of Minecraft, modding is a way to keep things fresh, add some challenge, and possibly change any features they find annoying or boring.
As your kids get older, they will likely want to experiment with some or all of the more advanced aspects of Minecraft. If they want some help getting started, one fantastic option is the Master Minecraft Coder summer day camp at Club SciKidz in Dallas. This weeklong camp is geared toward kids in grade 4-7 who already have experience with Minecraft. They’ll skip all the basics and dive right into coding with Java, working with command blocks, and create their own custom worlds. You won’t have to worry about them being bored because they’ll be too busy designing and coding. This camp is a sneaky one… they’ll have so much fun, they may not even realize they’re learning some important skills.