How do you as a history museum or teacher reach out to the most difficult audience of all, the teenagers? For many teenagers, the visits to museum in their school classes are the last before they years later have children of their own. Much effort is currently put into convincing, luring or forcing the teenagers to attend museums and be interested in their own history.
Many amazing tools have been placed in our hands by the advancing technology, so experiments are always in order to see if the goal might be accomplished. A fascinating new piece of technology goes by the name of Minecraft.
A fresh new world in Minecraft. A pig is staring inquisitively at the newly spawned player, not yet realising that it will most likely soon be eaten!
At first glance, Minecraft seems like a simple and somewhat ugly computer game. The game is seen from a first person perspective and begins on a sunny morning in a brand new world. The world is huge, about eight times the size of Earth, so there are plenty of areas to explore. During the 10-minute day, the world is peaceful with animals around the countryside, but at night everything changes. When darkness falls, monsters appear and hopefully you managed to build a shelter for the night.
Your ability to interact with the world is amazing. You can build tools, cut down trees, dig holes, carve your way through mountains with your pick and build anything you imagine from the resources of the earth. It gives a special kind of satisfaction to look at a house or stronghold knowing that you created all the tools necessary for the construction, dug out all the stone from your mine, melted all the glass from sand collected at beaches and burnt bricks from clay obtained in swamps.
Almost everything in Minecraft is made from 1×1 meter blocks of different kinds of materials. That means that the graphics can appear somewhat crude, but it also means that it takes little time to construct even large buildings of the blocks.
The game of Minecraft is still in beta, meaning that the small studio, Swedish Mojang, are still working on finishing the game. Nonetheless it can already be purchased for 15€ at their website and is constantly being developed.
This means that the game is quite adaptable. Many different texture packs are available or you can make your own to change the way the game looks. Countless modifications, called mods, are available to add new things to the game like villages complete with inhabitants, dinosaurs and fossils, more monsters or even airplanes from The First World War.
In the version released in September 2011, called 1.8, a new creative mode was added to the game. Here all blocks in the game are available in never-ending numbers so one’s imagination can run wild. For those of us that still remember our childhood addiction to LEGO blocks, it’s like a dream. Imagine having an eternal supply of LEGOs! 🙂
The castle of the port of Hambeck at dawn. The wet lowlands are still filled with a forest, providing plenty of raw materials for a new settlement.
In the new version I explored a world and came across a place that reminded me of the area where the city of Copenhagen would later be build. The early history of Copenhagen and other cities around the Baltic Sea has always fascinated me and this seemed like a great opportunity to recreate a settlement from the early middle ages.
I began to build a castle, vaguely inspired by the castle build in Copenhagen by bishop Absalon in the middle of the 12th century. I then took a number of screenshots of the castle and the surrounding area and decided to write about it on the very active forum Minecraftforum.net.
In the on-going story of the port of Hambeck, Cistercian monks have now arrived and begun building a church as the beginning of a new monastery.
I added a story about a lord deciding to found a new settlement and posted the whole thing. Quickly hundreds of people read about the settlement,which I had decided to call Hambeck, taking parts of the names of Lübeck and Hamburg in northern Germany. The following days I spend more time building up the settlement, trying to build it in a realistic way like a real 12th century town. All along I took screenshots of the building process and posted them on the forum with more of the underlying story.
A ship from the port of Hambeck on its way to another settlement. A reader of the forum thread about the port of Hambeck later rebuilt the ship inside his own world to continue the story of ships travelling from place to place.
The result was quite a succes. After a week, the thread on the forum had been showed more than 2000 times and at the time of writing after almost three weeks, the story has been shown more than 7000 times! At the same time several other Minecraft players has been inspired to build similar settlements and post images online with their own stories. The readers have added more than 60 comments and in a role-playing fashion, trading agreements have been made with other lords of other towns. Suddenly several isolated games are now intertwined, but only through the forum posts.
I believe this little experiment shows that a way to reach adolescents would be through an inexpensive 3D game like Minecraft, which is being played by millions of people all over the world.
It would be most interesting if for instance a city museum like the Museum of Copenhagen used the newest research about the early days of the Danish capital to recreate it online with millions of interested teenagers learning about medieval city history, feudalism, trading networks etc.
It seems likely that any topic with an architectural or geographical dimension could be interpreted through the easily-accessible 3D-editor that the new version of Minecraft really is.
The port of Hambeck as it looks in early October 2011.
In the meantime, please follow the history and developments of the fictive, yet somewhat realistic, Port of Hambeck online. Or visit the official Minecraft site, which has a great little video showing aspects of the game.