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Mining Learning and Crafting Scientific Experiments: A Literature Review on the Use of Minecraft in Education and Research


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Since the field of educational videogames or serious games is not limited to games that are specifically designed for educational purposes, videogames such as Minecraft have aroused the attention of teachers and researchers alike. To gain insights into the applicability of Minecraft, we reviewed the literature on use of the game in education and experimental research. We summarized the current usage in addition to our own considerable experience with Minecraft in courses on educational videogame design and as a research instrument in instructional psychology and discuss the benefits and limitations. Based on these observations, we outlined the future of Minecraft in both fields and emphasize examples that already stretch the technical and methodical boundaries. To increase the application of our analysis, we distill three main implications from our observations that address the future of educational and research tools in educational videogames in general.
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Nebel, S., Schneider, S., & Rey, G. D. (2016). Mining Learning and Crafting Scientific Experiments: A Literature Review on the
Use of Minecraft in Education and Research. Educational Technology & Society, 19 (2), 355366.
ISSN 1436-4522 (online) and 1176-3647 (print). This article of the Journal of Educational Technology & Society is available under Creative Commons CC-BY-ND-NC
3.0 license ( For further queries, please contact Journal Editors at
Mining Learning and Crafting Scientific Experiments: A Literature Review on
the Use of Minecraft in Education and Research
Steve Nebel*, Sascha Schneider and Günter Daniel Rey
Department of E-Learning and New Media, Faculty of Humanities, Technische Universität Chemnitz, Germany // // //
*Corresponding author
(Submitted May 11, 2015; Revised July 29, 2015; Accepted September 17, 2015)
Since the field of educational videogames or serious games is not limited to games that are specifically designed
for educational purposes, videogames such as Minecraft have aroused the attention of teachers and researchers
alike. To gain insights into the applicability of Minecraft, we reviewed the literature on use of the game in
education and experimental research. We summarized the current usage in addition to our own considerable
experience with Minecraft in courses on educational videogame design and as a research instrument in
instructional psychology and discuss the benefits and limitations. Based on these observations, we outlined the
future of Minecraft in both fields and emphasize examples that already stretch the technical and methodical
boundaries. To increase the application of our analysis, we distill three main implications from our observations
that address the future of educational and research tools in educational videogames in general.
Minecraft, Educational videogames, Serious games, Educational research, Educational technology
When analyzing educational videogames, researchers can observe that games, which cannot be described as designed
specifically for educational purposes (Connolly, Boyle, MacArthur, Hainey, & Boyle, 2012; Ritzhaupt, Gunter, &
Jones, 2010), have been used. Off-the-shelf games like Civilization III (Squire, 2004; Squire, DeVane, & Durga,
2008), Making History (Watson, Mong, & Harris, 2011), Massively Multiplayer Online-Role-Playing Games like
World of Warcraft or EVE Online (Clark, Nelson, Sengupta, & D’Angelo, 2009; Rausch, Fasshauer, & Martens,
2012; Reeves, Malone, & O Driscoll, 2008), simulation-based videogames like Sim City 2000 (Tanes & Cemalcilar,
2010), and narrative-focused adventures like The Walking Dead (Staaby, 2014) have been used in education or
educational research. Even software that was never intended to be used as a game at all (e.g., Power Point, Siko &
Barbour, 2013; Siko, Barbour, & Toker, 2011) appears in this context. These examples show the growing interest of
researchers and teachers in using very different software as educational tools. Thus, we conclude that educational
videogames are not only games that have been intended to be educational tools in the first place but also games that
can be utilized as such. This can be elucidated even further when observing the impressive success of Quizkampen
(, a mobile-based trivia game that includes online duels between friends and strangers.
The players have to answer questions that address very different topics such as politics, geography, movies, or film
stars. Thus, a stable learning process within topics that are not entirely entertainment-based is needed to improve in
the competitive scenario.
The German version Quizduell has been downloaded more than 10 million times (SpotOn, 2014) and was extended
to other media since the game is the center of a nationwide TV show (Das Erste, 2015). The success of a game that
combines educational elements and competitive videogame mechanics is an appropriate example of the potential of
videogames with entertainment-focused intent. Another videogame, Minecraft (, had a
significant impact not only on videogames in general but also on education and research. More than 19 million
copies (Mojang, 2015a) have been sold for PC, 12 million copies for XBOX360 (4J Studios, 2014), and more than
21 million copies for mobile phones (Bergensten, 2014), which places the game on the all-time best-sellers list. Since
its developer Mojang has been taken over by Microsoft for $2.5 billion (Owen, 2014), the game is known to the
public as this was addressed in news around the world. In addition, millions of hours of gameplay footage and let’s
plays are available for interested users who are either too young or do not have the technical or financial capacities to
play the game themselves.
What is Minecraft?
In 2009, independent developer Zachary Barth created Infiniminer ( in his
spare time. Within this game, he invented a new way of representing the game world with simple independent, block-
shaped entities and added a procedural generation of the environment. Users who enter this randomly generated
game world mine and place blocks, and thus recreate anything that can be constructed within this block-based
structure. This process can be compared to a square pixel and low-resolution pictures. Based on a simple element,
like a pixel, one can create almost every image he or she wants. Although the game includes player versus player
gameplay, the simple but ingenious building mechanics and the world creation method inspired Markus “Notch”
Persson to create his own Java-based version that eventually became Minecraft. This multiplayer sandbox building
game (Ekaputra, Lim, & Eng, 2013) is simply “a game about braking and placing blocks” (Mojang, 2015a), but the
game’s complexity has drastically increased since then (for a more extensive description see: Duncan, 2011).
More functionality through a diverse range of different block types was included, for example, the material of
redstone transport signals, dirt blocks can grow grass, or coal can be used in ovens. Thus, players not only place
blocks to build static representations of real-world elements but also use the blocks’ functionality to create complex
machines or environments. Using a pixel-picture analogy again, the users not only build pictures but also add
functionality, like animations. Additionally, server-based multiplayer was included so large numbers of players work
together (or against each other) to create even bigger environments. Finally, survival mode and non-player characters
(NPCs; both hostile and friendly) are part of the game. Although this game mode is not important for a large part of
the community (who prefer the creative mode), the mode serves as an important starting point for the players’
experience within the game and, therefore, for its success. When the players start in survival mode, they have to
build a simple shelter in order to stay alive. After creating their first small building, they are tempted to improve it
even further. Thus, survival mode infuses user creation, which, in turn, develops a momentum of its own and
becomes an essential part of the experience (Quiring, 2015). This momentum, the modification friendliness of the
simple Java application, and the creative mode, which enables unlimited resources, have led to a tremendous amount
of user-created content and aided Minecraft’s success. Starting with automatic factories that were used to make the
gameplay tasks easier (e.g., automatic crop harvesting, traps for monsters), players soon expanded the game’s
boundaries. Projects such as a functional 32-bit calculator (Hendrix, 2014, Figure 1), the recreation of King’s
Landing (cyborgratchet, 2013, Figure 2) from the HBO TV show and the book series A Game of Thrones (Benioff &
Weiss, 2011; Martin, 1996) and an art platform like OPERAcraft (Bukvic, Cahoon, Wyatt, Cowden, & Dredger,
2014) demonstrate the creative potential of the game and the effort some users put into their creations.
Figure 1. The display and parts of the necessary logic circuits of a 32 bit calculator
Figure 2. King’s Landing from above, every “pixel” is created with one Minecraft block
How Minecraft is used in education
Mojang is not the first videogame developer to enter the educational field with their products. Other developers like
Valve or Electronic Arts started projects like STEAM for SCHOOLS (
supported modified versions of their games like SimCityEDU ( to use the
educational potential of their entertainment-based content. In contrast to these cautious advances, Minecraft is
already in use as an educational tool for very different topics all over the world (Minecraft Teachers, 2015; Short,
2012). Minecraft has been used to enable early access to the topic of spatial geometry during class level 5/6 (Förster,
2012), to teach about sustainable planning (West & Bleiberg, 2013), language and literacy (Bebbington, 2014; Garcia
Martinez, 2014; Hanghøj, Hautopp, Jessen, & Denning, 2014), digital storytelling (Garcia Martinez, 2014), social
skills (Petrov, 2014), informatics (Wagner, 2014), computer art application (Garcia Martinez, 2014), project
management (Saito, Takebayashi, & Yamaura, 2014), and chemistry (Hancl, 2013).
Further topics teachers want to address are ecology, geology (Ekaputra et al., 2013), biology, physics, geography
(Short, 2012), arts, history, and media industry (Brand & Kinash, 2013). Even advanced courses on artificial
intelligence (Bayliss, 2012) have been targeted. Mojang supports the strong interest of teachers through cooperation
with the Finnish developer TeacherGaming LLC. They are using the modifiability of Minecraft to develop the
teacher-friendly version MinecraftEdu ( In this version of the game, easier creation tools
for teachers to implement virtual assessments, simple server management, and tools to administer playing pupils
(e.g., muting them, teleporting them or disabling inputs) are integrated. Thus, a vital community has developed
(Minecraft Teachers, 2015), and teachers share their worlds (e.g., The Land of Turtles, where players learn to
program small robots or the Wonderful World of Humanities where students explore different historical periods) with
others around the world. Even educational videogames themselves can be a curricular topic by using Minecraft.
Students learn what must be considered when creating educational videogames in seminars by developing short
sections of gameplay with an educational focus and test these segments with pupils (e.g., students created an
environent in Minecraft where children could recreate the Osterspaziergang (Easter promenade) in Faust; Thiel,
How Minecraft is used in experimental research
The link between games and learning research has been investigated for several years. A small variety of games has
been used to further differentiate this link. For example, the Squire’s Quest! was used to find out if healthy
consuming behaviors among school children can be generated or changed by educational videogames (Baranowski et
al., 2003). In a following project, these designers created another videogame, Escape from Diab (Thompson et al.,
2008), in order to combine behavioral science and electronic games and prevent type 2 diabetes and obesity. Adams,
Mayer, MacNamara, Koenig, and Wainess (2012) examined the effects of their educational games on learning
processes within the domain of biology with Crystal Island and electro-mechanics with Cache 17. The Operational
Art Of War is an educational videogame designed by Frank (2012) that examines if the users’ focus on educational
objective can be strengthened. With the help of the game Trade Ruler (Huang, 2011), a study examined how
educational videogames might initiate and support learners’ goal-setting activities and influence their cognitive loads.
As long as researchers are technically experienced and have enough competence to construct their own videogames,
it will be possible to investigate additional theories on learning and moderating variables within this area. However,
this is not always the case. Most researchers experience that a simple modification within existing videogames is
barely feasible as they cannot access the code of the game or not capable of modifying it. Therefore, it is very
important to focus on modifiable games in research that allow even less computationally skilled researchers to
expand their research focuses on educational videogames. This competency gap could be filled with Minecraft. Due
to its numerous modifications, easy structure, huge player community, and countless forums, blogs, and YouTube
videos on how to implement different features and rewrite source code, this game can be used even by game
development novices.
Several studies that used this game as an excellent research “vehicle” can be cited. In the field of human-computer
interaction and computer science, Orlikowski, Bongartz, Reddersen, Reuter, and Pfeiffer (2013) used Minecraft for
research on jumping in virtual realities. Zorn, Wingrave, Charbonneau, and LaViola (2013) used the game to
investigate how interest in programming can be increased by differentiating graphical code blocks from text code
blocks. Marklund, Backlund, and Johannesson (2013) used different texture resource packs to track their players’
contributions (Figure 3) to discover collaboration tactics in emergent games in the field of game research.
Figure 3. Comparison between color coded view and the player’s view (Marklund et al., 2013, p. 4)
Figure 4. Classroom version of the educational videogame (Only one lane was built by hand; the rest were
duplicated and only slightly modified)
Working on the topic of instructional and educational psychology, Nebel, Schneider, and Rey (2016) used Minecraft
in order to test if competitive groups’ conditions can increase the cognitive load as well as engagement, interest, and
learning performances compared to the single player condition. The researchers built task sequences during parkour
in the game world. Using the modification WorldEdit (, the researchers easily
duplicated the individual lanes to create a multiplayer scenario within a very short amount of time (Figure 4). Nebel,
Schneider, Schledjewski and Rey (in print) used a huge world called Atlantis to examine if different goal settings
theories can be confirmed within educational videogames. To establish a goal-free condition, a very open game
world was needed. In another experiment Nebel, Schneider, Beege, Kolda, Mackiewicz, and Rey (in print) utilized
the free building mechanics to create an experiment addressing collaboration and task interdependence. The
participants had to create a building of Fontane’s “Effi Briest” (2015) cooperatively with different sets of distributed
building materials and layout information. As these examples highlight, Minecraft has proven to be a useful
experimental research tool especially when open settings or large environments with many duplicate elements need
to be addressed. Thus, it is capable of improving the technical repertoire of researchers and as a consequence
supports research in the field of (educational) videogames.
Benefits of Minecraft
After a detailed analysis of the presented examples, several beneficial characteristics could be identified. Many of
these benefits result from general gameplay mechanics. For example, blocks can be arranged in a way that could
reproduce almost every static object or shape, thus providing stimuli for a very different set of education or research
projects. Additionally, the unmodified game itself contains biomes that can be used as ecology representations
(Ekaputra et al., 2013) and complex systems that can be influenced through the player. For example, Minecraft
provides a simple ecological system with different forms of plants and animals. The player can use this system to
create artificial crop farms and optimize this system for his or her benefit; thus, he or she participates in changing the
environment. This is an excellent example of transformational play (Barab, Pettyjohn, Gresalfi, Volk, & Solomou,
2012; Barab, Gresalfi, & Ingram-Goble, 2010). The resulting accessibility enables active knowledge construction
within constructivist approaches (Loyens & Gijbels, 2008; West & Bleiberg, 2013), as players can cooperate, self-
regulate, and engage in problems with many interactive elements. Furthermore, the simple but ingenious idea of
spatially represented blocks that provide simple functions (dirt can be worked, generate grass, can be further
processed) can be extended with new functions or blocks (e.g., Codeblocks, Zorn et al., 2013). By using this
mechanic, spatial, interactive knowledge creation is possible (Figure 5). Finally, the simple multiplayer structure of
the game with individual servers enables collaboration between instructors (Short, 2012) and researchers in creating
content or executing learning (or experimental) sessions, even within difficult worldwide projects (Mojang, 2015b)
or special target groups (children with autism and their families, Duncan, 2015).
Figure 5. Different versions of visual coding (Left: spatial coding with code blocks. Right: visual turtle coding with
In contrast to these broad advantages, some benefits are closely connected to the actual version of Minecraft
currently distributed and the technical dimensions. For example, transformational play can expand beyond the
limitations of the original content, because modifications include more systems that could be influenced (e.g., quest
mods, IndustrialCraft, MineChem). The borders of transformational processes are only limited by the Java-based
framework as players can even crate modifications themselves. Despite the potential for learning, the modification
friendliness offers further benefits. New gameplay elements can be included (e.g., zombies start to drop numbers
upon their death, AlWashmi et al., 2014) without interfering with the rest of the game and the need for
comprehensive restructuring. Thus, there are low obstacles to include modifications as an learning topic (Bayliss,
2012). Even (simple) modification tools are available without any programming knowledge (i.e., MCreator, Researchers can use this simple content-creation mechanic to produce research
environments or to gather data through plugins that track user information (Müller et al., 2014). Additionally, since a
high number of players want to play (or learn) after the sessions (Förster, 2012) and Minecraft is a comparably cheap
and technological simple application, many players can actually do so. This is especially important as teachers name
licensing and expense as a major concern when they describe the barriers to using computer games at schools
(Williamson, 2009). Thus, the time-expensive strengths of Minecraft to enable freedom of the players within the
game (Petrov, 2014) and to increase motivation to further explore the topic (Bayliss, 2012) can be given enough
space. This advantage also applies to research projects that address long-term experiments, as there are comparably
low obstacles for the test subjects to continue to play at home. Finally, the deliberately simple, stylized “retro-chic”
visual representation lowers the demands on the general appeal of Minecraft in comparison to the high visual
standards of modern off-the-shelf videogames. Thus, the game could still appear aesthetically pleasing, even though
modern games deliver far superior three-dimensional worlds. Additionally, the game can be updated and adjusted to
the topic at hand through modifications, additional shaders and texture packs, and the simplistic visualizations can
help focus the player on the intended topic.
Limitations of Minecraft
Despite the many benefits that led to numerous uses in education and research, Minecraft has several limitations
within the topics teachers, players and gameplay/technical challenges. Focusing on the teacher side, although
comparably simple, implementing Minecraft still requires specialists’ skills (Gregory et al., 2013) as necessary tools
are not addressed in teacher qualifications. Therefore, the teachers’ engagement and skills have vastly different
impacts on learning with the game . Some enjoy working with Minecraft, use their experience to react to unexpected
situations, and extend this practice into other courses, while others need to work with clear guidelines (Hanghøj et
al., 2014). Additionally, despite optimistic estimates (Ekaputra et al., 2013), a scenario is not automatically more fun
by using Minecraft. Not every teacher or researcher is a talented game designer, and variations of the original
Minecraft are not always entertaining to pupils (Petrov, 2014). Furthermore, including a multiplayer does not
generate a social learning game per se since several harmful activities must be considered (e.g., hording resources,
Hanghøj et al., 2014). Thus, researchers have to strictly monitor their experiments, in order to prevent data loss. Even
if teachers or researchers put a lot of effort and thought into their projects, psychological questions need to be
addressed. For example, teaching Boolean logic in a zombie-infested environment (Wingrave et al., 2012) might
dampen learning outcomes.
There are also limitations regarding the players. Experienced players may fall back into their previous actions as the
players may have experience with the game. Therefore, they might create and test less extensive new hypotheses
(Dahlskog, 2012), or pre-existing ideas may persist even when the current learning environment contradicts them
(De Jong, 2006). Skilled players may dominate in competitive or collaborative scenarios (Hanghøj et al., 2014;
Marklund et al., 2013) or may be frustrated when the educational version of Minecraft lacks mechanics they are used
to have. This impact of experience might be especially harmful when an experiment differs significantly from the
original gameplay. In this case, it might be necessary to exclude very experienced participants or to include
additional experimental time for players to become familiar with the new setting. Finally, the game’s original intent
is based on free play with self-set goals using exploration and discovery. This aim increases the challenge of
controlling players and setting functional borders an aim that somehow violates the core principle of the game,
especially for experienced players.
There are some downsides in gameplay and technical implementations as well. For example, the redstone mechanic
in the game is user friendly (Ekaputra et al., 2013) but still requires an intensive learning phase before even simple
mechanics can be created. Additionally, students have to deal with other challenges in addition to the specific
learning task (e.g., leaning to move or to build in order to use redstone, or chunk size and implementation issues
during AI course, Bayliss, 2012). In addition to the lack of a detailed physical system, the included block structure
and the inaccurate fidelity of light are sometimes insufficient. For example, Minecraft lacks curved shapes and the
specific light incidences for historical architecture, which are essential for recreating specific styles and archetypes.
Other methods of three-dimensional content creation are currently in development (e.g., Landmark, Closed Beta, and show potential, although the delicate tradeoff between accessibility
and creation potential must be considered carefully. Maybe an “advanced mode,” with simple but basic modifications
such as rotation, might have a strong impact on the potential of Minecraft. Another challenge is the lack of a
language feedback system (Hausrath, 2012) as detailed feedback is not in the intention of the game (e.g., the player
freely decides what to do and what is “correct”). This increases the challenge of a successful implementation of
tutorials on how to play the game or master the experiment. Therefore, teachers and researchers are often forced to
use modifications to support learning with additional informative elements or interactive non-player-characters. This
might lead to further technical difficulties in addition to the limited stability that results in slow gameplay or even
crashes if large numbers of blocks are affected (Bayliss, 2012). This is especially problematic in the case of
experimental studies, because a loss of data or invalid test runs cannot be ruled out. Finally, otherwise desirable
regular (client/Java) updates cause technical problems (Bayliss, 2012) since studies and courses often need long
preparation times.
The future of Minecraft in education and research
Although a substantial interest in videogames in educational settings (Evans, 2014; Williamson, 2009) can be
observed, further education of teachers is needed to ensure the proper use of Minecraft in educational settings and to
enable the acquisition of cooperation partners in research. For example, students of the Technical University of
Chemnitz tried to start a Minecraft project to teach literature. When they asked a teacher to participate in this project,
she responded:
They do this [playing games] enough at home, and the parents are already struggling with that. […] Humans
have and should work together as a team, but why should they take a diversion using a computer where
everybody just sits in front of this box? [...] I am a big supporter of the viewpoint that sometimes pupils have
to learn and do something in school, no matter if it is fun or not. (translated from German)
This statement underpins the importance of spreading information about educational videogames, the use of
Minecraft in general and the engagement in discussions with teachers and professionals in teacher education.
Flexibility in lesson planning is important, as one session usually not enough time to master a topic completely. It is
the responsibility of teachers and researchers to provide information about the social potential of educational
videogames. With different viewpoints on the potential of videogames, very different reactions can be achieved. The
response of a teacher presenting a Minecraft course emphasizes this argument:
We actually have some kids with mental health issues that just drive here! So, for example, a parent came in
here with two sons, both with Asperger’s and they came in and used Minecraft together. And the parents, she
stayed and watched and she was almost in tears because she said this was the first time that she saw an
interaction with a teacher figure that was so positive that it was just letting them explore their interests and
kind of learn as they go (Petrov, 2014).
Despite these social factors, the future of Minecraft in education and research is also influenced by its technical
barriers and potential. Virtual worlds will increase in quality and fidelity (Gregory et al., 2013). Both factors are
limited in Minecraft. However, this does not imply that Minecraft’s days are numbered. Instead, the lack of complex
mechanics benefits approachability not only for students but also for teachers, one of the current driving forces
behind the use of virtual worlds in education. Furthermore, the implication of Minecraft as a web-based tool (Walsh,
Donahue, & Rhodes, 2015) could increase the distribution even more, as schools experience technical issues when
they try to install necessary programs or run servers. This could be accompanied by deeper connection with mobile
learning and the inclusion of Quick Response (QR) codes, hyperlinks, or Global Positioning System (GPS)
coordinates. These supplements might benefit from the available mobile version of the game and could foster a
connection with the physical world. New technical improvements within 3D printer projects (Haines, 2015) or
connections with Raspberry PI, Arduino Leonardo, Lego We-Do, and Lego Mindstorms NXT will enable even
stronger transitions to the real world. Additionally, the inversion of this connection is possible as well (e.g.,
interactive control of the virtual world through physical objects, Hancl, 2012). Furthermore, the transfer of
geographic data to Minecraft has shown how real-world data can be processed and utilized for use in digital projects
(e.g., Denmark recreated 1:1 scale in Minecraft, Høeg Nissen, 2014). This strong and technical comparably simple
connection between virtual and physical spatiality could lead to further areas of applications, for example,
perspective within the field of arts or social elements of geography.
Even without deep modifications or technical evolution, several effects, which have not yet been analyzed in
educational videogames research, could be accessible by using Minecraft. For example, the seductive detail effect
(Harp & Mayer, 1998; Rey, 2012) could be examined within videogames by easily modifying or placing some blocks
in the game world or modifying NPCs with interesting dialogue. The theme and general appeal could be altered with
the modification of texture packs, an approach that might be useful when addressing personalization or emotional
design (Mayer, Fennell, Farmer, & Campbell, 2004; Moreno & Mayer, 2000; Schneider, Nebel, Pradel, & Rey,
2015). Another example might be the worked example effect (Atkinson, Derry, Renkl, & Wortham, 2000; Renkl,
2014; Rourke & Sweller, 2009), since researchers can easily create different versions of the same learning content
with different status of examples and solution progression. For example, a place to build logic circuits using redstone
could be presented completely empty, with pre-build wires or with some gates already in the correct position.
Increasing collaboration through the simple multiplayer mechanism (e.g., different parts of a redstone Von Neumann
architecture collaboratively build within different educational facilities) might open up a new perspective for
experiments on collaboration or embodiment research.
Implications from the success of Minecraft
Based on our experiences and the broad range of examples from education and research, we can finally derive
implications from the immense impact of Minecraft in these fields. First, the simple exchange of worlds, creations,
modifications, lessons, and experimental settings between teachers and researchers all over the world without strong
software restrictions empowered the unintended use as an educational or experimental tool, tremendously. Users can
not only share content but also modify the shared content further as simple as writing a text document. This is
fueled by simple content creation methods with representations of almost any static object. Especially for researchers
in the field of videogames, Minecraft might be the simplest way to create custom experiments, where other games
are usually lack modifiability. Another important lesson learned from Minecraft’s success is the game’s social impact
on learners to become teachers themselves (e.g., Pithons, 2014). Fostered by the lack of guidelines and information
and the freedom of creation, players engaged in long interactions with the game and its mechanics, creating hours of
tutorial videos on YouTube and countless wikis. Thus, Minecraft paradigmatically shows a progression of learning
that lasts longer than a one-time play: learning through playing (e.g., learning history with a game of hide-and-seek
in virtual ancient Rome), learning through creating (e.g., expanding the city of Rome after searching for historical
accurate information), and learning through teaching others (e.g., showing others the new version of Rome).
Due to the different functionalities of Minecraft and their applications, we propose interesting fields for the technical
future of educational videogame software. Simple content creation using blocks or other simple shapes, combined
with animation or physical functionalities, might be extremely interesting and result in powerful virtual
environments. But the use of blocks as spatial functions, as successfully shown within Minecraft, might be even
more important and could be expanded further. For example, with forms of simple, visual programming already used
within tools like Kodu ( or Scratch ( To
shed some more light on this point, we would like to present an example in Minecraft: ComputerCraftEdu
( is a modification for Minecraft that includes turtles. These represent, simply put, a
special block type that can be programmed like small virtual robots. ComputerCraftEdu uses a visual programming
technique based on Lua ( script language and thus enables the player to move the turtle around
or build or mine blocks without advanced knowledge of informatics. The impact of a future educational and research
tool would be amplified if this mechanic applied to all blocks. We can only begin to imagine what teachers,
experimenters or players could create if they use visually programing within spatially distributable entities, group
them, duplicate them, or create new types with functions reacting to various variables, like the player position,
relation to other blocks or even events outside the game itself (e.g., GPS coordinates, external databases). As we have
outlined, Minecraft offers tremendous qualities when it comes to creation, collaboration, and distribution and offers a
wide range of pre-defined entities. Despite this, Minecraft lacks functionality when new entities are needed or when
new functionalities have to be included by novices in programming. Therefore, overcoming these barriers requires a
huge amount of creativity on the creators’ side and flexibility within the topics.
To finalize this review, and to indicate our suggested (technically idealistic) directions for further developments of
creation tools in education and research, we want to briefly emphasize our three main implications: Content must be
shared most easily, collaboratively created, and further modified without systematic restrictions or high technical
demand. World building should be based on simple nucleus entities that can be created, modified, grouped, and
organized. The spatially placed entities have to offer modifiable (ideally, with forms of visual programming)
functions to enable creation or interactions with other entities, the player or other input from outside the game
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... As a java-based sandbox game, Minecraft provides a 3D virtual world in which players build or craft constructions via placing blocks in a grid-style matrix (analogous to Lego construction sets in real world). Unlike traditional videogames that often require players to accumulate points to move onto the next level, the Minecraft game is about giving players freedom to set their own goals, explore, and create (Mojang, 2016;Nebel et al., 2016). At the present time, Minecraft has not been extensively used in psychological experiments but holds promise for expanding researchers' toolbox when assessing creativity for both formative and summative purposes. ...
... There also has been some research evidence supporting the potential benefits of videogame playing for nurturing creativity (e.g., Jackson et al., 2012;Kassim et al., 2014), which makes videogames become attractive to educators who aspire to develop students' 21st century "Four Cs" skills-critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration (National Education Association, 2012; Whorton et al., 2017). As an educational medium that offers authentic creating and crafting experience, Minecraft has been used by teachers around the world to illustrate scientific concepts in an engaging way in classrooms and is at the forefront of the change to improve learning experience and effectiveness (Nebel et al., 2016). In response to the call for more diverse approaches to assessing creativity (Barbot, 2018;Reiter-Palmon et al., 2019;Zeng et al., 2011), this article explored the possibility of and found support for measuring creativity in the context of Minecraft by demonstrating the applicability of the standard definition (Runco & Jaeger, 2012) as well as showing expected positive associations between Minecraft creative performance and well-established cognitive and personality determinants of creativity. ...
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Considering creativity as a novel-and-useful performance outcome, this study explored the predictive effects of cognitive abilities (i.e., divergent thinking, intellectual aptitude as indicated by SAT scores) and Big Five personality traits on creativity and its two aspects (i.e., novelty and usefulness) in addition to the intercorrelations between creativity, novelty, and usefulness in a Minecraft building task. Regression analyses based on a college student sample (N = 285) revealed that Minecraft creativity was predicted by divergent thinking (β = .16, p < .01), SAT scores (β = .27, p < .001), and Openness to Experience (β = .23, p < .001), supporting the standing beliefs regarding individual antecedents of creativity. Such personal characteristics however, had different predictive effects on the two components of creativity, in that novelty was predicted by divergent thinking (β = .14, p < .01), SAT scores (β = .13, p < .01), and Openness to Experience (β = .27, p < .001) whereas usefulness was predicted by Openness to Experience only (β = .14, p < .01). In terms of the intercorrelations among creativity and its two subdimensions, novelty and usefulness were found to be highly correlated with each other (r = .72, p < .001) and were also both highly related to creativity (rnovelty-creativity = .89, p< .001, and rusefulness-creativity = .65, p < .001, respectively). Implications of these results, several key avenues for future research, and study limitations are discussed.
... Research has also suggested that sandbox games can improve motivation and learning effectiveness in students (Nebel et al., 2016). However, although educational sandbox games afford much freedom to players, the instructor should have a practical instructional design that leverages the game's strengths. ...
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Most students have exhibited low motivation to engage in traditional learning methods. Additionally, students have difficulty concentrating on the course content, being easily distracted by their smartphones. Therefore, we adopted an online 3D gamification problem-based learning (PBL) model to motivate students and improve their learning satisfaction and achievement on a human resource development course. We followed the ADDIE instructional design model and used four essential topics to formulate our teaching activities in the three-dimensional sandbox game, Creativerse. Moreover, this paper conducted an explorative study by using ANCOVA and partial least squares structural equation modeling to test student learning achievement and analyze the relationships between components such as performance expectancy (PE), effort expectancy (EE), social influence (SI), and facilitating conditions (FC). Our online 3D gamification PBL model enhanced learning achievement on the courses; moreover, FC is the most critical factor influencing learning satisfaction. This study provided suggestions for operating an online 3D gamification PBL teaching approach. The current paper also explained how students’ learning satisfaction relates to these significant factors. Moreover, this study’s findings will help instructional designers and instructors to develop online 3D gamification learning environments.
... Minecraft is a 3D open-world video game which has been extensively used in education and research [Nebel et al., 2016]. Recently, it also becomes a popular testbed for RL research [Oh et al., 2017[Oh et al., , 2016Guss et al., 2021], due to its playing mechanism (centered around exploration in open-world) and similarity to real-world tasks (perception and construction). ...
Learning rational behaviors in open-world games like Minecraft remains to be challenging for Reinforcement Learning (RL) research due to the compound challenge of partial observability, high-dimensional visual perception and delayed reward. To address this, we propose JueWu-MC, a sample-efficient hierarchical RL approach equipped with representation learning and imitation learning to deal with perception and exploration. Specifically, our approach includes two levels of hierarchy, where the high-level controller learns a policy to control over options and the low-level workers learn to solve each sub-task. To boost the learning of sub-tasks, we propose a combination of techniques including 1) action-aware representation learning which captures underlying relations between action and representation, 2) discriminator-based self-imitation learning for efficient exploration, and 3) ensemble behavior cloning with consistency filtering for policy robustness. Extensive experiments show that JueWu-MC significantly improves sample efficiency and outperforms a set of baselines by a large margin. Notably, we won the championship of the NeurIPS MineRL 2021 research competition and achieved the highest performance score ever.
... Before starting the competition, learners were randomly assigned to one of the waiting rooms ( Figure 3, left). As suggested by previous studies, a large number of competitors might reduce the motivation to compete (Garcia & Tor, 2009), and small group sizes have shown beneficial effects in competition in educational games (Nebel et al., 2016). ...
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Lay Description What is already known about this topic Digital game‐based learning (DGBL) has been widely adopted in various subject areas. DGBL is an effective learning approach for language learning. Performance goal orientations are influential motivational factors in predicting learning performance. Relevant empirical research on performance goal orientations in DGBL is scarce and inconclusive. What this paper adds A game‐based English vocabulary learning system was developed based on the considerations of different characteristics of performance goal orientations. This study provides understandings of the impact of performance goal orientations on both learning performance and in‐game performance in DGBL. Performance‐approach learners outperformed performance‐avoidance learners, whereas the two groups demonstrated similar gain scores and overall in‐game performance. Performance‐avoidance learners' in‐game performance is a substantial factor in promoting their learning performance via DGBL. Implications for practice and/or policy Educators should consider adopting game‐based assessment to reduce the gap between learners with different performance goal orientations. DGBL can be a potential approach to supporting different performance goal orientations, but it is particularly beneficial to learners with performance‐avoidance goals. Learners with different performance goal orientations need different types of learning activities to achieve better performance. A personalized DGBL system should be developed to accommodate the needs and preferences of learners with performance‐approach and performance‐avoidance goals.
Games have been played throughout human history and in all cultures, exposing almost everyone to gameplay in some form. Higher education is exploring ways faculty can leverage games to enhance course development and the student learning experience. The primary pedagogical use of games is gamification, in which gaming is used to transform learning activities. This chapter will 1) provide an overview of gamification theory and practice in higher education, 2) share ideas for faculty to consider when using gamification as a teaching tool, and 3) explore how the game Minecraft was used through educational and practical applications to teach a local government course.
Exploration and exploitation are commonly cited in search and rescue scenarios to explain the process by which individuals work in a team and gather information about their environment (exploration) and identify potential solutions and adaptations (exploitation) to pursue successful outcomes. In this paper, we discuss exploration and exploitation as critical design features and highlight the importance of balancing them when designing team-based search and rescue missions. To test the proposed design decisions, we developed a usability study that includes two missions wherein teams consisting of three participants are tasked to rescue victims within a Minecraft-based 3D testbed.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many universities to take appropriate safeguards, which have included campus closures and increased usage of online teaching. These mandated changes have resulted in a rapid improvisation of courses to transform them from a traditional to an online setting. Nonetheless, research has shown that online learning is not the same as traditional classroom-based learning and simply transferring classroom-based materials and lectures to a virtual setting can result in students experiencing boredom, isolation and a lack of stimulation. In order to overcome this, it is necessary to develop new, interactive materials and to create collaborative and meaningful learning experiences for their students. In the move to online teaching, faculty who are unfamiliar with teaching in a virtual environment are expected to undertake their new role of developing and facilitating their online classes proficiently. This can be problematic for faculty unaccustomed to working in this type of environment if they do not have the skills required to support their students effectively. Exploring the behaviours and competencies of experienced online tutors can help these new faculty to identify and develop their own behaviours and competencies, thus improving their effectiveness in the virtual environment. This chapter explores the abilities of experienced online tutors in order to improve the competencies and behaviours that emergency online faculty require during challenging times such as COVID-19. As a result, this information can help traditional face-to-face faculty to identify and develop their own competencies and behaviours in order to improve their effectiveness in the virtual environment. Thus, this chapter explores the competencies that online faculty need in order to develop and teach virtual classes. These include foundational competencies – cognitive, creative, moral, emotional and social intelligences – and virtual competencies such as didactic, technological, cultural, interactive, political and time-management competencies. Implications for faculty and organisations are also discussed. It is not clear whether the forced change to online teaching by the COVID crisis is permanent or temporary. However, as universities seek to maintain and improve their educational offerings during this generational event, ensuring that faculty can meet these new challenges by having the requisite competencies, is a key component to their success.
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Massively multiplayer online games have become a common research subject in game studies. Several of these studies have focused on how the player interacts with the game and other players through the game, but often the fact is neglected that there are other games besides MMOGs that allow players to interact with each other. Two-player off-line games, for example, also allow for interaction between players, both through the game and in the physical world. This chapter focuses on the improvement of skills while such a game is being played. We use interaction analysis to understand how the player learns to play the game and how to play together with someone else. By observing how players interact with each other and with the game in a setting with only two players, we find different learning situations than one would find in a single-player or MMOG environment. These learning situations show that the formulation of an understanding of a game and the incorporation of the game into the player’s repertoire are obstructed by the repertoire itself, and they show that players may have trouble adapting to a reflective playing style. This case study is part of a larger project on situated play with multiplayer off-line and colocated video games.
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The aim of this paper is to describe the opportunities and challenges involved in designing educational scenarios for teaching with the computer game Minecraft in mother tongue education (MTE). The empirical data presented is based on an on-going research project, funded by the Danish Ministry of Education, which explores the use of a particular game map entitled "The Mysterious Island" in the context of MTE in five primary school classes (age 7-8) located at two different Danish schools. The Mysterious Island scenario is a loosely structured Robinsonade narrative that invites the students to "survive" on a deserted island. The empirical data mainly consist of classroom observations collected and analysed using an ethnographically inspired approach to discourse analysis. The data analysis is based on theoretical perspectives on scenario-based education, which assumes that the educational use of game scenarios can be understood as a dynamic interplay of different domains and knowledge practices. In this way, the educational use of The Mysterious Island is understood as socially negotiated translations between the knowledge practices of the Robinsonade-based game scenario, the knowledge practices of the disciplinary domain of MTE, the knowledge practices of the pedagogical domain of "schooling", and the knowledge practices of the everyday domain, especially in relation to the students' prior Minecraft experiences. In summary, the analysis presents preliminary findings on different teachers' educational redesign of The Mysterious Island and the students' reframing of the various domains and narratives involved. We conclude that the meaningful use of Minecraft in MTE depends largely on the pedagogical approaches of the teachers to redesigning meaningful game scenarios and opportunities for students to reframe their experiences across the domains and knowledge practices involved.
Conference Paper
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Interactive Virtual Worlds offer new individual and social experiences in a huge variety of artificial realities. They also have enormous potential for the study of how people interact , and how societies function and evolve. Systematic collection and analysis of in-play behavioral data will be invaluable for enhancing player experiences, facilitating effective administration, and unlocking the scientific potential of on-line societies. This paper details the development of a framework to collect player data in Minecraft. We present a complete solution which can be deployed on Minecraft servers to send collected data to a centralized server for visualization and analysis by researchers, players, and server administrators. Using the framework, we collected and analyzed over 14 person-days of active gameplay. We built a classification tool to identify high-level player behaviors from observations of their moment-by-moment game actions. Heat map visual-izations highlighting spatial behavior can be used by players and server administrators to evaluate game experiences. Our data collection and analysis framework offers the opportunity to understand how individual behavior, environmental factors, and social systems interact through large-scale observational studies of virtual worlds.
The concept of place informs much of human meaning-making in both space and time. This paper seeks to bridge gaps between the literature on place and research on video games and virtual worlds by finding points of intersection between each field. I analyze the immensely successful independently-developed video game Minecraft through my own experience and an analysis of gameplay videos uploaded to YouTube. The game serves as an ideal framework within which to study place-making due to three core qualities that illuminate intersections in place and video game/virtual worlds literature: (a) alteration/change, (b) proximity, and (c) conflict/cooperation. I problematize dichotomies between “actual” and “virtual” versions of reality as well as “physical” and “social” constructions of place. Through this study, I use Minecraft as an example of the consistency of human place-making across environments, whether digital or physical.
Background: The increased usage of educational video games with their strong graphical and technical potential raises the question of how to optimize the instructional elements of gameplay. In this article, the instructional goal was analyzed with the theoretical background of both motivational psychology (goal-setting theory) and cognitive psychology (goal-free effect). Aim: We compared different goal types within an educational video game specifically produced for this context, using MINECRAFT as a content creation tool. Method: Within a quantitative, empirical experiment, 87 students divided into three goal groups (specific learning goal, specific performance goal, goal-free condition) played the video game for nearly three hours per test session to gain knowledge about basic elements of computer science and basic electric engineering. Results: The results show effects of goal-setting on cognitive load and affective measures. Having specific learning goals lowered extraneous and intrinsic cognitive load. Additionally, players following a specific learning goal reported having significantly more fun, indicating the affective impacts of goal-setting. Conclusions: The outcomes of this study have practical implications for the creation of educational video games and theoretical implications for further work within the field of instructional psychology.
This paper summarizes an evaluation in World of Warcraft (WoW), which took place in 2011 and 2012. The Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, which is currently played by thousands of players worldwide, lends itself for an investigation of several things, e.g. of competencies required for management and leadership positions. In the evaluation shown in this paper it has been possible to show that basic competencies can be trained in WoW playing, but also, that the investigated target group is inherently complex. The latter insight can be a good basis for future research.
There is a necessity for the inexperienced person of the project development to appropriately learn the project development before carrying out the project. However, it is very difficult to educate a novice programmer of the team development. The method called On-the-Job-Training was applied for that purpose in the conventional education, but some problems have been pointed out. A novice level programmer must understand how the project flows and learn how to write the document: communication is very important skill for both of the abilities. Minecraft is a very superior SandBox game as an education tool. Its usefulness as an education tool has been proven throughout the world. This paper, by showing an education process, discusses applying Minecraft as an education tool to train a novice programmer as a project member, and then shows the results of experiments that were conducted to measure the effectiveness of Minecraft.
Competition with other players or with the game itself is one of the basic elements of videogames, but the fine balance between increased mental effort and potential motivational benefits has to be addressed. A quantitative experiment was conducted to verify if social competition increases cognitive load, engagement, interest, and subsequently learning. The 115 students played an educational video-game, specifically designed for this experiment using Minecraft, in single, one-versus-one, small group, or classroom settings. The results show significantly higher cognitive load induced through social competition; lowered focused attention, instructional efficiency; and no higher situational interest. Additionally, increased learning in the solo condition could be observed. In contrast to these results, analysis of the actual perceived challenge resulted in positive correlations with engagement, situational interest, and retention knowledge. After the analysis, a detailed discussion of the impacts of social competition and various implications and future directions are provided. For example, it is argued that it is important to distinguish between the added gameplay mechanic of social competition and the perceived intrapersonal challenge this induces. Whereas the first might increase cognitive load due to the monitoring of additional game states, the latter might foster motivation and interest.
In 4 experiments, students who read expository passages with seductive details (i.e., interesting but irrelevant adjuncts) recalled significantly fewer main ideas and generated significantly fewer problem-solving transfer solutions than those who read passages without seductive details. In Experiments 1, 2, and 3, revising the passage to include either highlighting of the main ideas, a statement of learning objectives, or signaling, respectively, did not reduce the seductive details effect. In Experiment 4, presenting the seductive details at the beginning of the passage exacerbated the seductive details effect, whereas presenting the seductive details at the end of the passage reduced the seductive details effect. The results suggest that seductive details interfere with learning by priming inappropriate schemas around which readers organize the material, rather than by distracting the reader or by disrupting the coherence of the passage.