“There’s so much about online gaming environments that are similar to how we’re having to work today,” Deirdre Quarnstrom, Minecraft general manager told The Washington Post, referring to the work-from-home dynamic some are practicing after the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s been such a sudden disruption now. But because [Minecraft’s] a digital game, it can translate fairly easily to these work-from-home environments.”
Quarnstrom said Microsoft is responding to concerns that distant learning away from school isn’t possible in many districts. Minecraft: Education Edition was created from the game’s lively modding community. MinecraftEDU was a collaboration between Finnish and American developers already being used by teachers before Microsoft bought it outright in 2016. Earlier in March Microsoft allowed free access through June to its more robust Education Edition package that’s available only for schools and teachers.
In Roanoke County, Va., the district’s Microsoft partnership included using Minecraft in its curriculum. Reportedly, teacher collaboration improved while students showed increasing interest in science and computer coding.
There will be 12 educational programs launching for free at the Minecraft Marketplace, including:
- A NASA-approved, student-built project that invites students to tour the International Space Station, complete with experiments
- Exploring the human eye
- Logic puzzle games to teach students how to code and think like programmers
- A tour of D.C.'s most historical sites, including the Lincoln Memorial, the White House and the Pentagon
- A tower game that teaches students about power generation from different sources like wind and nuclear
Even before Microsoft’s recent moves, students all over the world have flocked to the online open-world game as a social and creative outlet. In Japan, an elementary school held its commencement ceremony (complete with practices) on Minecraft.
The Polish government set up an official Minecraft server for its students to play and learn in.
The game is a learning space that many children are likely familiar with, given the game’s reputation as the world’s most popular and most played game in history. It’s already played by well over 100 million people every month, many of them children.
It doesn’t hurt that Minecraft’s aesthetics, sounds and music are soft and calming, and was already an escape from normal, everyday anxieties.
“In my own home, I have two girls and we have a world we built together as a family, so it’s nice being able to go back and forget about the news for a while and the feeling of isolation,” Quarnstrom said. “It’s a comfortable place for a lot of people.”