More than 20 million people play it, and nearly 10,000 more every day. Microsoft bought the company that developed it for $2.5 billion. It spawned an entire genre.
Minecraft is not a game like most. Rather than fighting or racing or, the game encourages creativity and collaboration, and offers a blank slate on which entire worlds can be built. More than just hand-eye coordination, which any shoot-’em-up can develop, Minecraft can build visuospatial reasoning skills in a limitless but nonthreatening, kid-friendly way.
A study conducted by researchers at Australia’s Griffith University, called “Minecraft as a teaching tool: A statistical study of teachers' experience using Minecraft in the classroom,” concluded that Minecraft can be “very successful as a teaching tool and that learners showed high levels of motivation and participation – which suggests improved learning.”
“More interestingly is the emergence of science and math as subject areas where Minecraft can be used,” the study says. “During construction of large-scale projects, learners might need to calculate the number of blocks required to complete the project. Angles and distances can be calculated too, along with speed, weight, and trajectory (projectiles).”
This Saturday, gamers worldwide, including more than a few at City Center 15: Cinema de Lux in White Plains, will try to out-Minecraft each other, with a $15,000 scholarship awarded to the winner.
For the parents who may not have the slightest idea about this whole Minecraft thing — who know little more than that “it’s like Legos” — here are five things you need to know, a sort-of Minecraft primer for the uninitiated:
It really is like Legos
The basic unit of measurement and construction in Minecraft is a cube, commonly called a block. When you launch a game, you create an entire world — a world so large you can get irretrievably lost — complete with forests, deserts, mountains, savannahs, caves, towns, people, animals and more, all made out of cubes.
You, in the form of a block-based avatar, destroy blocks and strategically place blocks to reshape the three-dimensional online world as you see fit.
Every type of cube has specific attributes — put rock cubes on top of a sand cube and the sand cube will disappear. Set fire to a wooden cube and it will burn. Players spend hours, which can stretch into weeks and years, building ruby cube castles and wooden cube towns and stone cube fortresses.
It's essentially nonviolent
There are two basic ways to play Minecraft, creative and survival. In creative mode, every type of block is available at the outset, and creatures like zombies and spiders will do no damage to your avatar. You can also fly, which makes building those cloud-high towers a breeze.
On survival mode, every resource must be obtained and managed, food must be consumed and mobs of nefarious block-based creatures must be fended off. There is also adventure mode, similar to survival and intended more for multiplayer play.
Zombies and spiders notwithstanding, fighting is not the central activity in any of Minecraft mode, the way it is in “Halo” or “Mortal Kombat.” Building effective fortresses, block by block, is just as important in Minecraft as fighting zombies.
In creative and survival mode, there is no way to “win” in the traditional sense — you build as much or as little as you'd like, as opposed to fight- or race-based games, in which there is a clear winner.
There is in-game chatting
Minecraft is, to a large degree, a one-player game. In order to play with other people, you must be on the same server, either creating one yourself or joining a public server.
Once you are on the same server and in the same world, you have the ability to chat with other players, and — depending on the server — there are little to no protections on what can and cannot be said.
The emphasis, though, is on collaboration, teams of people working to build a world. The easiest, and safest, way for kids to play together is via the mobile, or pocket, edition which allows gamers using the same wifi signal to join each other’s worlds.
It's big business
As of Feb. 17, 2016, almost 23 million people had purchased and downloaded the PC version of the game, with nearly 10,000 buying into Minecraft in the previous 24 hours, and that does not count players on XBox gaming systems or mobile phones.
In 2014, Microsoft bought Swedish game developer and Minecraft creator Mojang for $2.5 billion. According to Forbes, as of 2015 the game grossed more than $700 million over the course of its life, with the word “Minecraft” trending more on Google than the Bible, Harry Potter and Justin Bieber.
Sweden native Markus Persson, who created the game, launched it in 2011 and sold Mojang to Microsoft three years later, became an almost overnight billionaire and bought a $70 million Beverly Hills home before 2014 was over.
There is a Minecraft Hell
Yes, you can create a portal to Nether, consider it Minecraft Hell, where giant Chthulu-like squid demons swim through rivers of lava. Going to Nether is a good way to get lost, after which you may have to travel a long way to find your fortress or carefully crafted beach house.
There is also the Minecraft approximation of electricity, called “redstone,” which allows enterprising players to build powered railways, doors that open and close, electric light and more.
Players can also tame wolves to create dogs, breed cattle and sheep and chickens, and perform other real-world activities to create more nuanced gameplay.
HOW DO YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
To be part of the action, visit SuperLeague.com and register. On the site, you can create a team, sign up for an existing team or let Super League assign you to a team. Teams will consist of 4-7 players. The grand prize, a Super League championship trophy and a $15,000 team scholarship (Super League uses a scholarship fund partner to make sure awarded money is used for college only), will be awarded to the team with the highest cumulative score. Teams — which will play for 90 minutes once a week — can visit SuperLeague.com, where they can select Leaderboard and see how other teams rank according to scores. Point totals across the four weeks for all teams will be available on the site. At the end of four weeks, the team with the highest cumulative score wins.