With digital media playing a larger role than ever before in kids’ lives, Vu Bui is ready to school attendees making the trip next month to the Children’s Global Media Summit on just how educational gaming can be.
Bui is COO at Mojang, the Swedish gaming studio behind Minecraft, and he will be participating in the summit’s session “The Future of Play” to discuss open-world games and how they can best serve children. The summit, curated this year by the BBC, will take place from December 5 to 7 at the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester, England.
“A lot of what we’ll be covering is how we need to think differently about how youth today are consuming both entertainment and educational content,” Bui says. “My hope is that people who attend the session will come away with a different understanding of what kids are really doing when they’re playing video games. There are many benefits that are probably unknown to people who don’t play.”
An open-world, open-ended game like Minecraft doesn’t have a forced narrative, and as a result, kids are free to explore the game’s possibilities at their own pace and with a focus on their personal interests. Through playing Minecraft, Bui contends, children are exposed to issues of resource management, problem-solving and collaboration, as well as basic math and science principles. And significantly, Bui says games like Minecraft create an atmosphere of learning for everyone.
“One of the big impacts we’ve seen as a result of gaming in education is a change in mindset and a shift in power in classrooms, and even among parents at home, where young people are being empowered,” he says. “Often, kids understand these tools better than the adults do, and it changes the power balance in these educational settings where both sides are giving and learning. That shared educational experience really enriches the overall program.”
Bui says this empowerment has inspired kids around the world to take ownership of Minecraft, and develop uses for it beyond gaming. “The language that young people speak today is no longer just about being able to read and write and speak in their native tongue,” he says. “They’re also communicating via this language of the internet, and storytelling through games and the various different experiences they have online.”
For example, there’s the Block by Block program, which uses Minecraft to engage communities in the development of public spaces. Block by Block is a collaboration between Mojang and UN-Habitat that encourages the use of Minecraft as a community participation tool in the design of urban public spaces. Bui serves as president of the board and is one of the program’s founders, and he says Block by Block is a platform for kids and other community members who may not normally have a voice.
“We engage people using Minecraft because it’s one of the easiest-to-learn design tools,” Bui says. “I remember watching a presentation from these 14-year-old girls in Haiti, and how powerful it was to see them realize that people were listening.”
The Children’s Global Media Summit will play host to a range of delegates in a number of different industries, including content creators, platform providers and policy makers. Bui believes that schooling these different sectors on the educational possibilities of gaming will help shine an even brighter light on the voices and needs of children. “We need to make sure that, as content creators and educational programmers, we take that into account when we create things that are designed for young people.”