A peek inside game design in Minecraft

Hands-on Learning: A Peek Inside Online Game Design Camp in Minecraft

As a mom of twin toddlers I witness hands-on learning on a first-hand basis daily. Learning to share, build, and play together are a few of the skills they are taking on. These are skills not that different from those of an 8-year old playing Minecraft with friends, though their development in an online setting might be much harder to see.

We thought it might be fun and informative to give an insider’s view of a group of 3rd-5th graders learning game design in Minecraft, in one of our online programs. This particular program includes a mix of kids—some with a lot of Minecraft experience and some with very little.

The Setting

The kids all attend the same afterschool program and log into our server several times each week for instruction in Minecraft mini game design from Nick Landry. Nick (known as ‘heiisama’ online) is one of our senior counselors. Each week he pens an email updating the on-site supervisor on the progress of the kids.

Here’s a peek into one such email. The names of the children have been anonymized.

An Ender Golf course design
An Ender Golf course design

Respect / Boundaries

During our Ender Golf sessions, it was apparent that a lot of the kids were new to Minecraft. They broke a lot of blocks without realizing it, they built outside of the designated areas; some of them built over other people’s creations and a lot of them didn’t read the chat, type in chat or know how to find their usernames. It took a couple sessions but, with the help of the in-room teachers, the kids came to better understand their presence and impact within the virtual Minecraft world, and to respect other people’s creations.

They now also know their usernames and have regularly used the chat to communicate with their classmates and me.

While monitoring the kids during Water Boat Racing, I saw Minecraft_Kid_1 accidentally break a block on someone else’s course. Her character then stood still for a few seconds while she looked through her inventory to find an identical block to replace the one she had broken. She found the block and placed it down where the previous block had been destroyed. She understood that if she broke something it was her responsibility to try and fix it, while also demonstrating her familiarity with Minecraft’s user interface. It was great that she corrected her mistake without anyone having to tell her to.

A Parkour course design
A Parkour course design


The class was still getting used to Minecraft when we were working on Ender Golf, so it’s perfectly normal that they weren’t using a wide variety of blocks for their creations. When we moved on to Parkour, I tried introducing new blocks to them, but most of the kids seemed content with building their courses with the same blocks they were already familiar with.

I then created the “House Parkour” to show them an example of something creative they could do for their own Parkour. It seemed to work, because a majority of the courses now include new blocks, such as slime blocks, ice blocks, fences, ladders, bookshelves, etc. Some of the Parkour courses created were clearly inspired by the House Parkour, but weren’t a copy. They had created something similar, but added their own spin to it!

Finding Inspiration

I showed the class examples of Pixel Art (art replicated in Minecraft using blocks). I could see their eye lights up with excitement! They were unaware of just how far you could go with Minecraft, but seeing other people’s creations seemed to inspire them to aim for similar results. They all started adding colorful blocks to their courses, and a couple kids even added Pixel Art of their own! (A king, a queen, Charizard, and more.)

Throughout our Ender Golf and Parkour sessions, several kids asked me to add “Cool things to their courses”. I told them that, since it was their course, it was up to them to add cool things. While working on Water Boat Racing, rather than asking me to add cool things to their courses, they asked me to come check out the cool things they had added. They were proud of their creations and wanted to show them off!

Water Boat Racing course designs
Water Boat Racing course designs

Patience / Cooperation

It was initially pretty hard to get the kids to sit down in their boats, not break anything, and wait for everyone to be ready before starting the race. But by the final Water Boat session, the kids were a lot more patient and it was significantly easier to get races started. It took only a couple of seconds (a minute or two at most!) to get everyone sitting down in a boat and ready to start racing. We’ll do the same thing for Ice Boat Racing and I hope we get the same amount of cooperation and patience from the kids so that the events continue to run smoothly.

Meeting the Challenge

Overall, the kids have improved a fair amount in various ways. They have all become a lot more familiar with Minecraft and mini game design. One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed is how much “creative freedom” the kids now have. From Ender Golf, to Parkour, to Water Boat Racing, their creations have become significantly more complex (with more blocks and more colors) while also being more challenging to design.

They have a greater understanding of the limits of Minecraft, and their creations alone are already a sign of their progress. I can’t wait to see what they build for Ice Boat Racing!

Program feedback written by Nickolas Landry

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