The Minecraft Generation

Minecraft

Illustration by Christof Neimann

“One day last fall, I visited Gus, a seventh ­grader in Brooklyn. He was online with friends on a server they share together, engaging in boisterous gladiatorial combat. I watched as he typed a command to endow himself with a better weapon: “/give AdventureNerd bow 1 0 {Unbreakable:1,ench:[{id:51,lvl:1}],display:{Name:“Destiny”}}.” What the command did was give a bow-­and-­arrow weapon to AdventureNerd, Gus’s avatar; make the bow unbreakable; endow it with magic; and name the weapon Destiny, displayed in a tag floating over the weapon. Gus had plastered virtual sticky-­notes all over his Mac’s desktop listing the text commands he uses most often.

The game encourages kids to regard logic and if-then statements as fun things to mess around with. It teaches them what computer coders know and wrestle with every day, which is that programs rarely function at first: The work isn’t so much in writing a piece of software but in debugging it, figuring out what you did wrong and coming up with a fix…”

This “you’re on your own” ethos resulted from early financial limitations: Working alone, Persson had no budget to design tutorials. That omission turned out be an inadvertent stroke of genius, however, because it engendered a significant feature of Minecraft culture, which is that new players have to learn how to play. Minecraft, as the novelist and technology writer Robin Sloan has observed, is “a game about secret knowledge.” So like many modern mysteries, it has inspired extensive information-­­sharing. Players excitedly pass along tips or strategies at school. They post their discoveries in forums and detail them on wikis. (The biggest one, hosted at the site Gamepedia, has nearly 5,000 articles; its entry on Minecraft’s “horses,” for instance, is about 3,600 words long.) Around 2011, publishers began issuing handbooks and strategy guides for the game, which became runaway best sellers; one book on redstone has outsold literary hits like “The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt…

The single biggest tool for learning Minecraft lore is YouTube. The site now has more than 70 million Minecraft videos, many of which are explicitly tutorial. To make a video, players use “screencasting” software (some of which is free, some not) that records what’s happening on-screen while they play; they usually narrate their activity in voice-­over. The problems and challenges you face in Minecraft are, as they tend to be in construction or architecture, visual and three-­dimensional. This means, as many players told me, that video demonstrations have a particularly powerful explanatory force: It’s easiest to learn something by seeing someone else do it. In this sense, the game points to the increasing role of video as a rhetorical tool. (“Minecraft” is the second-­most-­searched-­for term on YouTube, after “music.”)

Read the whole article at the NY Times website here.

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Rube Goldberg competition inspires creativity and teamwork

Mouse Trap

Rube Goldberg's Self-Operating Napkin

Rube Goldberg’s Self-Operating Napkin

 

Rube Goldberg is the patron saint of computer programmers everywhere. His entire career is a running gag, creating the most insanely complex machines to do the simplest tasks. Having been a developer for many years myself, I can tell you from that this is a clandestine form of job security for many in the IT world.

You’ve probably seen his illustrations. Or you’ve played the game, Mouse Trap, based on his oeuvre. The band, Ok Go, paid homage to him in their video for “This Too Shall Pass.”

And now, fittingly, there’s a competition in schools to carry his torch forward. “Machines were constructed to open an umbrella with an operating time of up to two minutes. They had to perform the task using no less than 20, but no more than 75, steps… Twenty people worked to create the Mary Poppins themed machine, which used 33 steps that focused on the use of marbles and momentum to make things move. Marbles fell down chutes, toy cars slid down tracks and dominoes fell to trigger the umbrella to open.”

Click here to read the complete article.

rube goldberg awards

Andrew Violette of the Purdue Chapter of American Society of Mechanical Engineers team, cackles as he triggers the first mechanism of his Rube Goldberg machine. (Photo: Taidgh Barron, Purdue Exponent staff photographer)

 

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Susan E. Wagner High School Performing Arts Program

https://www.facebook.com/PerformingArtsAtWagnerHigh

These kids (and their teachers), at the Susan E. Wagner High School Performing Arts Program in Staten Island, give me hope for the future. They were absolutely amazing at Circle in the Square’s “Teens on Broadway” show, performing a long medley from IN THE HEIGHTS. It was a privilege to see them work. Their program should be a model for the nation on how to do the Arts right in a high school.

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