Tag Team Tech: Wrestling with Teens and Technology February 2014

Minecraft I

Sarha Ludwig

Minecraft has been one of my favorite topics to write and speak about for months–because of its limitless applications, of course, but also because it’s so much fun to play. To start this series on using Minecraft with teens in libraries, we’ll explore Minecraft Clubs, which are relatively easy to set up and full of possibilities for learning, play, and collaboration.

Providing Access to Minecraft

The simplest way to get teens on one Minecraft server–which allows them to play together–is to run a LAN-based game (LAN stands for Local Area Network). LAN servers can only be accessed when all players are on the same network, either wired or wireless. The upside of this setup is that you don’t have to build a server. The downside is that teens can only access the server during planned events. This might not be the worst idea during the start of a Minecraft club, though.

Note that if your teens use Minecraft Pocket Edition, the iPad app, they will not be able to access a server. They can create a local LAN server, but only for a limited number of players.

Minecraft accounts are free, but the game itself–the download that you’ll need to install on your library’s computers–costs about $27. This is obviously a big expense, but once you buy the game, you can install it on any computer you want. That said, your teens will need to have their own paid accounts to play. If you have teens with their own accounts, great! If not, you will need to decide if you want to ask them to buy their own, if you want to buy accounts for them, or if you want to purchase a set of generic accounts (EWSLibrary1, EWSLibrary2, etc.). MinecraftEDU offers discounted accounts for educational purposes–but stay tuned for the next column for information on that.

If you want to brave the world of servers, there are a few places to start educating yourself on how to do so (I have never built a server and rely heavily on the kindness and expertise of technology departments).

From the Minecraft website:  “If you’re running on Windows and just want to set up a server easily, download minecraft_server.1.7.4.exe and run it. If you want to run the server on any other OS or without GUI it’s a bit more involved (see this wiki article for a tutorial). First make sure you can use java from the command line. On Linux and Mac OS X this should already be set up but on Windows you might have to tinker with the PATH environment variable. Download and run minecraft_server.1.7.4.jar with java -Xmx1024M -Xms1024M -jar minecraft_server.jar nogui.”

Geek.com offers what appears to be a comprehensive overview of how to host a Minecraft server, as well, though I can’t vouch for it entirely!

Finally, the second half of this article–the “Asking for Permission” section–is a great step-by-step guide to setting up a Minecraft server in school.

Club Activities

Once you have a group of teens who want to play, try starting out by meeting once a week to play. There’s plenty of fun to be had in just running around your new world and building, but to make this a richer experience for your teens, try adding challenges and in-game activities. Choosing an activity will depend on the skill level of your players. (Note: “creative mode” offers access to all resources, without the need to eat, and with no fear of injury or death; “survival mode” forces players to search for resources, and they must eat and be careful.)

Easier challenges for beginners

Do these challenges with your world set to Peaceful. This means that no one can fight, there are no monsters, and the players do not have to eat. If they lose health, it regenerates over time. This takes some of the pressure off the players. As the gamemaker, you can go in before the activity begins to build the world, hide clues, build sample structures, etc. Then everything will be ready when your players log in.

Races in survival mode

  •  Give each player a chest, and time them to see who can fill the chest the fastest with a predetermined set of resources–wood, coal, sand, wool, mushrooms, etc.
  • Have the players race to see who can first bake a cake (this requires building an oven, finding fuel, and gathering the resources needed to make the cake). This can be done with simpler recipes too, like mushroom soup. Or, to make it harder, have the players race to be the first to build five cakes.

  • See who can build a 20 x 20 house first, out of either wood, stone, sand, or another simple material. You could even build a sample house to have them mimic it exactly.

  • Give the players fishing poles and set up near a body of water. The first player to catch ten fish wins!

 Building in either creative mode or survival mode

  • Like the house-building challenge above, players could try to replicate another structure exactly through copying one that has already been built on the server.

  • Alternatively, players could build their dream house, an underground lair, the most impenetrable fortress they can, or recreate their school, library, home, restaurant, fictional location, etc.

  • Players can collaboratively build a collection of buildings–a city block, a mall, a town square, a castle and surrounding buildings.

  • Players can build giant letters, “drawings,” or statues of anything they like.

Treasure Hunts in survival mode 

  • Hide objects around your world and have the players search for prizes, like weapons, armor, spells, and valuable resources.

  • Create a scavenger hunt, with a list of ten or fifteen resources that each player must find. The first player to collect all the items wins.

  • Write a series of clues leading from one prize to another. Clues can be written on signs and can involve coordinates, landmarks, buildings, or features of the natural world (like streams, lakes, clusters of trees).

Harder challenges for more experienced players

You may have some players in your club who are hard to challenge. If you think they’ll be bored or blow through challenges too quickly, consider putting them in charge of creating challenges or enforcing the rules of a game.

Combat in survival mode (make the game easy, normal, or hard, depending on how experienced and comfortable the players are)

  • Kill challenges–kill 10 zombies, 5 spiders, 5 creepers, etc. Monsters only come out when night falls, but as the game’s operator, you can change the time of day as soon as the sun starts to come out.

  • Build a PVP (player vs. player) arena–this would be a great task for any teen helpers you have–and have players challenge each other to duels. Make the weapons and armor standard, no spells, just fighting. Last player standing wins!

  • Create a Hunger Games arena, full of trees, water, and various landforms. Wall it in, and hide weapons and food throughout the arena. Then drop all your players into the arena. May the odds be ever in your favor!

Survival challenges in survival mode (of course)

  • The “hobo challenge”: Players build houses and stock them with food and supplies–or you can pre-build houses and stock them. Then, without using coordinates, players walk away from their house for a predetermined amount of time in Minecraft time–three days and nights, for example. At the end of that time period, the players must find their way back home, again, without the help of coordinates. This means they must fight monsters and find food as they go . . . and they might not ever find their house!

  • Desert island challenge: Find an island in your Minecraft world and teleport your players to it. Try to find an island that’s big enough to have trees and a few places to build. You can either have players try to survive for a set number of days or try to escape the island somehow.

  • There are several survival maps that you can install on your server. This is for more advanced users who know how to install mods (modifications), but it can be really fun. Survival maps include floating islands, space, the arctic, the moon, prehistoric times, and more. Visit http://www.minecraftmaps.com/survival-maps to browse available maps.

Building and engineering challenges, either in survival or creative mode, depending on level of difficulty

  • Players can use redstone (the Minecraft source of electricity) to create machines, electrified train tracks, traps, and more. Have players try to recreate machines that exist in real life, like elevators, catapults, subway cars, etc.

  • Have players create a parkour course–a jumping, running, and balancing obstacle course that forces players to move quickly and agilely over water, fire, lava, and steep drop-offs. This is two challenges in one, between building and testing the course and then navigating it.

  • Players can undergo larger builds than those suggested in the “beginners” section, like Hogwarts, the Colosseum, Panem, or Big Ben, using photographs and floor plans as a guide.

  • Like the survival maps above, you can also find mods for famous places and novels. There’s HogCraft, for the world of Harry Potter; WesterosCraft, for the world of Game of Thrones; Millenaire, which populates the world with 11th century Norman, Mayan, and Japanese villages; and the Archimedes Ships mod, which allows players to build huge ships and sail around the world like the explorers of old. For help installing mods, be sure to read the Minecraft wiki article on the topic.

All of these challenges, games, and activities require patience, teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving, and creative thinking, among other skills. If you meet once a week, have your group members identify where they’d like to start and then, if you have some players who are more advanced than others, enlist them to help you. As you play, make sure to give your teens free reign to modify any of these challenges or design their own completely. It’s the open-ended and creative nature of Minecraft that makes it so special.

Ludwig used with permissionSarah Ludwig is the dean of Digital & Library Services at The Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT. She comes to this position having managed two independent school libraries (Wilbraham & Monson and Hamden Hall Country Day), as well as multiple departments at the award-winning Darien Library. ABC-CLIO published Sarah’s book, Starting from Scratch: Building a Teen Library Program, in June 2011. In 2010, Ludwig was selected as an American Library Association Emerging Leader. She is an instructor for Simmons College’s continuing education program and speaks locally and nationally on topics such as promoting reading, digital and information literacy, and integrating library skills into the curriculum.

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