With over a hundred million active users, Minecraft is an incredibly popular and critically acclaimed game for players of all ages that has been delighting its fans since its introduction in 2009.
Essentially an open 3d world designed to spark creativity, Minecraft allows kids to gather resources, explore, build incredible structures and compete with each other across an infinite terrain. Kids can also modify various elements of the game, such as gameplay mechanics and items, in a process called modding.
Perhaps less well known is the fact that minecraft has also seen a dramatic rise in interest among parents and teachers as a valuable educational tool. Done right, minecraft can be used to teach coding for kids pretty effectively.
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a popular video game that takes place in a large, open 3d world.
Players use, create and break apart blocks and are challenged to find, mine and use resources around them to find food, build tools and create shelter.
For kids there are endless challenges and projects to try, from building a city to creating working models of circuit boards. Parents, on the other hand, delight in the fact that while playing their kids are developing key problem solving skills, developing their creativity and practicing self-direction.
There are four Minecraft “modes” that users can try out:
Minecraft’s Creative Mode is the open sandbox that everyone thinks about when they think about Minecraft. There are an infinite amount of resources to use that players can use and instantly destroy as needed, and users are in no danger. There’s no health bars, hunger, or armor. The point of this mode is to simply create and explore the limits of your imagination.
Minecraft’s survival mode is another of the game’s main modes. In Survival, players can receive damage and have to eat, collect resources, avoid mobs and build weapons and shelter to…well, survive. Unlike Creative mode, gathering blocks and resources takes time and may require the creation of better tools. Also, the user can “die” if they receive too much damage.
Adventure mode is a mode that is more about exploring player-created maps. While players can’t destroy or place blocks directly, they can explore the environment and interact with it. Like Survival mode, users can receive or inflict damage, get hungry and “die,” making Adventure mode much like a videogame.
Hardcore Mode (Java only)
Essentially a variant of Survival mode, Hardcore mode is set to the hard difficulty setting and doesn’t let users respawn (come back) after dying.
Can kids learn to code with minecraft?
For as long as minecraft has been around, players have been interested in modifying it to build whatever it is they dream up. One of the reasons parents and technology educators love Minecraft so much is that it takes things a step further and allows users to modify (hence the name mod) the game files, letting users change or create their own items, blocks, places and characters.
By using a coding program known as an integrated development environment, such as Microsoft’s MakeCode or Eclipse, users can access game files and directly change the file codes or create whole new items from scratch. They can then upload these with mod launchers.
Using Minecraft modding as a backdrop, kids not only learn and practice actual text programing but, depending on what they’re trying to accomplish, they’ll also learn important computer science concepts like file structures, conditionals, loops, booleans and more.
What language is Minecraft written in?
There are currently several versions of Minecraft, each built around their own coding language. While perhaps a bit confusing, this does give parents a bit more flexibility in terms of what coding language they would prefer their kids to learn without affecting the gameplay in any real way.
Minecraft (Original) – Java
The original version of minecraft is written in Java, which is helpful to parents and educators since that’s the language of choice for most school computer classes and AP Computer Science.
Java is also a highly popular, in-demand and useful coding language for kids and adults to learn. The language of choice for most web and mobile app developers, Java is a flexible and somewhat easier to learn and understand coding language that pretty much runs independently on any computer or device with a java runtime environment (JRE), that is to say pretty much any modern operating system- computer or mobile device.
Minecraft: Bedrock – C++
Originally known as Minecraft pocket edition, Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is designed for use on mobile and low powered devices. This is the version of Minecraft that you might find on your Playstation, Xbox, VR system, Android/iOS device and so on and has begun to be brought to Windows as well.
Unlike the original Minecraft’s Java, Bedrock Edition is written in C++. This is largely because C++ tends to run faster and with less memory and battery consumption than Java. An extremely powerful and well-known object oriented language, C++ is sometimes considered a foundational coding language. Everything from video games, web browsers and even the operating system you use are coded in C++, making it a highly in-demand (although sometimes challenging) programming language to learn.
Minecraft vs Bedrock: What’s the deal for modding?
Most of the coding and modding done with Minecraft is done using Java. Simply put, it’s usually a lot easier to do in Java than with other languages and there is a large community and support system devoted to it.
While C++ editions like Bedrock might run quicker and smoother, and C++ might be a language some parents want their kids exposed to, in terms of modding Bedrock C++ editions just don’t have the support that the regular, Java edition does.
If you’re trying to get your kids into coding through Minecraft and using modding as a way to get them interested and started, you might want to stick with Java editions for now.
Bottom Line: Why kids should learn to code with Minecraft
There’s no doubt that helping kids learn to code at an early age is extremely beneficial and important these days and will only be more so in the future.
Coding lets kids become creators of technology rather than just consumers of it, they can push their imaginations to the limit and use math and STEM skills to bring their dreams to life.
For kids, Minecraft coding can be a great first introduction to programming and, through its very modular nature and wide-open world, a great way to keep them coding for a long time
Keep kids coding with things they love
When teaching kids something complex like coding, motivation is key.
Using a popular and open video game that kids love is a great way to teach kids since it helps bridge the gap between learning and their everyday life. Using something they actually enjoy doing helps keep enthusiasm and motivation high and makes it feel less like school or work.
It can also show kids a direct result of their actions on the screen in a way they understand and, more importantly, can immediately appreciate. That is to say, their code will have an effect on the game in a way they better understand and can get excited about.
After all, making an axe that now shoots fireballs at enemies makes the concepts imparted more exciting and less abstract than simply reading about it, doesn’t it?
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.