Minecraft is a very popular video game. This game with it’s low-tech looking graphics provides opportunities for world-building and problem solving. Mods, or add-ons, provide additional building resources, alternative gaming scenarios, and bad guys. In many ways the game is a graphic version of Legos. Gaming in the library is not usually considered a STEM activity, but Minecraft turns that idea on its head. Passive learning through gaming is a trend and something that does fit in a library.
At my small rural library we have long discussed adding a game system and gaming to our youth programming. Our biggest challenges are space, bandwidth, and cost. We do not have a space that we can dedicate entirely to a gaming area with a large screen and sufficient seating. Every square inch of space that we do have must be flexible to other uses, limiting availability. The games played would have to be limited to either single-player or whatever the game is setup to provide. In other words, we could not provide streaming or server-based gaming due to limited bandwidth. And then the cost of acquiring a game system, television, extra controllers, and the games themselves.
And then I ran across Minetest, a Minecraft clone. The developers describe Minetest as “an infinite-world block sandbox game and a game engine, inspired by InfiniMiner, Minecraft and the like.” The game visuals and game play are very similar to Minecraft and anyone who has played with Minecraft will almost immediately be able to play Minetest. Minetest provides several advantages over Minecraft:
Minetest is a free, open-source game.
The game can be played on Windows, Linux, OSX, and FreeBSD.
The game will work on older hardware.
The game is played using a keyboard and mouse, so no special controllers needed.
The game can be played as a single-player, or if you are adventurous you can setup a local server.
The game has a creative mode.
There are several mods, or game extensions available for free.
Here are a couple videos showing the game. The first is a teacher who explains how he uses the game in his classroom. The second is a Minecraft gamer using Minetest for the first time.
Before deploying Minetest at the library, I installed the game on my home computer and spent some time learning the game. I very quickly understood the appeal and have become addicted to exploring the world I created. I learned how to teleport, set a home location, find diamonds, build, craft, etc. Installing mods was a little trickier than I would have liked, but not too difficult either. I printed out some of the Wiki pages that gave basic instructions, for reference. I watched YouTube videos of Minetest game play to better understand what I could do in the game.
My library had a computer* dedicated to gaming in our children’s area and the install and setup was fairly quick. Then I identified a few kids who I knew were Minecraft gamers and asked them to try it out. Their reactions were golden, “Cool,” and “Wow,” “This is different but I like it.” I then explained they could get this game for free and install it on a computer at home if they wanted. This excited them even more. Despite that, word has slowly spread and we now have a small, but steady stream of Minetest players coming to the library. Minetest has become a natural extension of our Lego Club.
*We had setup a computer in our children’s area solely for gaming. Unfortunately, there are very few PC games available to purchase anymore. New games have either moved to a game console system or a streaming, server side system, both challenges for my library.