If you’d told me I’d spend six hours at a weekend event dedicated to Minecraft … actually that would sound totally feasible, that’s pretty much exactly the sort of thing I’m likely to be found doing given half a chance. But this one was special because ODI Devon organised it in collaboration with 2.times do, so not only was I immersed in Minecraft, I was helping to introduce it to a whole new cohort of adults in Exeter who’d been dragged along by their children and grandchildren.
There’s no denying the draw of the game itself, with hundreds if not thousands of servers set up to play multiplayer games; a whole industry of modpacks and plugins and texture packs to personalise the game for you; and versions for every device from massive games consoles down to smartphones.
But as much fun as all of that is, we wanted to focus on the particular aspects that make it a data learning environment. Firstly, because we had the benefit of 2.times do’s experience in setting up Code Club and Raspberry Jam events, we had a raft of Raspberry Pis set up with Minecraft Pi and some coding exercises using the Minecraft API. Secondly, we had the code written by Chris Gutteridge at Southampton University, that allows you to import Lidar and OpenStreetMap open data to build a Minecraft world modelled on a real place. As I write this I’m watching the script work away at world number fifteen of the twenty-five or so that people requested on Sunday, so by the time we’re done we’ll have modelled most of Exeter and quite a few towns and villages across Devon.
That’s not including the one we generated of Exeter city centre, taking in the library and Exeter Cathedral amongst other landmarks. We ran a server on the day with the Exeter world loaded up for people to explore, and we now appear to have mine carts on rails running across the cathedral green, and a mob of chickens guarding the library …