Why did I decide to host this event? Oh, if you work in a library and with children and teens you know why. You know that, for them, Minecraft rules their imaginations. At my library, the kids will play Minecraft for hours at a time. They play it together, they watch each other play it, and they watch YouTube videos of other people playing it. This summer we have had kids in the library who play it for literally hours on end, taking breaks only when they are kicked off the computer because someone else has reserved it … most likely to play Minecraft. Then they sign up and wait their turn to do it again. And I’m guessing if your library has public Internet access, well, you have kids who do the same thing.
If you feel as clueless as I did (and still usually do) about Minecraft I suggest you start with the Minecraft Wiki. Minecraft is a building game and, as one of my patron’s dads told me, “It has kid’s favorite two things – building stuff and breaking stuff.” It encourages creative play and creative thinking. While the game is highly customizable it also has a great shared universe that includes detailed terminology that weaves its fictional world together. It’s the kind of game you can easily lose yourself in for hours.
For all these reasons, I knew that meant it was time for my library to host a Minecraft program! But I didn’t just want to have a program where the kids got together and played Minecraft. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – but they were already doing that in the library every day on their own. Why would I need to “host” that any more than I already was?
So, the goal of this program was to really expand the Minecraft community at our library outside the computer consoles. We wanted to avoid any gameplay. Again, not because there’s anything wrong with gameplay but because that wasn’t the program we were creating. Really, the goal was the same as for the other single day events: to make fans feel welcome in the library, to let them know this was a place that spoke their language and welcomed their enthusiasm. It just so happened that these were fans of a computer game and not a book. We’re still ready to be welcoming!
With that in mind, Melissa and I spent as much time as we could both trying to decipher the mysteries that are Minecraft and talking to all the kids and teens we knew who gamed it so we could create this event. (more about that shortly)
Here’s how Minecraft IRL happened.
15 minutes intro
Yes, we usually start our programs with a story and I’d loved to have done that here … but there are no Minecraft books. (PUBLISHERS MAKE SOME MONEY ALREADY!) so we decided the way to kick this program off was with some Minecraft videos. This is actually a big part of the fandom – watching and creating videos about specific gameplay or pop culture parodies. So this felt like a good entry point and a good way to get everyone thinking and coming together as a group (which is an important element of events like these!)
We projected them onto our big screen and everyone sat around and watched. Melissa and I chose the videos after consulting with our student workers, talking to several 8-10 year olds, and YouTube searching for big hits. Our biggest problem here was finding videos that had a wide appeal AND were appropriate for all ages as we knew the age range for this program would be all over the map.
Melissa ran this part of it and selected most of the videos, so here is her verdicts on what the kids thought:
- Revenge– More kids had NOT see this one than had. They enjoyed it and laughed quite a bit.
- Flying Machine Contest– most hadn’t seen this one. It was a good choice because it was music only and the kids could explain what was going on and talk about what they thought might be built next.
- Don’t Mine at Night– they all knew this one and could sing along. But it was fun to see it as a group and on a big screen.
30 minutes craft and activity
Since Minecraft is an 8-bit based that makes it, visually, PERFECT for papercrafting. So, we went on the hunt for the right patterns. This was, again, harder than it seemed. (again, I guess no one wants to license things that could MAKE THEM MORE MONEY). So Melissa and I searched site after site and changed up keywords and decided on certain characters we were committed to actually creating. That part really helped – we needed narrow definitions. We ended up with three characters so there would be some choice but we realistically knew they’d probably only get through one (if that).
Melissa is my craft expert, particularly when it comes to papercrafting, so I let her make the final decisions on which patterns would actually work. Here’s the links to the three projects we chose with her notes on how she found them:
(they liked working together, even for an “independent” craft)
But we didn’t let them linger on the paper-folding, though I think they would have been happy to. No, we had to move them along to the other activity … the element hunt.
In Minecraft, you need elements to make the world happen. Gathering and combining them in the right recipes (which is called “crafting” in the game) is a huge part of gameplay and how you build your world.
After browsing complicated Pinterest parties about Minecraft, I decided was going to simplify that and the other part of our event would be IRL crafting. I decided on our elements, all elements needed in the game: gold, coal, cobblestone, diamonds, wood, and brick. One of the activities kids love the best is the look and find scavenger hunt through out the library. This, I decided, was the perfect combination. So we cut several hundred small squares of colored paper and hid them all through the library. Kids were then tasked with collecting three of them to craft a real-life recipe for a real-life prize. (a mini-candy bar in this case).
Using one of our tables, I created an actual crafting box. It was as simple as using masking tape on a table. They didn’t care, they got excited from the second they saw this, instantly recognizing it.
We also created a recipe board. They not only had to collect three specific elements they had to combine them as they were shown on the recipe board. In other words: even if they found three cobblestones it wouldn’t be enough to “make” a candy bar. Again, this fits with actual gameplay in the game – you really do need the right amount of elements and you really must arrange them in the right order. Here’s our recipe board. I used images from the game of the elements – another thing they just went wild for.
And no, there was no real order to it – I just randomly combined them in ways I thought looked cool. I did have to reuse some of the elements but that wasn’t a problem.
Naturally, they loved this. They loved gathering the elements through the scavenger hunt part, they loved crafting the recipes as show on the board, and they loved getting the candy bars!
We had some extra time after the hunt (more about that in the lessons learned!) so we let them go back to working on their papercrafts, which they were happy to do. We rolled out the snacks at our usual time.
15 minutes of snack and wrap-up
This is an event we did themed snacks for. Again thanks to the skills and attention to detail of “people who have more time and money than any library ever will but who do have good ideas I can modify” on Pinterest, I came up with easy snacks. They WERE a little more expensive, but it was worth it.
All of the food, of course, represented items in Minecraft. There were pretzel rods as sticks, carrots, and two pieces of Hershey’s chocolate, wrapped in gold and silver, representing iron ingots and gold ingots. The kids squealed and called out in recognition as I showed them each food. This food cost around $15.
They loved the themed snacks and they loved talking about the whole day and using all their arcane Minecraft slang on each other in a fever pitch of excitement about how they were all going to game together. They all seemed intersted in another session and gave us suggestions for more videos to screen. Many of them chose to stay after the hour was over so they could finish working on some of their papercraft or keep hunting for elements.
Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned
- I was soooo totally off with the numbers on scavenger hunt. My main mistake was not consulting a mathematician, man. (Especially since, you know, one of my best friends has a master’s degree in math and my boyfriend minored in it at MIT.) We hid HUNDREDS of squares (as I said) which I thought planned through for each kid to craft one candy … but I definitely lost the thread, so we didn’t have quite enough for them to play for two pieces of candy (this is tied to the no registration pros/cons I mentioned previous) but it also meant there were SO many squares (because I thought we’d need that many) that they were easy to find rather quickly and the kids didn’t care what they made, really, they just wanted to make something. So they whipped through this much more quickly than I’d planned and then I couldn’t really let them do it again, even though they loved it and definitely wanted to.
- All the cutting and pasting was a little messy, so we were left with picking up lots of little bits of paper. In an optimal world, I would have been able to have them all do it over tables/in a room I could sweep up in. But space is what space is. Still, something worth noting if you’re planning to do the papercrafting.
- We should have put a more specific age limit on it. It wasn’t a HUGE problem, but the younger kids (we had 6 & 7 year olds) needed a little more attention and help. We should have listed something more specific about parents staying or about “must be ____ years old.” It might also have been good to have some SLIGHTLY simpler crafts so they could have some instant gratification. But even the younger kids were happy to focus on making the characters because they were pretty darn cool.
- Talking to kids about it was a requirement. It not only helped us learn the terminology but it gave ides about certain things about the game they were really into. This was another event that we couldn’t go into with no preparation – letting the kids get hands on in what we were going to watch was the best move we made, it saved us a lot of time. It also let them know we actually want to know what THEY wanted to do and weren’t just going to have some “Anyway …. Minecraft?” event.
- Making sure that we billed this as Minecraft IN REAL LIFE was really important because it gave us some clear parameters of what this event was going to be. We didn’t feel the pressure of “but when are we going to play it! Why don’t you have a server! I want to play!” and if we got push back about that, well, we pointed to the name: IN REAL LIFE, after all. (again: not that there’s anything wrong with having a gameplay program and not that I wouldn’t LOVE to set up a library server, which I am interested in, but this just wasn’t that program. Having THIS program allowed us to meet different goals and was helpful for building enthusiasm and goodwill while tapping into the trend without needing to have the dedicated tech resources to host a gameplay event.)
That’s how Minecraft IRL happened. We had a great turn-out: 30 kids and 5 grown-ups in attendance. We had a huge age range and the genders were pretty well-mixed, though boys did SLIGHTLY dominate. We also got HUGE program attendance from the 9-12 cohort, a group we were really trying to connect with. It was a bigger hit than I ever anticipated – not only did the program actually come together but it made sense with the actual game, something Melissa and I both worried about since we’re not exactly Minecraft Experts. Total staff needed for this one was a little lighter, with Melissa and I taking the adult staff roles while Jared and Dillon directed everyone and walked them through crafts.
Are the kids at your library obsessed with Minecraft? How are you programming for it? Do you think your patrons who love Minecraft, or any other computer game really, would be interested in a “real life” version of it? Are there any questions or details about Minecraft IRL I didn’t answer or that you want more info about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here or talk with me on Twitter)
I was happy to see that one of our biggest daily Minecraft players, a kid who spends hours and hours playing, actually stopped playing Minecraft and, instead, participated in the event and had an amazing time. Before he left, I saw him over by the crafting table I’d made. I walked over to see what he was doing and found that he’d laid out parts of his snack on the board. He was chuckling to himself. “Look,” he told me, grinning. “I made a gold shovel.”
(note the Hershey’s gold ingot and the pretzel rod sticks)
And so he had. Everything that happened in that moment was just too perfect: the way he connected the two worlds and how he was actually trying to play the game in real life to the way he was just plain enjoying the program and the fun we had been trying to create. Now that – that is a programming moment I’ll cherish long after this trend has passed.