Microsoft’s building block: Minecraft
Posted January 27, 2016on:
Whenever a larger entity (like Microsoft or Blackboard) buys a smaller company (like Mojang, the makers of Minecraft, or the assortment of setups that Blackboard swallowed up), there is a worry that something bad will happen. That worry is warranted when history repeats itself with acquisitions preceding dissolutions of the smaller groups.
Some people are not worried or critical of Microsoft’s purchase of Minecraft. News seems to be good a year in because Microsoft has a new version, Minecraft Education Edition (current form: MinecraftEDU). I am calling it MEE.
As an educator, casual Minecraft player, and keen observer, I am monitoring this development with some worry.
The Guardian goes into detail about MEE and describes various teacher control measures. These are no doubt requested by teachers and even the kid players themselves. After all, who wants to see a painstakingly-built structure vandalised in mere seconds?
Part of me says this is not about education. It is about schooling and tight control. To use Minecraft terminology, I say we do not call it creative mode when it is about command and control. The article says MEE “adds extra functionality for teachers”, but does this also introduce unnecessary barriers for learner-gamers?
I am not saying there should not be technical advancement and better management of the creative spaces. However, rules are not just about one-size-fits-all enforcement. They are also about social negotiation, peer pressure, and persistence. These are skills that can be nurtured from game-based learning.
The Guardian also pointed out that this iteration of Minecraft is the first written in the programming language C++. While this might create new possibilities in the future, it might close a door on an already rich practice and ecosystem developed by Minecraft gamers. I am referring to the “community-made mods, maps, skins and mini-games”.
Will there be a way to take advantage of this creating, coding, and makerspace by providing ways to import such user-generated tools and content? Or will Microsoft remain in command and control mode and create approved add-ons that they then put on sale?
When Microsoft bought Mojang’s Minecraft, it also bought the players of the game. This is like Facebook having WhatsApp and Instagram users whether they realise it or not. Will Microsoft use MEE as a strategic lever to get into the device market like Google (Chromebooks) or Apple (iPads)? Might it seek to carve a lucrative, data-loaded corner out of the cloud-tool space like Google Edu Apps?
You can feel helpless when you realise that you are barely a pawn in big business game. Big fish eats small fish, those are the rules. However, as financially lucrative as the education market might be, the rules in this arena are different. The bottomline has never been about money; it is always about values, skills, and knowledge that are timeless. You can make money out of this, as teachers and administrators do.
Will Microsoft play by the rules, bend them, or break them? Will it be the school bully, the rich kid (Apple?), the supportive IT guy (Google?)?