Margaret PortierBy Margaret Portier, Director of Innovative Family Services, Fayetteville Free Library

We all have them. The makers, breakers, builders, growers, fighters, survivors, farmers… the kids that have exactly one topic of all consuming interest: Minecraft. Minecraft is a sandbox game that gives its users the freedom to shape the game world around them. Players can use Creative Mode to build incredible works of architecture and art or use Survival Mode to build a civilization from scratch with nothing but the their fists to work with.  Minecraft is an ideal platform on which to build STEAM initiatives for young library users.

FFL Minecraft GamesI am going to tell you about a program series that we run at the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) called the FFL Minecraft Games. Originally, the FFL Minecraft Games began as a way to appease our young patrons in their thirst for competitive Minecraft gameplay but it has quickly morphed into an interactive experience that offers opportunities for players with various levels of experience to engage in play and STEAM skill building.

What are the FFL Minecraft Games? Each one is a two-hour program where up to 30 players battle it out in a specially designed Minecraft Bukkit server. The server is built from scratch for each game using a variety of Bukkit plugins. These plugins define the basis of the game experience; anywhere from a Hunger Games style free-for-all to a team-based Capture the Flag.

One team develops strategies while watching other teams play.

One team develops strategies while watching others play.

Players at the FFL Minecraft Games come from different schools, have varying degrees of familiarity with the game, and range in age from 7-15. The gender breakdown is usually one girl for every two boys. The first 15 minutes of the FFL Minecraft Games we talk about The Rules; failure to abide by them can result in individual and/or team expulsion from the game. The Rules detail both the specifics of the gameplay and the behavior expected for the next two hours. After The Rules, participants break up into 5-person teams and we begin Round 1.

Each round is made up of 3 games. We have 10 laptops set up in the center of the room so only two teams can play at a time; each round gives the six teams a chance to play one game each. Games take between 3 and 7 minutes each, so a round can last up to 15 or 20 minutes. In each subsequent Round the teams will face different opponents. So, after the very first game of Round 1, the teams begin to strategize taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of their teammates and of the other teams in the room. Scores are taken at the end of each game and add cumulatively until the last round is played when the scores are announced and the top two teams honored.

Watching and cheering on the players builds confidence and community.

Watching and cheering on the players builds confidence and community.

Players develop skills in teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, collaboration, and strategy. We actively direct skill building by turning a sandbox game the players are already proficient at playing into a very specific environment that encourages development of STEAM skills. There is also a huge aspect of community building in this program. The FFL Minecraft Games is a place where players meet other kids who have the same passion. Several of the players who met at the FFL Minecraft Games continue to meet and play together at the library and at the FFL Minecraft Games events.

The excitement is contagious when players master the game.

The excitement is contagious when players master the game.

The Makers of the FFL Minecraft Games are a small group of wonderful teens in 8th to 11th grade. They began as players at the Games but stepped forward and asked if they could try their hand at making them instead. Except for the first two, every FFL Minecraft Game server has been built from scratch by these teens.

They meet together and brainstorm different gameplay options before settling down on one and selecting appropriate Bukkit plugins. They then edit the code so that the Bukkit server runs the game according to their design. With the game rules built into the server, they design and build the arena and then play test it several times trying to find any bugs or loopholes that players might manipulate to their advantage during the game.

One of the game Makers giving players a preview of the arena while explaining The Rules.

One of the game Makers giving players a preview of the arena while explaining The Rules.

Preparing for the event, these teens help the library staff set up the room and check the network connections. At the event, these teens are the game masters and MCs. They are the ones who explain the game rules and the scoring method. They go into the game with the players and ensure that the experience is smooth and that nobody cheats. With the help of the library’s IT staff they also troubleshoot any technology problems that arise. They have become role models and experts that the players approach outside of the FFL Minecraft Games with questions about how to play and how to code.

These Makers develop skills in teamwork, information seeking, decision making, computer coding, game design, game mechanics, architecture, critical thinking, engineering, time management, and leadership. The library provides the platform and a general framework; the teens do the research and the work to facilitate the creation of the game server themselves.

By providing access to Minecraft in our library through the FFL Minecraft Games we are empowering these kids to learn STEAM skills and to further develop their computer science and engineering skills by playing the game they love.