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Building technology into teaching: Hans Christian Andersen’s House collaborates to create Minecraft worlds

After 5 years of redevelopment, Hans Christian Andersen’s House opened its doors in the summer of 2021. “The museum first opened in 1908. It’s been a very traditional, biographical museum throughout all of these years,” said the museum’s Creative Director Henrik Lubker in a recent interview with Microsoft Libraries and Museums Podcast.

He explained that when the opportunity arose to redevelop the museum, the team wanted to move away from facts and biographical information towards creating a space able to generate “a sense of wonderment” more akin to that of Andersen’s stories themselves.

“It’s like stepping into a world where anything can happen,” Henrik asserts. “The idea is to create this seamless integration of audio and architecture and exhibition that becomes a world you inhabit as a visitor; that you can walk around and explore.”

But the environment in which Hans Christian Andersen’s House has reopened is very different to that of five years ago. In 2021, a museum’s digital estate is fast becoming every bit as important as its physical premises. So, in addition to the 5,600 square metres of the house, museum and gardens in Odense, the team at the museum have also looked to virtual spaces in order to generate a sense of play and nurture visitors’ imaginations.

As a result, the museum has used Minecraft as a storytelling platform to engage with an audience in the digital realm. Billed as a means to “motivate students to rediscover the joy of Andersen”, the combination of the world’s biggest fairytale author and modern gaming is a pleasing clash of old and new.

As Henrik explained, in Minecraft, “It is about the journey; it is about free exploration; it is about the creativity within the user . . . you are the central agent. For me, it is a really good match from an artistic point of view. And because Minecraft is a great place to get Andersen stories out to any computer.”

Thumbelina through pixels

The Minecraft worlds have been created in partnership with Minecraft Mapmaker Adam Clarke as part of a four-lesson educational course. Inspired by the tale of Thumbelina and designed to draws students on an adventure to follow in her footsteps, users meet the characters who influenced the little girl’s behaviour and shaped her responses.

Each lesson explores a different world within Minecraft: Education Edition, taking children on their own journey where they themselves become the main character. Adam Clarke said, “We’ve reduced it down into very specific quests. It is unintimidating . . . it is fun. Minecraft gives us really simple tools to do good, effective storytelling. And without too many skills. You can create quite rich environments and experiences for young people to participate in.”

According to the museum’s Curator of Education, Mette Videl Kiilerich, “It’s a taste of the museum’s teaching profile and how we want to open up the world of Andersen’s fairy tales rather than stuffing them down children’s throats.”

Through activities that are conducted both inside and outside the game, students are encouraged to reflect on character development and how each character’s actions affect others – depending on the choices they make in the game.

While the Minecraft worlds can be enjoyed remotely by children (and adults) anywhere, it is also hoped that the education programme will help to awaken a new, young audience’s interest in Hans Christian Andersen, complementing and integrating with physical visits to the museum.

Interested to find out more about the ways museums are using games to tell stories? Join us for the Museums, Games and Play Summit in February.

About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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