How Museums Are Using Minecraft to Gamify Learning Experiences
July 17 2021
By Manuel Charr
If a museum is about anything, then it is about providing an engaging learning experience. Of course, in a traditional sense, learning is also about being taught and many museums certainly do their fair share of teaching, often with educational material to go alongside exhibits that help to contextualise them for visitors. Indeed, many galleries and museums also offer teacher-based learning, especially when child education is in play. And yet, teaching is only one way to gain a learning experience, as many museum professionals will know only too well. The question for many in the sector is, therefore, how museums can provide a learning experience that is exciting, novel and which also allows the target audience to learn for themselves?
The question may seem like a knotty one but the increasing use of technology is certainly a big bonus in this regard, as we have seen elsewhere with the role of social media and virtual reality in museum settings. Added to this burgeoning list of educational technologies should be added Minecraft. For many museums Minecraft presents a world of opportunities when it comes to providing a point of entry to a particular subject matter for newcomers plus a wider contextualisation of it for more experienced people. In fact, in the wider framework of a museum experience, Minecraft can help to shape learning without ever making use of traditional teaching techniques at all.
This is because Minecraft allows users to make their own way and to do their own thing with no direct schooling. In other words, it gamifies the learning experience, something that necessarily adds another factor that is important into the equation – fun. By introducing user agency and adding enjoyment into the mix, museums can create a virtual world in which some of their key subject areas become explorable in way that is not possible in a bricks and mortar exhibition. Far from replacing the traditional museum experience, the idea is to add to it and to generate the sort of excitement that only a truly engaging learning experience can. If handled correctly, it can add significantly to what a museum should be all about.
Before looking at some museum Minecraft case studies, let’s look a little more closely at what this software is and how it can gamify museum experiences.
What Is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a hugely popular computer game which has been around since 2011. It is known as a sandbox game which means that it offers an immersive and sometimes imaginary gamer experience. With few limitations on what can be done within the game, it often comes down to players’ creativity.
Sometimes described as virtual Lego, Minecraft uses blocks of differing colours and textures with which players can make whatever takes their fancy. In most cases, players construct buildings, walls and other structures to protect their character and enhance their environment. When played by experts, entire worlds are made with streets that have architectural merit. The three-dimensional visualisation of the game means that Minecraft’s many devotees feel like they are inside the game, enjoying it as a virtual world.
What Is a Gamified Experience?
When software makes a game out of any task that you need to perform, it is referred to as ‘gamified’. If you have ever taken an online health and safety course, for example, then the quiz at the end of it which tests your knowledge is often set out as a game. Fail and you must retake the module, but pass and you are usually rewarded with a virtual certificate.
Of course, making a game out of software is nothing new. What is novel is the extent to which software developers are now trying to gamify everything they produce. It seems that the public, as consumers, prefer to play at something rather than work at it. Of course, the distinction between work and play when learning is not always clear. What software developers have done, in short, is to mask the work involved in learning by making it more fun and playable.
Image : Alex_de_Grote
When it comes to Minecraft, which has little educational purpose in its own right, it is possible to gamify all sorts of things that museums are seeking to do. By designing things in Minecraft that relate to the sort of exhibitions many museums have on offer, it becomes possible for people – especially children – to explore the concepts behind them in a familiar, if gamified, way. Essentially, it allows museums to offer an educational approach that is not taught but self-acquired in a fun and engaging way. For museums Minecraft is, therefore, a means to an educational end, not to mention its marketing value.
Museums and Minecraft
One of the most successful uses of Minecraft to enhance a visitor attraction was developed by the Museum of London. In 2016, to mark the 350th anniversary of the fire, the Museum of London commissioned a team of expert Minecraft builders to render for them a virtual replica of the city of London before the blaze. In stunning detail, the team delivered the Thames waterfront, the City of London and even the great cathedrals of the day all depicted superbly. The point was to allow the Minecraft generation a way of entering those city streets and wander around them freely just as they might have done in the mid-17th century.
Of course, it is perfectly possible to get a mental image of what the capital city looked and felt like by referring to maps and written accounts, such as Samuel Pepys’ famous diary, instead. However, both of these methods of learning require a degree of investment on the part of the learner. Using the three-dimensional Minecraft version of London to explore also requires a commitment to learn to some extent, of course. It is just another educational tool, after all. The key point is that for many of the Minecraft generation – and a good many who are that bit older – it does not feel like any investment is required. Nor, indeed, does it feel like any direct learning is going on. It is an experiential way of learning which is its own reward in the eyes of many who have used it.
So, instead of providing a learning experience which took attention away from the exhibits the Museum of London has relating to the Great Fire, it actually provoked more interest in the public who may not have engaged at all without the virtual world developed in Minecraft. Crucial to its success was the remarkable level of detail that the Minecraft version of London was rendered in. In addition, of course, it did not simply stop at the pre-fire stage. Users could download two further versions of the city, each of them also in three dimensions.
The Museum of London offered the chance to see the city at the height of the blaze and the devastating effect it must have had on residents at that time. Then there was a Minecraft version of the city in its reconstruction phase. As such, the virtual worlds allowed for all sorts of learning, from history and town planning to social changes and architecture. Bear in mind that all those types of learning came from gamifying the user’s experience in an exciting way.
Museum Storytelling in Minecraft
Far from trivialising subject matter, the deployment of Minecraft to help create a visualisation of it makes for a more immersive experience. The approach is not limited to the UK, however. When the de Young Museum in San Francisco opened a temporary exhibition dedicated to one of Mesoamerica’s most important architectural wonders, it augmented the user experience with Minecraft. Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire ran from September 2017 until the following February, exploring to the culture of the ancient Mesoamerican city located in the Valley of Mexico. In the lead up to the exhibition, the de Young Museum produced a free, downloadable three-dimensional map of the city.
The Minecraft version of Teotihuacan depicted the ancient city on a magnificent 1:1 scale. It allowed anyone who had gone to the trouble of downloading it to wander along the Street of the Dead or to walk up steps to mount the famous Sun Pyramid. Even newly discovered features of the city were included, such as the tunnel that lies beneath the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. The Minecraft version of the city was designed to offer an interactive, first-person experience of Teotihuacan that tried to convey the size and grandeur of the Mesoamerican metropolis in a way that models or poster-sized images simply could not.
Crucially, the team at de Young Museum who commissioned the Minecraft version of the city cited the Museum of London’s success with the Great Fire virtual world as a reason for using this sort of software. Yes, the museum wanted to create a buzz about its exhibits and harnessing the power of Minecraft seemed like a good way of doing so. However, the overarching reason was to convey the built environment of Teotihuacan in a manner that would be impossible to achieve without making use of some form of digital technology.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Use of Minecraft
The world-famous Victoria and Albert Museum has already used digital video game techniques to bring some of its exhibits to life in a way that children can play intuitively. For example, it has a game for designing 18th-century wigs that helps youngsters to understand the culture of the time as well as developing a greater appreciation for design skills in fashion. So, when it came to marking a major architectural project of the museum’s own, there was little surprise that the powers that be opted for Minecraft.
When the V&A Museum gained a new public entrance on Exhibition Road in 2017, the museum wanted to develop a custom digital tool which would allow anyone to design their own version. It turned to BlockWorks, which designs all sorts of interactive experiences in Minecraft for commercial organisations as well as other museums, to deliver something innovative. Blockwork deigned a number if pre-built architectural assets fashioned digitally from ordinary Minecraft blocks. Anyone who wanted to log onto the V&A’s Minecraft server could then attend a virtual workshop. In it, attendees were not only able to explore the new entrance but to design their own extensions and alternative layouts for the museum.
What may be even more thought-provoking for other museum professionals is that the Minecraft version of the V&A’s architecture could be worked on collaboratively by different virtual workshop attendees. By working in tandem with one another, various different designs to the museum could be tried out and compared. Eventually, there was a design that was judged to be the best which went on to gain a physical three-dimensional print of the Minecraft-rendered design as a prize. Although the V&A used Minecraft for a one-off event, over the course of just one weekend, in excess of 200 young people took part in in the workshop, producing a wide range of creative designs.
Art Museum and Minecraft
The Tate Gallery was an early advocate for the power of Minecraft. It commissioned Tate Worlds back in 2014. The idea was to create a number of Minecraft maps that each offered different insights into some of the many artworks held in the Tate’s collection via fully explorable, virtual worlds. The three-dimensional maps allow anyone with Minecraft downloaded on their PC, tablet or smartphone to experience artworks like never before.
In some cases, the idea was to generate an immersive imaginary environment that might have been inspired by a famous image in the collection. In other cases, there were Minecraft renderings of a real-life place, much like the rendering of London in the aforementioned Great Fire version, which perhaps inspired a work of art or said something about the artist in question.
What made Tate Worlds stand out from some of the other museums’ takes on Minecraft mentioned in this article is that it built in certain challenges that connected to the themes of each artwork in the virtual world. This gamification of the user experience helped to ensure that Tate Worlds was no mere virtual gallery which would have been a sorry reflection of the real gallery space itself. Instead, it meant that users could explore, through Minecraft, just how some of the most significant artworks in their collection were made, what inspired the artists concerned and to understand some of the stories behind them. As such, Tate Worlds offered a combination of art appreciation, art history and basic, free-roaming fun!
The British Museum’s Use of Minecraft
Although the British Museum announced a project back in 2014 that it would replicate itself entirely in Minecraft, the game has been put to educational use since then in other ways. For example, in the summer of 2018, the museum ran a number of workshops that were aimed at children aged seven and upwards which focussed on Roman Britain. The idea that the museum’s curators came up with was to get attendees to build a wall in Minecraft, something that even newcomers to the software would be able to do intuitively.
Crucially, the accent that the British Museum put on their virtual wall building was distinctly Roman. The walls that the participants were encouraged to build would mark the edges of the empire, just as Emperor Hadrian famously did when he proposed a wall that ran from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. This type of entry-level gaming meant that some of the concepts related to Roman Britain became accessible, especially for younger visitors. For more advanced gamers, the programme meant that it was possible to fashion an entirely unique creation so long as it was inspired by the Roman period in Britain. In fact, the workshops encouraged attendees to seek out Roman artefacts in the Museum and to render them in Minecraft themselves. The project was fairly wide in historical scope, too, covering the period from Claudius’ invasion to the construction phase of Hadrian’s wall itself.
Gamification is increasingly commonplace and using it to attract interest as well as maintain it will become ever more important for the museum and gallery sectors. Although there are other ways to gamify museum content, Minecraft is a system that is ready to go, widely understood and, above all, trusted. It can be used to create entire virtual worlds or something on a much smaller scale. You can use it for in-house workshops or make your digital content available to download as a freebie marketing giveaway.
By the very nature of Minecraft’s design, it is open to almost limitless potential creative uses. Even from the few museums that have thus far harnessed its power, it is possible to see very different takes on what it can do. Of course, creating educational tools within Minecraft takes expertise, but it is certainly more cost-effective than developing your own bespoke software tool that, to be frank, may not be as widely understood as Minecraft itself.
Adam Clarke on Minecraft for Museums
Adam Clarke is the artist and educator behind some of the world’s most exciting Minecraft projects. In this presentation filmed at MuseumNext New York in 2016 Adam speaks about his pioneering work .
Adam Clarke: Hello. Yes, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, animals, minerals and vegetables. My name is Adam Clarke and some of you might also know me as Wizard Keen. And Wizard Keen is a wizard and he is on YouTube and he works with a cat called [Stampy Long Nose], okay? So that’s kind of my alter ego. What I’m going to do today is I’m going to go through some of the projects that I have done. And we’ve actually … I’ve been in America for some time now with my family; my wife and child who’s … he’s eight years old, his name is Django. And we’ve just recently done probably the world’s first arts residency using Minecraft; using Minecraft as the actual medium. So that was at Bernheim Arboretum, that’s in Kentucky, and we stayed in Kentucky for six weeks and we played with … inside the woods and we kind of made Minecraft versions of the woods as well. But not just representations, we were being more artistic with it and we kind of did poetry and we went for walks in the morning as well, so it was much more of an interpretation of our experiences in Bernheim.
So I want to take you back to how I got started, how this 29-year-old man standing before you got started … yes. If there are children in here, they would completely accept that as a … not a lie. So how did this all start? Kind of by accident. So before I grew a beard, I was working in schools mainly doing arts workshops with them, doing digital kind of animation and other bits and pieces. And often, my workshops would end early, I’d think, oh, what am I going to do for the last 20 minutes? I know, let’s play some video games. So I started bringing in video games into my lessons, into my other bits and pieces that I was doing with kids. And also, Minecraft came along for me and I quite like the fact that with video games, there were … you could play with them with people from around the world, and the internet was starting and I was thinking that was really cool. And I liked that idea, and Minecraft kind of fitted the bill for me. And also kind of … my background is I like drawing and painting, and computers came along to help draw and paint with, really. And I kind of like also pressing all the wrong buttons on computers as well, and seeing what they do, and Minecraft is perfectly made for that kind of thing. It’s perfectly made to press the wrong buttons with.
So one of my early kind of little experiments was can I … and I saw this video online, and I’ll just show you the picture of it. So I saw a video online of a human body being scanned from top to bottom, a kind of a video. You know that video film where it’s all … you see all the way through the human body; you’ve got the kidneys and the legs and all the muscle groups and stuff like that. And I thought, I wonder if I could turn that into a Minecraft map, so take a video, a flat video, export all those layers of film and then put them all back together and make a giant … well, that’s what I did. I spent kind of three months doing down to the shoulders and getting rather bored. And I spoke to a friend of mine who was in Australia. So I’m actually based in the north of England. So online, we’re kind of communicating. He says, “G’day, mate, what are you doing?” I was like, “Well, you know, I’m doing this thing about the human body and stuff like that.” He said, “Give me 20 minutes and I’ll …” He wrote some code. And what I’d done, spent three months doing, right; his code did the rest of the body in 20 minutes. So this is my, like, hey kids, learn to code, right? And learning maths because, my gosh, it’s going to save you a lot of time at the end of the day. And he’s kind of playful with code as well, so that taught me a huge lesson as well.
But at that time, I was still mucking around with Minecraft just on my own and not really doing it for anybody else. And then along came the Tate Prize, where Tate invites tech companies to collaborate. And I was sitting down to dinner with my wife and she said, “Are you going to apply for that Tate IK Prize?” And I said, “What is it?” And she said, “You know, that IK Prize thing that you said you were interested in.” And I was like, “I don’t know. When’s the deadline?” She goes, “Tomorrow.” I went, “Oh, God.” I said, “I know, I know. If you can help me, because I’m horribly dyslexic and I type really, really slow.” So she helped me, and together, with wrote our proposal that night and sent it out of. And then I just completely forgot about it.
Luckily for me, like six months later, they phoned me up, I was in London. They said, “Oh, you’ve been shortlisted for the IK Prize. Well done.” Clap, clap, clap. “Can you come in? We’ll do a film and all this kind of stuff.” There’s a big competition, there’s loads of different … there’s six different people there, and we all got excited because it’s like a £10,000 cash prize. I was really excited because, oh, my gosh, I was so poor; I could really do with the money. And there was also a £60,000 production budget as well, which is incredible. And my proposal was to create paintings in Minecraft that you can walk into and experience those pieces of art. So kids could learn about the artwork by just simply walking into a Minecraft map and Minecraft map, I’ll talk, you know, let’s just assume you all know what Minecraft is. Okay, well, I’ll get to the end bit and we’ll talk about that in a minute.
But Minecraft … my giant … walk into a Minecraft map and experience artwork for itself. Unfortunately, robots won, okay? So I didn’t win the thing, but it got me a lot of exposure and also, luckily, two weeks later, the Tate did phone me up and said, look, we really like the idea. I’m afraid you didn’t win the IK Prize. We’ve got a smaller budget; can you do the same thing? And I was like, yes, I can. Oh, my gosh, yes. Let’s do this. So, we started collaborating with Tate Britain. It’s basically, you know, me and my wife, a team of people from around the world who I said, hey, you know, I’ve been given some cash, why don’t you just build the thing? So it all, you know … it is basically a kitchen table with me and my wife coming up with crazy ideas and doing lovely bits of research, working with Tate Britain, thinking about the kind of … and to be honest, it took about six months for us to decide what paintings we were going to do.
Now here’s one of them, for example. So we’ve done about four maps with them. Each map is a painting. A map in Minecraft is the game save, okay? So in Minecraft, it’s a video game is basically made up of blocks. There it is all is. And you can actually recreate whatever you like in Minecraft. It’s a bit pixel-y. But in actual fact, Minecraft is a brilliant kind of format for young people, whereas maybe some … who’s played Minecraft, actually? Just have a show of hands. Quite a lot of you. Those people who haven’t played Minecraft, you know, it can seem a bit intimidating. It can seem a bit what the hell … why? Why on earth would you want to do this? Low resolution, it’s just a sort of world made of blocks. But for children, it’s very authentic, very un-intimidating, and they seem to be completely addicted to it.
Now I don’t like the word addiction, okay? Because for me, cigarettes are addictive, cocaine is addictive. Minecraft … pizza is maybe a little bit addictive but … but really, I think of Minecraft as being highly engaging because where else in the world do you get the opportunity to create things … anything you like without someone over your shoulder going, “Oh, no, that’s it, Johnny. Just put your hands a little bit and just do …” You know, in schools, there’s a lot of emphasis … there’s hoops to jump through; there’s all these different things. Minecraft seems to be one of the few places where children aren’t getting told what to do or how to do it. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons why it’s so popular.
Now after Tate Worlds, and after kind of the stuff I did for Tate Britain, I started doing some other projects as well, and I’m just going to talk to you a little bit about them. We got approached to do something called Templecraft. Templecraft was literally a giant wooden sculpture in Northern Ireland in Derry, Londonderry. And David Best … does anybody know who David Best is? He creates these big, wooden sculptures for Burning Man and they’re kind of big temples and they get burnt down. And what they did is that created this giant big temple in Derry, a real one, made out of wood, and the whole community came in and wrote messages and stuff and it was … maybe it was about grief and about loss and about things that you might not expect to find in a children’s video game. However, they wanted a digital equivalent to that and they wanted to make it so it wasn’t just for the people of Derry, but it was for people around the whole world. So we came in and we built a digital version of it and we put it online, and we invited people from around the world to come and join us and write messages of condolences, or messages of hope, and place them in our digital version. And then we had that up for a week, and then at the end of the week, we burnt our Minecraft version down too.
So that’s an example of how Minecraft can be taken seriously and how you can actually engage a whole community, a global community in a project, not just that’s happening locally but one that’s happening globally.
The other project that I did, I collaborated with my wife again, and we did a Minecraft project, and it was a writing project to start out of with. So that’s where the funding came from, and it was basically how to do digital writing and … well, writing that had digital elements, I suppose. So we said we’re going to see if Minecraft can contain poetry, or can kind of … how poetry and Minecraft can interact with each other. And again, it had no real outcome. I like these projects, by the way. Projects that don’t have … you know, it’s like, just have fun. Go off, here’s some money. And it was like, thank you, that allows us to live and eat, and while we’re doing that living and eating, we can kind of create something and have conversations and figure things out.
So while we were figuring this stuff out, we were kind of experimenting with things, and my wife was experimenting with things. We were writing and I was creating maps and we were going to see … there were giant words in the sky up there. At the same time that was happening, my wife’s mother was diagnosed with mesothelioma, okay, which is a kind of lung cancer. And unfortunately, this year, last December, she passed away. So this all happened during that kind of her getting ill and getting sick, and so my wife’s poetry started to reflect that kind of … her concerns and her kind of … the grief, the pre-grief, if you like, about what was going to … what was going to happen. And also, we were kind of … we’ve got my eight-year-old son, Django, and it was like, you know, we were her primary carers as well, to a certain extent. So we kind of had to, you know, as artists we were kind of dealing with all these kind of different things as well. And the whole thing, we kind of had to make a decision at one point, saying it’s going to enter our work, so what we actually created was something called My Mother’s House, which is a series of Minecraft rooms that relate to a long poem that Vic wrote about her mother and about saying goodbye to her mother as well.
So this was an amazing kind of experience for us because, you know, it makes us cry, to start with, and also kind of makes some … again, Minecraft being taken seriously. Seriously enough that we can actually discuss things like grief and we can discuss them with a bit more ease, actually, with our child, with our son, Django, about what was happening and what is going to happen in the future and then what actually happened.
The next project, the most recent one, the one that’s continuing on today and I got approached for with the Museum of London. And that was to recreate the great fire of London because they had a big exhibition, and that exhibition’s actually going on right now. And if you’re in London, you can go and see it. So we created … and this is the biggest Minecraft build that I’ve ever been involved in, and I … my role really with a lot of these projects is to be the digital producer, if you like. So I get people from around the world to actually do the hard work. Did I say hard work? I meant do the building, okay? And then we fill the content with stories and things that make it interactive.
So we created three maps for the Museum of London, two of which have been released, and we’ve got a third one on the way, and that’s going to be released in February. These three maps, one is a pre-fire, okay, which is London, just the plain build, an amazing build done by a very talented build team called BlockWorks. BlockWorks, you can Google that if you want. And BlockWorks are young people from all over the world who come together. They’re led by a bloke called James. And I remember late last year, James said to me, he goes, “Adam.” I said, “Yes, James?” And remember, I never really meet these people. These are all interactions on Skype because I live in the north of England in the middle of nowhere where there are more sheep than people, okay. He goes, “Adam, like, you know.” He goes, “Later on this year, I’m not going to be able to do as much work as I thought I’d do for you, you know?” And I said, “What? Well, James, is it a job? Have you got a proper job finally?” He goes, “No, I’m going to university.” I was like, “James, how old are you?” He goes, “It’s fine. I’ve been doing this in the sixth form; it’s fine. I’ll be fine.” I’m like, “James, I’ve been paying you thousands of pounds over the last two years and you’re telling me you’ve been doing your A levels.” He goes, “Yes, yes, yes, it’ll be fine.” James is now doing an architectural degree in Cambridge. He’s extraordinarily talented and also plays the saxophone, okay? He’s one of these young people who just are amazing.
Anyway, him and his group of other young horribly talented, you know, people have created this major amazing map. There’s also another chap called [Dragnoz] who creates all the kind of the technical stuff. In Minecraft, you can actually rewrite Minecraft and make extraordinary things happen. So we actually go and meet some of the key people and key players in the map and find out a little bit more about the history. So once you play, you will learn, okay, through play some of the historical elements, some of the kind of history of the great fire like all my other maps, but the key element for all of these things is play.
The next thing we also that’s just finished recently, we did for Liverpool Biennial, which is a big arts project in Liverpool, was called Minecraft Infinity. And what we wanted to do, rather sillily, is we wanted to create the world’s biggest Minecraft sculpture as a collaborative sculpture and do that. What we didn’t want people to do is, well, we didn’t want them to just sort of build on their own. In Minecraft, you can give people a flat map and they can just build whatever they like. We didn’t want to do that for maybe obvious reasons, okay. If you let people do whatever they like, they tend to make willies. One of the world’s biggest Minecraft games, and they’ve got … called Hypixel, they’ve actually got a [donga] which analyses what people have been building in some of their games and flags the willies.
So anyway, we didn’t want to do that, so we came up with a mechanic here where you actually use arrows, and as you’re using arrows, you’re firing arrows into the landscape, you will spawn in giant sculptures done by some of the people, some of the artists from the Liverpool biennial, who are kind of … who supplied us with digital versions of their artwork. So people were playing Minecraft, firing arrows, creating this giant intersected sculpture by firing arrows of other people’s artworks into the landscape. It’s low res but it was fun.
So, as I said, before, I am Wizard Keen and I produce a show with a cat, and there he is, looking angry. So that’s called Wonder Quest, and Wonder Quest is an educational show and it’s … so we’re in season two, okay, and it’s a great little show for kind of grade two, three, four, five. And I say grade two, three, four, five, because it’s basically … it’s produced in LA. Stampy is a co-producer and the other producer is Maker Studios. Maker studios last year was bought by Disney. So much to my excitement, I get cheques from Disney, which is quite exciting. I say to my wife, “Let’s put it on the wall.” She goes, “No. You can take a photo of it and then you can put it in the bank.”
So Wonder Quest is great. I get to … we call it the office; it’s really the spare room. I go, “Family, quiet now; I’m working.” And I get to go in my spare room and I get to be a wizard and Wizard Keen, he’s a little bit posh, he loves mushroom stew and he’s kind of a little bit like that. So my wife and child have to be quiet every Tuesday and Thursday night when I record Wonder Quest with Stamps and everybody else. But again, what I’m doing is I’m in the north of England; Stampy’s in the south of England; we’ve got two people in LA, and we’re meeting somewhere on a server that who knows where is, to be honest. And we’re kind of doing this creative, collaborative movie-making thing altogether.
YouTube is really important to us as well, especially within museums, because top right over there, it says something like … well, it’s got a lot of people viewing Minecraft, okay? So YouTube is a great place to see this stuff. Because some people say to me, you know, and we had this with the Tate. The Tate were like, “We’ve got to have as many people as possible who can watch this stuff.” And they go, “How do they play it?” And I said, “Well, they’ve got to buy Minecraft.” And they’re like, “Buy Minecraft? What about Internet Explorer?” And I was like, “No. No, no, no.”
Luckily, 58,000 people buy Minecraft every day, still, and if we look at this little chart that they created for themselves the other day … because as some of you might know, Microsoft bought Minecraft and everybody thought it’s going to fail; it’s going to go down the drain. And in actual fact, it’s gone the other way around. So the yellow stuff is like consoles, that’s your kind of PlayStation and Xbox. The green stuff is like PCs, and the brown pillars are pocket edition. So people can play Minecraft on their phones, okay. And that’s actually the [massivest] growth area that’s happening right now. Kids are tablet-based, okay? They want to play Minecraft and they want to play together and they’re going to be playing it on their phones. So pretty much, that’s where I’m making all my maps. Currently, we’re making sure that it all … being able to be played on their phones.
Okay, so now the … we’re coming to the last slide, so yay. Okay, so … but why? So I like using Minecraft and games, because it’s not just Minecraft, it’s just Minecraft is the most popular game, within cultural spaces. I like that because I like working in cultural spaces and I like working with museums, and museums are, for me, the source material for a lot of inspirational stuff that I can do with young people. I like creating, you know, these digital narratives. I like telling stories, okay? And Minecraft allows me to tell a story to a global audience, not just the people down the street. And I like changing the way museums present our ideas, objects and stories, and I … and here we go. Here’s another thing, we live in Cumbria, all right? There’s not a lot of stuff there. And I’ve got an eight-year-old who we home school, so I want the opportunity to come to New York, and I want the opportunity to go to London and meet and go behind the scenes of all these places and do all that kind of stuff. So that’s the selfish reason.
And then people said, but how? How, Adam? Good question. Oh, that’s me, little … that’s … okay. So, the how. Whenever I sit down with somebody who wants to make a Minecraft map, we have to ask questions. I have to ask them three questions, very big ones. So basically, you know, what is the story? When we did the fire of London, what is it about the fire of London that you want to tell? And I already want to tell the fire of London story for a long time, so I kind of let them speak to me for a little bit and they had a massive, tons of stories, and I said, let’s just concentrate on a singular narrative. So we tried to do that. The next thing is who’s it for, okay? So sometimes, it’s not to the museum, it’s to the children that you want to engage with. So exactly what age group are you looking at and thinking about those kind of things.
And how do you want to deliver it? Minecraft, as we said, is on the console, on a tablet, is on a PC. It can be hosted as a downloadable object, a downloadable archive that you put into your PC, or it can be hosted online that people can come and visit. So with one of the maps that we did for Tate Britain, we actually hosted that, and people could just come to an internet server and go on a roller coaster ride through surrealism. It was awesome. We opened that map in … let’s have a think … sort of December, and by February, we’d had over 100,000 unique visits to that roller coaster ride. And right at the end, there was a little button that you could press that can go, go to the website as well.
So a little bit about the creative process that we go through. As I said, it all begins around the kitchen table with me and my wife drinking copious amounts of tea, and often it starts on large sheets of paper. The next thing for people who don’t play Minecraft is to familiarise yourself with map mechanics, and what that means is the Minecraft lingo, okay? There’s a certain technical language that you’re … you know, if you’ve got children, they know exactly what you’re talking about. But for the most part, whenever I do a commission for a museum or commission for different groups, I have to do at least a 30-40 minute presentation about what on earth Minecraft is in the first place. People think, it’s amazing but what is it? So we’re going to do that.
Planning, research, and more planning. For me, that’s kind of a joy. And then budgets, okay. So you have to pay for the good stuff, okay? Whenever I do a budget, I budget myself, and myself, I generally do budgets for my time and my kind of thinking, but then I also think about who’s going to build this thing? Who’s going manage this thing? And that’s quite easy to break down. Okay.
And then we look at timelines and deadlines and soft launches, okay? So sometimes we … timelines are, from the beginning, the research bit, the building bit and all that kind of stuff. And managing those expectations within that. That means managing the deadlines. And then often we think about soft launches. If you’ve ever designed an app and kind of put the app out there, then sometimes you might notice that it’s got bugs in it. And Minecraft is exactly the same. Sometimes we do soft launches; we keep hold of it and we host it on Tate’s website or another, like the Museum of London’s website, and we keep it soft because sometimes something horrible could go wrong and so we’ve got the chance to repair that and put it back out again. So we kind of have a soft launch.
So finally, things to remember, things to take away, if you like. Tell your own story; think about what you want to do for that; plan for YouTube and social engagement; plan that in really carefully because I said YouTube is massive for this kind of stuff, and if your audience isn’t going to actually download and play the Minecraft map, maybe they’re going to watch somebody else play your Minecraft map. And that might be as useful or more useful, especially if you get a giant YouTuber like Stampy or somebody else to do the work for you, okay. To tell your stories for you, okay. And also think about the social engagement within that too.
And remember, it is a video game, so it’s supposed to be fun. So that’s it. So thank you very much for listening to me babble on a little bit to your faces for a while. And I don’t know if we’ve got time for any questions? But now is the time to ask. Go. One question. And the question’s coming up. Anybody? Anybody? Anybody? Because I’m going to go after this but I’ll be at the thing tonight.
Male Voice: What are the different ways to monetise it?
Adam Clarke: Oh, monetisation.
Male Voice: Sorry.
Adam Clarke: No, it’s fine. Okay, so here’s YouTube. If you produce YouTube videos, you can put it on YouTube and monetise it. They’ve always allowed that. It’s not a problem. You cannot use Minecraft to promote yourself or your brand. So how do you do it? Now because we’re museums, we’re education and we’re kind of that, Minecraft has got … there are ways of doing this. And the reason I know that is because they’ve brought in this kind of rule and they said, if you’re a politician, you can’t do it; if you’re Kentucky Fried Chicken, you can’t do it; if you’re, you know, if you’re out there to use as a promotional brand thing. I was like, but Tate is a brand. They went, oh, that’s fine. I’m like …
So I spoke to their … I got … I was able to speak to their lawyers about this a little bit and kind of break it down. So there are ways forward with this kind of stuff. Monetisation; you cannot … if you produce something; you give it away for free, okay? I would use Minecraft to tell stories and to enhance something that you already have and to engage young people in the source material that you already are sitting on or how to bring people in. So that could be a Minecraft club; it could be an amazing experience that you’ve created; it could be something else. But I would never use Minecraft as a gateway to your stuff; I would use it as an adjunct to what you were already doing.
So that’s your one question. So thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen.
This presentation from Artist and Educator Adam Clarke was filmed at MuseumNext New York in November 2016, at the conference Adam spoke about how Museums are using Minecraft.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.