If you haven't played, or at least heard, of Minecraft, you may not know any eight-year-olds. Sit down at a 2nd grade lunch table in anywhere U.S.A., and it is likely that the shared imaginative world discussed at the table will include (perhaps even be hegemonically dominated by) either Minecraft or Pokemon.
You will be assimilated. And at the table next to you a group of children will be singing a rousing rendition of "Let It Go"!
Christian communities can learn quite a bit from playing Minecraft or observing or participating in Minecraft community. In fact, the fact that Minecraft is a community is the first of at least five things we can learn from Minecraft, so I start there.
Minecraft is collective/communal play
Last summer I was at a family reunion, and I went downstairs to the basement to see what the kids were playing, and my two little cousins were at opposite ends of the couch on their phones. At first, I thought they were together but alone. Then, when I looked, in fact they had created a shared Minecraft server and were playing and building together. It's worth remembering that in the cell phone era, even when people look alone they aren't. There are layers to what is going on in any space we inhabit. Only one layer is the real body layer. At the coffee shop, at the family reunion, there are layers of relationality happening.
Minecraft is collective/communal play
Minecraft is a first-person game of exploration, resource gathering and management, construction, combat, and (if you’re playing multiplayer, which is completely optional) cooperation. There's a creative mode where you are completely free to simply build and mess around, like in a giant sandbox. A quick toggle of a switch puts you in survival mode, which is the first-person exploration option.
Imagine if faith communities curated worship, social ministries, Sunday school, and other contexts as cooperative space for exploration and construction. In fact, many faith communities do this. Think about how a church choir works. They take what they've got--perhaps a messy pile of anthems in the corner office of the choir director--and sit down with a piece they've selected. They have to mess around with it, see how it works, learn their parts, put the parts together to make a whole. Choir rehearsal at its best is a form of play.
Similarly, worship and other ministries of the church might also best be understood as play. Play typically begins with "agree," let's agree to try this together. It is marked by openness, whimsy, a spirit of shared joy. Watch a couple of kids building a treehouse in Minecraft, and you'll see what this looks like. Now imagine a couple of kids trusting they can build a shared faith house together in their church.
There are tutorials
Thousands of Minecrafters record videos of their creations, and show other players how to build what they have built. For example, here's a tutorial for building a medieval church on Minecraft:
Christian faith communities don't always tap into the shared wisdom of Wikia communities. They try to re-invent the wheel, or go it alone. Increasingly, there is no reason to go it alone. There's a wikia entry for almost everything. There are forums for everything. Even a forum for the Minecraft "religion," Cubeaism.
You can play Minecraft even when you're not playing Minecraft
Most kids at school have left their iPads and other devices at home, or at least in their backpacks, but this doesn't keep them from playing Minecraft at school. Minecraft is more than a game. It is an entire imaginative universe. Kids walk the track at recess discussing the best strategies for working with Red Stones. They recount founder stories of the Minecraft universe. The Minecraft world has escaped its digital confines and populates their brains.
In the best scenarios, this is what faith communities can do as well. Faith communities can play together, and play together well. When they do so, participants head back to their homes, or take a walk in the park, and when they are together, they mutually conspire: "How can we do that even better next time?" "What's the connection between the social justice advocacy we participated in this week and the founding texts of our faith?"
Minecraft is a Mission Field
If we only explore digitally-mediated worlds in order to learn more about our own mediated worlds, that's not all bad. Cross-pollination of cultures and world views is a good thing. But it is worth remembering that when we play Minecraft (or really when we inhabit any digitally-mediated context, such as Facebook or Twitter) we have the opportunity to learn what it means to be missionaries in those contexts. If you join a server with hundreds of other Minecraft players and play alongside of them, are there organic ways to live and share faith in those contexts. You don't need to build a medieval church (although that would be cool). It is worth remembering that the shared worlds we inhabit are not merely portals to the real people behind the avatars, but in a way we are all always avatars, all the time, so authentic Christian mission includes indigenization of the faith among the avatars right around you. These are our neighbors.
Minecraft: The Story of Mojang
This is a very good documentary about the creators of Minecraft. It touches a bit on how schools/classrooms are using Minecraft as a teaching tool -- along the lines of what this blog post is talking about.
For more on how the church can learn from various media, see: