Yesterday marked the first day of my school’s annual Minecraft Camp, which I host every June. Minecraft Camp is a great deal of fun, and it’s probably the single most lucrative event for yours portly all year.
Last year I was very sick, so I had to hand Minecraft off to another colleague. I hated to miss it, not only because of the nice little paycheck it brings, but because it’s so fun seeing what the kids come up with in-game. I’ve been working Minecraft Camp since 2014, and have been running it since probably 2017, and I’m always impressed (and amused) by what the kids come up with.
As such, I’m thrilled to be back. As best as I can tell, this year’s camp is the biggest attendance in the history of camp, with the possible exception of the inaugural 2014 camp (based on a photograph from that camp, I count fifteen campers, but I know of at least one student not pictured—he’s working as a counselor with me this year!). We have sixteen kids signed up, and I have three young men working as counselors with me, two of whom were in Minecraft Camp when they were younger. With yours portly tossed into the mix, that twenty very old desktop PCs up and running in the lab.
Minecraft scratches the same itch for me as LEGOs, just without the tactile component: the boundless creativity based within a clear set of rules of parameters. Just like some LEGO blocks simply won’t fit together, so certain things are not possible in Minecraft. Even so, the remaining possibilities are virtually limitless, allowing for the full scope of ordered creativity to take flight. (I should note: I bring a huge bin of my childhood LEGOs to camp every year for campers to enjoy, and many of them spend more time with them than they do playing Minecraft!)
There’s also a rustic beauty to the game, and the palette of options in this blocky world are surprisingly robust. A camper today asked me my favorite part of Minecraft, and I told him “going off to some secluded place on the map—high on a mountain, or deep in the woods—and building a cabin.” He agreed. The game manages to be quite aesthetically pleasing.
Being a sandbox game, there’s a great deal that players can do, if they choose, with Minecraft. One of my favorite camp activities is to hide a treasure chest with random loot in some deep, obscure location on the map. I then throw the coordinates out to the campers, and see if if anyone bites. Inevitably, there are usually two groups of crafters who make a mad, often confused dash to the coordinates, each team vying to be the first to find the treasure I’ve hidden. As camp progresses, the loot gets better.
For extra color, I’ll toss in a little story (which can be used with a book and quill in-game). One of my former counselors and students gave me the idea to toss a skull and some bones into the chest, so it appears to be the tomb of some lost adventurer (a concept straight out of The Elder Scrolls series of games). Most campers ignore that, but the more role-playing minded ones eat it up, as they get a small glimpse at the backstory of some obscure character. Sometimes the personal reflections contain clues pointing crafters to other, better treasures, or they set campers up for a quest.
We typically end the last day of camp with a massive player-versus-player (PVP) battle, in which the kids spend a giddy, frantic twenty minutes or so running around destroying each other repeatedly. Often there’s a boss battle of some kind, with players joining forces to defeat some ridiculous foe.
We then usually erect a massive TNT stack, and let it go off—signaling a Minecraft Camp Ragnarök, of sorts, and symbolizing the end of the short week’s festivities. The explosion often crashes out the server, but one year the server survived, so after the half-hour of processing time passed, we saved the map, and relaunched the same server the following year—now with a massive crater for campers to explore.
As adults, we’re supposed to put aside childish things. I do believe it’s unhealthy for a grown person to fritter away his life inside of video games, comic books, and movies—at the exclusion of anything else. But video games can encourage creativity and learning; comic books can raise a mirror to our society; and movies can challenge and inspire.
Minecraft surely demonstrates the artistry and beauty possible within a digital realm—and it’s fun! Embracing more beauty and having more fun are surely antidotes to much of the dreariness and emptiness of this world.