On the Minecraft Phenomenon

Clive Thompson, writing in The New York Times, profiles the gaming phenomenon that is Minecraft. It’s a really interesting read on the appeal of the game for both children and adults:

Minecraft is thus an almost perfect game for our current educational moment, in which policy makers are eager to increase kids’ interest in the “STEM” disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math. Schools and governments have spent millions on “let’s get kids coding” initiatives, yet it may well be that Minecraft’s impact will be greater. This is particularly striking given that the game was not designed with any educational purpose in mind.

 On how the game teaches kids autonomy, negotiation, and empathy:

But Minecraft is unusual because Microsoft doesn’t control all the servers where players gather online. There is no single Minecraft server that everyone around the world logs onto. Sometimes kids log onto a for-­profit server to play mini­games; sometimes they rent a server for themselves and their friends. (Microsoft and Mojang run one such rental service.) Or sometimes they do it free at home: If you and I are in the same room and we both have tablets running Minecraft, I can invite you into my Minecraft world through Wi-Fi.

What this means is that kids are constantly negotiating what are, at heart, questions of governance. Will their world be a free-for-all, in which everyone can create and destroy everything? What happens if someone breaks the rules? Should they, like London, employ plug-ins to prevent damage, in effect using software to enforce property rights? There are now hundreds of such governance plug-ins.

Worth clicking through to see the illustrations done by Christoph Niemann.

The Microsoft Surface Tablet

Microsoft, in a highly touted event last night, unveiled the Surface tablet. designed to be a challenger to the iPad, the device will run a version of Microsoft’s flagship OS, Windows 8.

The device looks impressive. Especially alluring is the detachable cover that serves as a keyboard, something I think is lacking on the iPad. There is a nice hands-on preview at The Verge.

A few remaining questions:

  1. What will the entry point price be of the Microsoft Surface? Will it be able to compete with the $399 entry point price of the iPad 2?
  2. Will the detachable keyboard be an included accessory or an optional purchase to add to the Surface?
  3. How will Microsoft’s competitors react in the short and long term?
  4. Will developers flock to the platform? Part of what makes the iPad such an incredible device is the quality and sheer number of apps that are built specifically for the iPad.

Anyway, I think this product is the best thing to come out of Redmond, WA in many years. Microsoft has certainly piqued my interest.