Minecraft and Museums

I thought that I’d kick off the new digital technology theme for this blog with an interesting topic – Minecraft in museums. I know. I know. Video-games in museums. Why are us museum people always trying to make museums “cool”. I hear you. But, to be fair, Minecraft and museums could have a potentially awesome relationship – one that more museums should be exploring.

The great thing about Minecraft is that it can be many things to many people. For some, it’s an opportunity to escape, be creative and just go crazy with virtual building blocks; reliving a childhood filled with Lego and K’NEX. For others, it’s an opportunity to connect with friends and create a world in which they’re free to explore, to play and to enjoy themselves in a virtual world of endless possibilities. For a few, however, Minecraft can be a tool for exploring the real world, for manipulating things that are usually untouchable in day-to-day life. I mean, in what other would could you build a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and then plonk a Santa hat on her if you’re feeling festive?

Statue of Liberty, as created by ETMC YouTube channel

It’s these sorts of people that some museums are currently trying to engage with Minecraft. The sort of people that see things in the real world, and want to re-create, edit, interpret and re-imagine them in a virtual one. There’s definitely a lot of people like that out there. For example, the Hull History Centre, and the University of Hull, have been using Minecraft to re-create the architectural drawings of Francis Johnson, which have been stored in their archives. They’re getting anyone and everyone to help out, as they re-create the buildings and designs imagined by a man that would otherwise have faded into obscurity. They’ve even re-created the Hull History Centre in the game, and used it as the main spawn point for users. The project is called ‘HullCraft‘ – and it’s quite obvious that they’ve found a lot of interest, and success, so far.

Larger institutions have also been jumping on the Minecraft ‘bandwagon’ over the past year or so, with one of the biggest being the TATE. They’ve used the platform a little more creatively, though, encouraging their audience to engage with some of their favourite TATE artworks through the video-game. The project is called ‘Tate Worlds’, and the institution teamed up with a number of Minecraft map-builders to create playable worlds inspired by their collections. They’ve got eight worlds in the works, with three currently playable, and it’s a fantastic way to engage their audience with their collections. Many people say that they don’t ‘get’ art, particularly modern art, but being able to interact with a virtual world based on art is a brilliant method for engaging a younger audience, and encouraging them to appreciate art.

Tate World - world inspired by 'The Pool of London'
Tate World – world inspired by ‘The Pool of London’

So how could a small museum, with a far smaller budget, utilise Minecraft? Well, a quick and simple way would be to get a group of users to re-create one of their more high profile objects. They could encourage them to almost digitise the object to scale and to the nearest likeness possible. Or, alternatively, they could let them have free reign, to re-imagine the object and use Minecraft to really get creative with their collections. They could then have an iPad (or similar tablet) in their galleries next to the object(s) that have been digitised through Minecraft, to show off some of the best examples. They could even encourage other visitors to try their hand at recreating the object, or an object of their choice, through Minecraft, and to then share their creations with the museum through social media. A small museum could then set up a Flickr collection, or a Tumblr account, to share their favourite examples and encourage their online audience to engage too.

What with Microsoft recently buying Mojang (the guys who make Minecraft), I think that the possibilities for Minecraft within museums are just starting to be realised. Microsoft are also currently developing a piece of Augmented Reality tech called the HoloLens, which I’ll talk about more later on, but at the moment, it’s 100% likely that Minecraft is going the way of AR, and probably VR (Virtual Reality) too. I think that there are going to be far more exciting, engaging and innovative projects between museums and Minecraft to come, so now is definitely the time to start thinking about how you (assuming that you’re a person who works in a museum) could utilise Minecraft with your own collections and buildings.

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