This investigation into imagination is written by Tom Doust, Director of Experience and Learning at the Institute of Imagination. Tom has spent 15 years dedicating his career to public engagement and participation programmes across the education, cultural and design sectors.
Here’s a question: what has sold more than 120 million copies and was bought for $2.5 billion in 2014?
The answer, obvious to some, is of course the three-dimensional sandbox video game Minecraft®. If you have children of a certain age who have access to computers or a tablet then the mere mention of the word might ring ‘screen time’ and ‘addiction’ alarm bells. Trying to get a child to stop playing Minecraft can be challenging.
But we should all take Minecraft seriously. And not just as a cult and financial hit (it’s the all time best selling video game), but as an indicator of how children are already beginning to shape the world they occupy and will inherit.
Our education systems have largely received Minecraft with caution. Most teachers see it as distraction to the often narrow curriculum. As always, there are some mavericks. In 2013, the Viktor Rydberg secondary school in Stockholm introduced Minecraft as a mandatory part of its curriculum for all 13 year-old students. In the UK, Ordnance Survey has created GB Minecraft 2, a Minecraft world made with digital map products, which consist of more than 83 billion blocks representing over 220,000 square kilometres of mainland Great Britain. In 2016, Microsoft released Minecraft: Education Edition for schools. We wait to see what impact this has as a genuine learning tool.
We don’t need to look far to hear or read about the rapid pace of change currently underway in societies across the world. From the Bank of England predicting the rise of automation, to The World Economic Forum highlighting the risks of high level disruption as a result of the fourth industrial revolution, we are entering an era of unprecedented technological transformation. The futurist Ray Kurzweil highlights this rapid change through his predictions of immortality and humanity’s mergence with intelligent machines.
So in this current era, why is Minecraft so significant? Or more importantly, why do we need to take the lessons from Minecraft seriously? Some of the world’s emerging technologies point to the answer. Take 3D printing: a tool that burst onto the scene in recent years but which – to many – seems limited. The 3D printers we see in 2017 are unlikely to mirror the printing tools we will be using in the future. But marry its origins and principles with the prediction of a post-scarcity world (where goods and produce will be made in abundance) and we begin to picture a future landscape where all of humanity will need to be more than just consumers. Making, be it digital or physical, is entering a renaissance.
In Minecraft, there are no specific goals for the player to accomplish. This allows them a large amount of freedom in choosing how to play the game. If we think of the parents who are fearful of Minecraft, it can often be because they don’t understand it. Children don’t feel that same fear. For young people, Minecraft is an educational cornucopia that allows them to lead and build their learning. Ultimately it allows players to create, using infinite resources in what feels like a limitless world.
Imagination matters because the world our children are inheriting is arriving.
Minecraft is preparing us, and our children, for a world that will be shaped by humans in ways we cannot yet imagine, and is highlighting that now, more than ever, we need to imagine.
Imagination matters because the world our children are inheriting is arriving. The way we live and work, industries we thought were eternal, knowledge and data – it’s all evolving so rapidly that humanity’s greatest resource needs to be taken seriously.
As the Institute of Imagination’s Patron Sir Ken Robinson says, in order for us to anticipate this future “we need to bring to mind the things that are not yet present”. Our ability to bring this innate practice to the fore will be the measure of how humanity continues to survive and prosper.