The Red Bulletin September 2019 (UK)

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G U I D E

Do it

Gaming

MICROSOFT MATT RAY

CONSTRUCTIVE THINKING

BUILDING BLOCKS OF LIFE

Minecraft may only look like a simple game with Lego-style graphics,

but it’s a powerful tool capable of creating a better reality

EXPERT

PROFILE

MARK

LORCH

MINECRAFT

EDUCATOR

A biochemist, writer

and Professor

of Science

Communication

at the University of

Hull, Lorch has used

Minecraft in his

teaching to build

models of molecules.

He has consulted

with Microsoft to

create a permanent

mod that adds

chemistry to

the game.

It may seem surprising that

Minecraft is the world’s bestselling

game, but, having

shifted more than 176 million

copies, its pixelated graphics

and vague, roaming gameplay

– chopping trees, building

houses and hitting zombies –

clearly dig deep into the human

psyche. Now, the augmentedreality

smartphone version,

Minecraft Earth, has brought

that blocky world into our own.

In truth, it merged with our

reality long ago. The game’s

free-form building-block

mechanics have been used to

mine cryptocurrencies, and

in 2013 Google created a mod

called qCraft that introduced

quantum physics with “blocks

that exhibit superposition,

quantum entanglement and

observer dependency”. Its

potential is limitless, says

Minecraft expert Professor

Mark Lorch. minecraft.net/earth

BUILD A BETTER WORLD

A great example of how

Minecraft is able to

democratise complex

projects is the Block

by Block Foundation

(blockbyblock.org). This

UN-backed project holds

workshops for residents,

where they use Minecraftmodelled

neighbourhood

streets to design their

own improvements –

from children lighting

their walk home, to locals

creating Kosovo’s first

skate park. “If you build

a very accessible 3D

Minecraft simulation,

Minecraft Earth lets players

collaborate on tasks using AR

people can dive in and

start to work together,”

says Lorch. “It removes

the technological and

knowledge barrier, and

all potential risks.”

GO MICROSCOPIC

Lorch has used the game

to create MolCraft –

a virtual museum of

biochemistry, housing

3D models of molecules.

“One of the great things

about Minecraft is that

it’s easily modded and a

good way of visualising 3D

structures,” he says. “It

can do things that other

Other people’s digital work on Minecraft Earth

can be seen through your smartphone screen

molecular visualisation

software can’t – you can

fly around the molecules.

I ran biochemistry

tutorials hosted within

a Minecraft server.”

DIG DEEPER

You may think you’ve

made it in the game

when you build your

first elevator-equipped

pyramid, but such

projects pale beside

the British Geological

Society’s topographical

Minecraft map of Great

Britain. “They created all

of the strata beneath the

map, too,” says Lorch.

“You can go to any point

and burrow down through

the topsoil to see the

limestone or whatever

is there. This opens up

high-level survey data to

a whole group of people.”

TRAIN ARTIFICIAL

INTELLIGENCE

“Microsoft has Project

Malmo, a platform for AI

experimentation that

bolts onto Minecraft,”

says Lorch. Building a

robot and sending it out

into the real world, only

for it to tumble into the

first pond it comes

across, is an expensive

way to train its brain.

Minecraft provides an

off-the-shelf, easily

customised simulation in

which to set an AI goals.

The AIs can observe what

you do and learn the rules

about how to do that

themselves – it’s close to

a real-world problem.”

CRAFT REAL OBJECTS

Minecraft is a versatile

open-world sandbox, but

it can reach out of the

virtual. “Minecraft can

spit stuff back into the

real world,” says Lorch.

There are mods in

Minecraft that allow you

to save your constructs in

formats that 3D printers

can read. So you can

design in Minecraft and

then print it. There’s also

a CAD [Computer-Aided

Design] program that

talks to Minecraft so you

can design stuff and then

drop it into the game.”

THE RED BULLETIN 91

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