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How Minecraft is helping kids fall in love with books (theguardian.com)
145 points by the-enemy 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

Recently, I have been trying to play video games in the same way as I would read a book i.e. I play the story or the interactive puzzles and events until I am finished or satisifed, and then move on.

I find I get very similar things from a good video game and a good book. Both entertain me, but also educate me and make me think about the world in a different way. The main difference is that each format has different strengths, books tend to change how I describe the world or find insight into ideas and things. A good game changes how I experience the world. "The Last of Us" made me really focus on the sounds around me in a way I hadn't before, "Cities Skylines" made me think of the visible and hidden networks that keep our cities functioning.

Do others have similar impressions?

Maybe similar, but maybe not--I use video games as a way to monitor my status, kind of get an outside view of myself. If a particular video game sounds interesting, I'll play it for a while and analyze the imagery, story, music, etc. to get a sort of metaphorical read on what my interest says about where I'm at.

For example, if I am experiencing lots of stress, and feeling a deficit of power, I noticed that military tactics and strategy games seem to suggest themselves. If a really long-term, cool strategy is called for, I notice that I play games like golf. If the day is filling up with lots of busy tasks that require a deft navigation of circumstance, the classic Snake-like game always seems to sound fun to play.

Looking more objectively at the game as a learning opportunity, I find that game development is huge for me here. I develop pen and paper games of given topics (from tennis to dungeon combat) and it's interesting to map real life attributes and circumstances like charisma and "home court advantage" onto my mental model of the game. I have to develop a broader model of what makes a player successful, and this spills over into my own approach to life and its problems. For example, if I'm a skilled researcher, it should follow that the more I ramp up and employ that particular skill, the faster my luck will grow, as opposed to skills at which I'm naturally an amateur. And it follows that I probably need a diversely-skilled team to turn to, should I come up against a truly difficult problem which does not yield to my research skills easily. While I build that team, I employ and continue to deepen my research skill.

I can see how playing video games is similar to reading for entertainment, it is a good escape that requires concentration and when finished you can just walk away from it without anything material that has to be dealt with.

Minecraft is interesting in that it requires a lot of knowledge in terms of how to make things/play the game, and requires exploration for resources. The harder game modes require more tactics and strategy which are typically first learned outside of Minecraft through youtube or friends. There are a number of high quality Minecraft reference books (by Scholastic and Mojang) which are great.

Realy though I wish that there was something like minecraft, but with an RTS-style disembodied god-view camera, with zoom, pan and rotate, which I think will make building things much more painless. Perhaps some mods can approximate that, but if there was something build up from the beginning for such an interface it would be a nicer thing to have for people who would rather build than walk around catching the scenery.

Not really the same game, but Factorio scratches this itch for me. I eventually stopped because it got too close to work, but for a while I was absolutely hooked.

If what you liked was solving puzzles of how to build things and accumulation of resources I recommend it. If it was building large structures out of legos, this game isn’t that though.

Minecraft with mods? I'm sure there's more than one that does exactly that.

Not exactly what you wanted, but in Cube 2: Sauerbraten http://sauerbraten.org/ (open source) you can easily edit rooms in god view, and then use the map for a first-person shooter.

I've given some thought to making a better world editor that would interface with Minecraft through command blocks or via the Glowstone MC server. There are a few existing world editor applications but they are quite sluggish (last time I checked). If you want to build small things with cubes then you should check out the latest voxel editors.

I checked some voxel editors sometime ago(unfortunately not remembering their names right now), they seemed geared towards modeling small things, not huge monuments, vistas, mountains or expansive landscapes like people seems to do in minecraft.

Whenever I'm in a bookstore I am amazed at the sheer number of official and unofficial Minecraft books. I suppose someone must be buying them of they wouldn't be making more of them.

That being said, I'm skeptical that making book-related things in Minecraft will encourage reading any more than Second Life did.

I remember being motivated to read endless crappy Pokémon books churned out in the 90’s, this is probably no different. It worked for me.

I read a lot of those pokemon books as a kid as well, and I agree that they provide some motivation.

But watch out for recent unofficial books, specifically the "Diary of a <insert pokemon>" series (which I think got C&D'd, because they changed all the cover art and replaced the pokemon names with generic animal substitutes). It's pretty enjoyable to make fun of, but probably not the best for kids to read.


This is kinda like saying a movie based on a book will get kids to read. It might. Or they might just skip the book.

If 10% changed reading habits that is a big change because those 10% can influence peers through the copy cat effect.

with lord of the rings and starwars this was absolutely true for me. however one cannot compare movies with video games. as the book introduces the story like q bqckground info and the 3d world allows for exploration and creatively extending the story alone or with friends...

As a full time kid and an ex minecraft player, I think that's a way to get into books. The only way I got into books was by trying hard at first to read on my phone (it was hard and boring for a month I was reading during boring classes at school). But now a year later I've never read any paper books, all the books I've read are ebooks.

> But now a year later I've never read any paper books, all the books I've read are ebooks.

This is the most mind-blowing thing I've read on HN. It really makes me appreciate generational differences.

I'm around 40 and haven't read a physical book since the Kindle came out. Same goes for most the people around me (including parents and older friends). I think I know one single person who reads physical books, and they're a collector/enthusiast.

I don't think it's generational rather just some people "clicked" with ebooks and some didn't.

I couldn't live without search, saving passages, device handover, hold-click dictionary/wiki (so good for setting the image in your head if the book mentions a city/country you haven't been). I read maybe a few physical books a year before, now I read a novel or 2 a week, almost every week, and carry my kindle absolutely everywhere since they launched (have worn out 3).

I mentioned it in another comment, but it really seems as though the expected outcome (kids have kindles and older people have real books) is exactly the opposite. Every older person I know who reads uses a kinlde or other device, and people that are younger I see either don't read at all or read paper.

It doesn't surprise me, because the younger generation seem to be getting tired of technology. It is something they're expected to be on for fun, social connection, and work, so it's not a stretch to imagine they want some time off.

All of my hobbies were on computers, and it has been a real struggle being in the software industry when my social and leisure time also involves sitting at a computer.

I have taken to grabbing a book, leaving the phone at home and finding somewhere to read.

I agree that's it's probably not entirely generational, but there is something to be said for growing up with 24/7 connectivity being the norm.

I really don't care for all the ebook features you mentioned, I just like the convenience and lack of weight of having hundreds of books in your pocket.

I do like the feel of a real book when actually reading it but don't mind reading books on my phone either.

I don't find there is that much convenience on having "hundreds of books in your pocket". Unlike music or films/series, most people are never reading more than two or perhaps three books at the same time and most books take days or weeks to finish (unless you are reading full time). Carrying a kindle is not that much more convenient than carrying a pocket book...

The question is where to store all your physical books though. I own hundreds of physical books (and that's after pruning the collection of books I have no desire to reread at some point). I prefer ebooks now because there's no issue of storage (plus being able to increase the font size is nice now that I'm approaching 50).

I've always read a book or two a week and I switched to ebooks just because they are so much more accessible and easier to carry. I used to dread being at the end of a book before something tedious like a doctors appt or long car ride. Now I just finish it and flip to another book or grab one off my calibre server.

I also never looked back after discovering Kindle.

Features I cannot live without are adjustable font size, the backlight (can only speak for PaperWhite model) and the builtin book-store.

The ability to get so many books I never knew existed made me switch. I still prefer a book but the advantages of ebooks starts to outweigh the book. Ebooks have less of value/worth, not sure why. They feel more generic because the ereader presents content the same way. Carrying a book could lead to a chance encounter with someone who was reading the same book the way music t-shirts could connect similiar strangers in a large crowd.

I am about your age, and purchased the very first, original e-ink Kindle (with the free Sprint downloading and memory card slot).

However, I consistently buy "used" books via Amazon and other means, especially technical books.

It more blows my mind that there is a generation out there that's never read a paper book....ever

Most the hardcore older readers I know use e-books just because of the sheer number of books they churn through, yet all my mid twenties friends read paper books. For many a book is an escape from technology, having grown up with it 24/7 and working on it for 8 or more hours a day, anything to disconnect is good.

I've been a die-hard paper book reader, but ever since I got a kindle a year ago, I only consume e-books. I have much less book clutter in my apartment now, and I can get any book I want immediately.

I'm 27, I've only read ebooks in the past couple years as well. And over 6 years I've read maybe... 5-6 paper books.

Paper books are more expensive and I can't easily take them in the plane. I always have my kindle with me (even though I use it far less than I'd like). It has weeks of battery and it's always full of stuff I want to read but haven't. I also take great care not to put stuff in it I don't want to read otherwise it starts looking like my Steam games library.

It could also be a national divide.

I pretty much abandoned paper books when I got a Kindle on a vacation. Many years later, after moving to a country where I can find any book I want delivered to my doorstep in 2 days, I abandoned e-books and audiobooks.

You must be living under a rock then, because Amazon has sold millions of kindles. They are not all kids buying them.

Kindle causes me to read far more than I would otherwise. A few reasons:

- Hundreds of books fit in a space smaller than a single physical book

- Can read at night without an overhead light bothering myself or anyone else (and without blue light!)

- Can travel (and/or move houses) without books taking up space

- Can download a new book in five minutes vs going to the store or waiting for a delivery. This makes it much easier to start books

- Can come back to a book I bought three years ago while living in a totally different place

Getting a kindle was the best decision I ever made in terms of encouraging myself to read.

I read everything on my phone, because I don't want to carry another device. I sync things with my calibre server.

I use both (and Kindle books sync your position between devices). It's nice to read on your phone because it is always there. But it is just more comfortable to read on a e-ink screen both because of the size and the fact that things like sunlight don't wash out the screen.

With a black background and Yellow or off-white text I have less problems. I also have a night text that is orange-ish or brownish if it's really dark where I'm reading.

If you haven't already, why not get (or ask for) an e-reader with an e-ink display? Reading from paper or e-ink is a lot less detrimental to your eyesight. When reading in the evenings that has the benefit of not affecting your circadian rhythm as much (which normal screens tend to do).

I'm a bit skeptical of many of the claims that paper or e-ink in the evening has less effect on circadian rhythms than a normal screen does. What would be the mechanism for this?

One claim I've seen is that it is because they are frontlit rather than backlit. But to the photosensor cells that sense the light and report to the parts of the brain that control circadian rhythms, it should just be frequency and intensity that matters. Light of a given frequency and intensity should have the same effect regardless of whether it came from a frontlit or a backlit display.

I have noticed that the brightness I need to comfortably read a normal screen seems to be higher than the brightness I need to comfortably read paper. Perhaps that is the difference--we simply use less light with paper?

Or perhaps with paper, where we get to choose what light to use for our nighttime reading, and it is often done with a light dedicated specifically to that task, we tend to choose low blue lights?

> Or perhaps with paper, where we get to choose what light to use for our nighttime reading, and it is often done with a light dedicated specifically to that task, we tend to choose low blue lights?

An e-ink screen with light turned off should be similar to paper (a little less contrast than a book, perhaps, but higher than a "grey" newspaper).

And while we have a lot of terrible modern light sources, a regular glow lamp would be much warmer than a typical "white" led.

All I can say is if I read from my iPad or iPhone in bed, it can keep me up nearly indefinitely. If I read in my e-ink Kindle with a front light, I will get so sleepy so fast I can only get through a few pages each night.

I always switch my ereader to black background and yellow font during the day. At night I have an orange font if it's really dark, but usually I just dim the yellow font.

I hate reading black font on a white background, too bright.

Thank you for the advice. I am using app that blocks blue light(1) ( I am sure many people use it and it is famous already). Also great thing about using a phone is that of great apps that allow to listen to your books where you left off (2), also it has in-built dictionary for faster reading. And the speed reading apps (3). I don't think reading is any different from researching where you use a laptop to read research papaers.

1. Twilight, f.lux you name it. 2. (android only) https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.prestigio.... - very great app, you can use widget to see your library also. You can use any TTS ( I use Google) to listen to the book.

3. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=azagroup.reedy

You can set speed, pause easily. A great app that is used for deliberate practicing speed reading skill. Increasing the WPM to an uncomfortable level. Also you can read before bed without having to turn next page.


Then again, you can probably afford to buy an e-ink reader by then.

Are you going to try to tell us you're worried about GP's sight and this comment isn't just here to feel superior in some way?

The average HN user probably spends 10-100x more times / day on avg than an average Kindle user who doesn't program/develop.

when does that happen? I'm 44 and I read ebooks almost exclusively.

Eye health requires active management, whether you are using screens or paper, with or without corrective lenses. It's not a foregone conclusion.

Also eInk displays are functionally no different to reading on paper and the phenomenon of eye trouble from people who engage in a lot of close focus work pre-dates the computer age by a lot.

I imagine that books could be enhanced with a virtual reality game that presents you the main characters and the place where the book develops the plot. So the line between books and virtual games becomes slimmer.

One's own imagination is more precious than any defined virtual game can ever be.

Minecraft and imagination are two sides of the same thing. People with no imagination put Minecraft down very quickly.

It is a sandbox afterall.

A virtual game is not necessary "defined". Minecraft is a very abstract game.

Minecraft is absolutely not helping in the war on screens. As a former educator I laugh heartily at the proposition. Although, I did use "screen time" as a gift-able and earn-able commodity, and in a small classroom of kids it works great to encourage sharing, participation, group watch / observance, and "can I please share with Timmy now so I can have more screentime later?" [success fist]

> war on screen

So, is it like the war on drug and war on terrorism ?

Also I remember when I was a kid, people were over my back for reading too much books, as I was supposed to “go outside”, “play with the other kids”, “make things with my hand”. I won’t use the eternal ‘I ended up fine’ argument, but in any day and age we’re grindingly pushing kids toward stuff they don’t care about for no decent reason. As a general rule you shouldn’t be at war against stuff your kids are into.

Everything in moderation. Such as stopping your 11 y/o kid from playing runescape at 2am when they should be sleeping.

Source: Me.

Yes ! Stopping kids from staying up at night is the funniest game though. The length each party is willing to go to one-up the each other is where you truely get to know each other.

When my husband was a kid, he kept a broken console on hand so that when his dad caught him gaming in bed, he could turn over the broken one and keep playing the real one when his dad left.

15 years ago I was setting my alarm for 2am to sneak some before-school Runescape! The growing discussion thee days on the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, especially in youth, is a bit scary. :)

Pre-runescape here, 2am alarm was for skinimax.

My first year of university (and then associate degree when I failed univ) was spending my nights raiding in Everquest...Ahh those all night long 8pm-6am raids in VT.

Screens are even more addictive than books.

My 1.5 year old shuts off completely whenever he can get access to a screen, it is amazing and scary. He likes books also, but is much more engaged with them.

Screen time is probably a top issue for parenting today.

Current pedagogical advise is to keep children under 2 away from screens, period. Presumably because they are much more affected by them.

Does you kid gain access to a screen accidentally or is it something you employ as an emergency pacifier on rare occasions?

Accidentally for sure. He is only 18 months old! We don’t even have a TV.

What is it about his relationships with books that is more "engaged" and thus better?

Each kid is different, it seems yours has a particular thing going on (with ipads or phones I guess ?)

Did you find what’s sucking him into these apps ? At 1.5 yo it can be super interesting to understand what makes him focus and direct his learning.

For ours it was simply things that move that he can’t touch (no texture, no tactile feedback), and it was new enough to him that he stuck with learning numbers and letters shapes just to keep using the ipad.

Screen time is an issue for us and our 5 year old, but "war on screens" is crap from outrage culture.

Similarly, when I'm in "the zone" and someone interrupts me, I'm actually a bit disgruntled.

When everything is new in the world, I'm sure they're feeling the "zone" moment too of absorbing new information.

I don't think tablets are the issue - curation of content is.

> is much more engaged with them

What do you mean? Isn't he just reading them?

I doubt it, he's 1.5 years old.

As a pre-computer kid I say blaming screens is bogus. I’d do anything not to read the stupid books school gave me.

Fun thing I actually was an avid reader, but the curriculum books were totally out of place. At 12yo “Promessi Sposi” and “Divina Commedia” is such a shitty, verbose and convolute prose it killed my interest in literature.

Funnily enough I was enjoying at the time reading Calvino and Pirandello, authors I wouldn’t find in the curriculum until five years later. And read literally a ton of comics.

So blaming “screens” to me sounds like my average teacher back then totally disconnected with the minds of kids.

Eh, fellow italian I presume, and I concur half-way.

But did you really have "Promessi Sposi" as 12yo? I recall having it in the high school curriculum, some 5 years later.

It is downright illegible for a small kid anyway, I 100% agree.

For me, the teachers' recommended readings for the summer were things of the "good educational readings" kind (To Kill a Mockingbird, Fontamara, Cronache di Poveri Amanti, Il Giardino dei Finzi Contini etc) which are terribly boring for kids.

On the other hand, my class had a class library with more enjoyable stuff in it (Tolkien, Calvino, YA stuff).

yeah I'm pretty sure I was twelve, I was in a summer camp in Ireland and it was the year the blur great escape album came out, we had some leftover chapter to read as summer vacation and I had to bring the book with me. inthe nineties curriculum changed at breakneck speed so anything is possible anyway.

This is not first generation that dislikes mandatory readings. That did not changed. Primary purpose of school reading was not to be pleasure reading, it did not had to be and kids read more.

Kids often used to start read out of boredom, you used to find fun and easy to read junk in sch situation. Now kids play something or watch videos in that boredom situation.

Plus, now kids have more homework and organized activities. And easy to read fun junk is harder to find. But kids not liking what teacher assigned is not new.

>This is not first generation that dislikes mandatory readings. That did not changed. Primary purpose of school reading was not to be pleasure reading, it did not had to be and kids read more.

This whole mindset of copy & paste information into new citizen is nightmarish and has bred so much resentment/outright resistance it should be persecuted for destroying a young persons motivation and interest in new things.

Youtube and others are laying this idea, that knowledge has to be uninteresting and/or boring to ashes- series like extraHistory, smarterEveryDay, etc. show what is possible and how bad things actually are and where.

If someone must force his grownup tastes down upon a not grown up audience, and overrides rejection /disinterest with force - destroying one of the most vital things a new citizen has to bring to this society (intrinsic will to learn / yearning for discovery) the educator should be fired and banned from his / her profession.

You are aware that learning is not done just for pleasure purpose? The purpose is not always to make you like what you read. And that people unable to do "not fun" things or unable to deal with mild dislike of something are not the most vital parts of society. They are too fragile.

I am not bashing young people in general here. Most are not like that, even if they read less.

Also wtf it is with people that first reaction on anything is threat of firing. It seems like people can't discuss even curriculum without that.

I just don't get why screens are a bad thing. Find balance. Don't demonize the screens. Don't underbalance screen time. We hope all these kids will be successful enough that screens become a core of their careers.

Because childhood is a rare time in one's life where you have the freedom to enjoy the outside, and not have to sit in front of a screen. FWIW I don't think books are a good use of time either.

Not really. You have the freedom to enjoy the outside even as an adult; all it takes is to go out. Go hiking. Play a sport. Get together with some friends.

I guess childhood is a rare time where you have the freedom to loiter, but I guess this isn't really true anymore in the Western world, as it's a sure way to get your parents in trouble with social services, thanks to overzealous neighbours.

> Because childhood is a rare time in one's life where you have the freedom to enjoy the outside

I spend plenty of time outside as an adult. How exactly do adults lose their freedom to enjoy the outside?

> freedom to enjoy the outside

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

If they demonstrably damage one's ability to thrive in the world, then we should demonize them. If.

As a current educator -- although I teach college -- I laugh at the war on screens. When I was a kid I was told more than once to put down a book and go outside. I guess my parents were waging a war on books.

At our house we have a system where our kids can earn “30 minute slips” that they can save to use for screen time. Been working freat

Reminds me of this xkcd: https://xkcd.com/1227/

>> they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel (1886)

As a parent I applaud this greatly! Kids with ASD (especially boys) are very into Minecraft. Giving them a tool for getting into reading is very, very awesome and helpful, indeed.

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