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5 Surprising Benefits to Playing Minecraft

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Popular belief says video gaming is a lazy, mind-numbing waste of time. Stereotypes like this are common, but they’re not exactly accurate.

In fact, studies suggest there are a number of benefits to playing video games. Games like Minecraft can improve learning, motor skills, and creativity. Video gaming actually affects cognitive skills in some pretty surprising ways.

Minecraft is like digital version of classic block building, where players create interesting new environments, then go on adventures with the things they build. Beyond that, the game introduces obstacles to players who then have to devise creative solutions to overcome those obstacles. In short, it’s chock-full of ways for players to hone specific, cognitive skills.

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Here are some surprising benefits to playing Minecraft.

It Encourages and Motivates Learning

Minecraft is often used in the classroom as a teaching tool. Teachers use the game to explain physics concepts, like gravity, or teach students about historic sites. One survey from Australia’s Griffith University asked teachers about the usefulness of Minecraft in the classroom, then studied their responses.

The educators they surveyed showed an overwhelming amount of support for using Minecraft as a teaching tool, and while teachers in all subjects used it, researchers found it was especially helpful in science and math. According to the paper:

“More interestingly is the emergence of science and math as subject areas where Minecraft can be used. Math has a few potential uses in Minecraft. During construction of large-scale projects, learners might need to calculate the number of blocks required to complete the project. Angles and distances can be calculated too, along with speed, weight, and trajectory (projectiles).”

Teachers also reported “high levels of motivation and participation” from students when they used the game as a teaching tool.

Some experts even say it can be useful in learning to code. Rey Junco, an associate professor of Library Science at Purdue University, told NPR:

“...there is a coding element to Minecraft for those youth who do mods. So you can change the game around to your liking, and you can share those mods with other people. One of my colleagues just this past week said, it's the only way that I can get my young daughter interested in coding. And so here she is on Minecraft doing all of this coding. And I think in that sense, it's a really interesting equalizer. In my experience, there seems to be more of a gender balance in Minecraft players than other video games, certainly other games like Halo or Lego Star Wars or things like that. And so, in that sense, it can get women - young girls and then women interested in coding and then, perhaps, also in STEM fields.”

Essentially, the game makes learning fun. It makes students want to embrace certain subjects.

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It Boosts Creativity

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Minecraft enables players to build environments and tools that help them strategize, survive, and explore the game; its very design encourages creative thinking. The game is often compared to Legos, in that the players use block structures to come up with imaginative creations.

The game concepts work, too--studies show that gaming does indeed boost creativity.

In a study titled, “Information technology use and creativity: Findings from the Children and Technology Project,” Michigan State University researcher Linda Jackson found a link between children’s video gaming playing and creativity. Her team studied almost 500 middle-school students, assessed their technology use, and then measured their creativity using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. One part of this test instructs students to draw an “interesting and exciting” picture from a curved shape, then give the picture a title and write a story about it.

Based on the findings, the research paper concluded that, “regardless of gender or race, greater videogame playing was associated with greater creativity.”

They defined creativity as follows:

Creativity has been defined as a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts. From a scientific standpoint the products of creative thought are usually considered to have both originality and appropriateness.

In Minecraft, players build and create their own environments to see how their creations affect different aspects of the game. The very nature of the game is about generating new ideas and concepts and also finding associations.

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It Increases Perception

© Microsoft Like most video games, Minecraft promotes focus because players are highly involved in interacting with the world around them. A handful of studies show that video gaming improves a person’s visuospatial attention, which essentially means an awareness of surroundings.

In one study, published in the Journal of American Psychology, researchers found that gamers were more perceptive in the following specific ways:

“Gamers exhibited an enhancement in attentional resources compared with nongamers, not only in the periphery but also in central vision. The authors then used a target localization task to unambiguously establish that gaming enhances the spatial distribution of visual attention over a wide field of view. Gamers were more accurate than nongamers at all eccentricities tested, and the advantage held even when a concurrent center task was added, ruling out a trade-off between central and peripheral attention.”

It goes to show that video games aren’t mindless--in fact, they can increase environmental awareness in the real world.

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It’s a Healthier Alternative

© Microsoft A report from NPR states that Minecraft may actually be healthier than watching TV. They cited research presented at the American College of Cardiology's Scientific Session in Washington, D.C. Researcher Elizabeth Jackson, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, told the outlet:

"Our hypothesis is that when kids are watching TV, they're going to be accessing commercials that are more likely to be food related.”

She and her colleagues studied over a thousand students and their snacking habits. They found that students who watched TV between two and six hours a day ate more high-fat junk food than those who played computer or video games for that same amount of time.

It Improves Hand-Eye Coordination

© Microsoft It’s not necessarily surprising that video games improve hand-eye coordination, but the extent to which they do is pretty impressive. A 2007 study on the relationship between surgical skills and video gaming concluded:

Video game skill correlates with laparoscopic surgical skills. Training curricula that include video games may help thin the technical interface between surgeons and screen-mediated applications, such as laparoscopic surgery. Video games may be a practical teaching tool to help train surgeons.

A separate 2011 study, published in Aviation, Science, and Environmental Medicine, found that gaming actually improved piloting skills:

“This result suggests that video game playing may engender motor control and coordination skills that apply to UAS piloting. Hence video game play may improve and refine general piloting skills, which could benefit both existing pilots and any future UAS-specific pilots/operators.”

Specifically in survival mode, Minecraft players improve their hand-eye coordination because their goal is to escape obstacles to stay in the game. This requires precise reflexes and quick thinking, which is what hand-eye coordination is all about.

It’s easy to write off video gaming as useless, but research shows that games like Minecraft can actually be incredibly beneficial. They promote creativity, motivate students to learn, and they have a strong impact on certain cognitive skills.

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