James York, an English teacher and PhD student researching language learning in virtual worlds, is teaching Japanese online by using Minecraft. The class, which he calls Kotoba Miners, takes place on a dedicated Minecraft server which contains several structures built for different learning activities. Different buildings off of “University Road” contain different exercises that encourage students to read and and speak Japanese together. For example, in the “Ice Palace,” players must communicate in order navigate a series of pressure plates correctly. If they take a wrong step a trap will activate and kill the player.
Minecraft… err, マインクラフト! Of course, I think almost everyone knows the game. Either you’ve played it, someone you know won’t shut up about it, or you’ve heard of it through popular culture / the media. To me, I’ve always thought of it as the incredibly addicting, fun, and educational game that I don’t mind seeing kids playing (darn kids and their CoD). The deeper you get into Minecraft the more educational it gets, really! But, couldn’t the “educational” aspect of Minecraft be taken a step further? I thought exactly this during a month-long binge of Minecraft I had in 2012. Playing on various servers, you would meet people from other countries, Japan included. Mostly, I would see people trying to explain or ask things in the English language. Sure, we were mostly talking about diamonds, pick axes, and survival, but the grammar and the need to communicate was all being learned.