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How Minecraft is helping kids fall in love with books

Jul 11, 2018 by

Litcraft’s Treasure Island.
Minecraft of resources … Litcraft’s Treasure Island. Illustration: Lancaster University

Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1881 classic Treasure Island tells of Jim Hawkins’s adventures on board the Hispaniola, as he and his crew – along with double-crossing pirate Long John Silver – set out to find Captain Flint’s missing treasure on Skeleton Island. Now, more than a century later, children can try and find it themselves, with the bays and mountains of Stevenson’s fictional island given a blocky remodelling in Minecraft, as part of a new project aimed at bringing reluctant readers to literary classics.

From Spyglass Hill to Ben Gunn’s cave, children can explore every nook and cranny of Skeleton Island as part of Litcraft, a new partnership between Lancaster University and Microsoft, which bought the game for $2.5bn (£1.9bn) in 2015 and which is now played by 74 million people each month. The Litcraft platform uses Minecraft to create accurate scale models of fictional islands: Treasure Island is the first, with Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom just completed and many others planned.

While regular Minecraft is rife with literary creations – the whole of George RR Martin’s sprawling setting for Game of Thrones, Westeros, has been created in its entirety, as have several different Hogwarts – Litcraft is not all fun and games, being peppered with educational tasks that aim to re-engage reluctant readers with the book it is based on. Lead researcher and head of Lancaster University’s English and creative writing department, Professor Sally Bushell, calls it “an educational model that connects the imaginative spatial experience of reading the text to an immersive experience in the game world”.

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An example of Minecraft’s flexibility – users have recreated entire literary worlds, like JK Rowling’s Hogwarts.

She says, of the Litcraft Treasure Island: “We hope it will motivate reluctant readers – we can say, ‘We’re going to read the book and then at one point, we’ll go play on the ship.’ I would have loved it as a kid. It is an empathetic task – you do what the characters did yourself, so you understand why they act they way they did in the book.”

The Treasure Island “level” has been extensively road-tested by children such as Dylan, whose school is set to adopt Litcraft in 2019. “It’s really fun,” he says. “I enjoyed it because I’ve read the book, but you have to follow rules in that. In games, you can explore. Now I know exactly what the book looked like.”

Source: How Minecraft is helping kids fall in love with books | Books | The Guardian

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