Minecraft being one of the most influential and successful video games of all time is an unassailable truth, but Mojang Studios has long asserted that its timeless creative survival sandbox game is more than just a video game. Minecraft: Education Edition, for example, takes the foundations of the game everyone knows and loves and packages it as a legitimate educational tool, which empowers educators and parents to teach children about a variety of subjects in over 100 countries around the world.
Beyond all the factors that make Minecraft one of the greatest games ever made is this continued focus on education that regularly translates new knowledge and topics into fun and approachable lessons for children of all ages. The latest example of this is Active Citizen, a brand-new world coming to Minecraft: Education Edition as part of an incredible collaboration between Minecraft developer Mojang Studios, nonprofit organization Games for Change, and the one and only Nobel Peace Center.
I was able to speak to Minecraft: Education Edition head Allison Matthews about this newfound partnership, and how Active Citizen uses the powerful stories of four Nobel Peace Prize laureates to teach children about compassion, kindness, and how any action — small or big — can have a huge impact on the world.
Its purpose defined
Active Citizen is the result of Mojang Studios' extended efforts working with the Nobel Peace Center to accurately convey important lessons in a format approachable for children of all ages, as part of a first-time partnership facilitated by Games for Change. This is the first time the Nobel Peace Center has engaged in a video game partnership of this scale, and the latest attempt from both Mojang Studios and Games for Change to create lasting change in the world through the medium of video games.
"The Minecraft world is really a safe space to tackle complicated topics and tough subjects, like immersing in chemistry in a way that you perhaps didn't understand before. But we've realized that even tougher topics like those that we cover in Active Citizen lend themselves well to a Minecraft experience," Allison Matthews described the project. "By immersing students in lessons in-game and a space where they really want to be, we find that they can understand complicated topics better."
In Active Citizen, participants will begin at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, where they'll be introduced to the embodiment of the creator of Nobel Prizes, Alfred Nobel. After this, players will meet four Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
Participants will learn and live the stories of Malala Yousafzai, known for her stunning human rights advocacy and battle for greater female education, and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace laureate; Wangari Maathai, an influential political and environmental activist, and the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; the 14th Dalai Lama, a powerful spiritual leader who preaches peace and compassion; and, Fridtjof Nansen, an explorer and scientist known for his great humanitarian efforts and accomplishments.
"With Active Citizen, we follow the lives of four Nobel Peace Prize laureates and see the actions that they took — the small things that they did in their communities — that really made a difference for the people that lived in their communities, that then have ripple effects around the world," Matthews explained. "Our ultimate goal with Active Citizen is to arm students with inspiration from the stories of these Nobel Peace laureates and perhaps inspire them to take the tools that they've learned into the real world to create an improvement or create peace in their own world."
After players progress through each of the four separate and unique stories, they'll be invited to consider everything they learned and create a unique Minecraft build that expresses what active citizenship means to them. The Nobel Peace Center will curate an exhibition featuring creations from players all over the world.
This is far from the first time Minecraft has been the platform from which a great cause was launched, with several incredible ventures using Minecraft to reach a greater number of people. Most recently was Minecraft: Education Edition CyberSafe, which aims to teach children about online safety. However, Active Citizen is the result of a particularly ambitious partnership that introduced fresh challenges for the Minecraft: Education Edition team to overcome at Mojang.
"Being authentic and telling an authentic story was really core to the mission for us," Matthews informed me. "We collaborated really closely with both the Nobel Peace Center and the foundations, or the teams of the laureates themselves, to ensure that the stories we're telling are authentic. Just takes time to make sure that you are doing justice to the story."
Small actions can have huge impacts
Active Citizen features stories from four Nobel Peace Prize laureates, each with unique challenges to overcome and different lessons to learn. One overarching theme across the entire interactive educational world is that small actions can have huge impacts. Every day, stories emerge of new movements or messages that began as a small effort in a local community but quickly spread to wider regions.
Matthews was personally inspired by the story of the 14th Dalai Lama, which started with a small action that may have influenced the world that Active Citizen would become. "I was on a ferry (in) January 2021. I grabbed a book from the ferry store ... called Our Only Home. It was the Dalai Lama's most recent book on addressing the climate crisis, and I read through the book while I was on the ferry. He was making a call to anybody who's in the education space ... to teach young people lessons about compassion and empathy and how to be a more peaceful citizen."
"Coming full circle a year later and actually showcasing the 14th Dalai Lama's journey and what he has done to create a more peaceful and compassionate society, that alone was super gratifying," Matthews continued. "We were able to actually walk through ... this lesson with (the Dalai Lama's) team and his personal assistant."
Even when the world was developed, Matthews still found inspiration in the stories she helped create. After meeting the Dalai Lama himself, players will approach a village filled with various characters, who are all experiencing problems. Oftentimes, the characters are frustrated with someone else in the village, blaming them for the problem with which they're dealing. Players need to employ compassion and patience to solve these problems and restore peace in the village.
"When I played through the world after it had been developed, I (found) myself reminded of lessons in the Dalai Lama's part of the world," Matthews recalled. "He's constantly reminding you to be at peace, and I could feel just any tensions relaxing out of me. Even at my age, it was a good reminder that approaching people with best intent and trust is always the right way."
These lessons extend to the rest of Active Citizen, and teach participants that you don't have to change the world all at once to make a difference. Planting a single tree in your community, for example, can inspire others to do the same, which can then spread to other communities in your region and beyond. The lessons taught here may appear obvious to some, but can provide helpful direction or even a much-needed reminder to anyone, especially children, that small actions can have big impacts.
The world needs more compassion and acceptance
The world is too often a dark and terrifying place, and many people who possess power do not wield it selflessly or with intent to better the planet we all call home. I've observed for myself how much compassion and acceptance are already integral traits of the children inheriting the world, and it's incredible to see.
The aim of Active Citizen is simple on the surface: take the light and promise present in the youngest generations and infuse it with the stories of a handful of the most influential humans — those who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. All of this is packaged in Minecraft, one of the best Xbox games already beloved by hundreds of millions of people all over the world. It's easy to underestimate how big of a difference it makes when learning is fun, which Minecraft: Education Edition aims to do with every educational world and lesson.
"Active Citizen is a beautiful world, and it's a fun world to play through that invokes actual emotions in each of the different stories. I have a lot of confidence that (players are) going to be inspired by the stories and take the lessons that they've learned into the real world," Matthews concluded.
Active Citizen is now available for Minecraft: Education Edition in 112 countries, with a host of supporting documents and lesson plans available for teachers and educators to use with their students. There's also a free demo available to all Minecraft: Education Edition players to check out. If you want to see what Active Citizen is like before jumping in, Mojang Studios and the Nobel Peace Center are hosting two 30-minute streams on their project, which air on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, at 1 a.m. PT / 10 a.m. CET, and then at 10 a.m. PT / 7 p.m. CET.
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Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.