Friday, October 23, 2015

What happens when form overwhelms function.

This video is making the rounds again on twitter (even though it's from 2011) and I assume it's because it's a school project done in Minecraft.   It's getting the kinds of "look what kids can do if we just let them!" feel to it mojo.  Cue technofuturists, school reformers, blah, blah, blah. 

I admit, the project looks cool.   I'm sure it took a ton of time.  And the kid was good at minecraft.   But the project is about creating a self-sustaining village and on that level, it's a complete failure.  It shouldn't be held up as example of good work, it should be held up as an example of what happens when form overwhelms function and kids (and adults) end up missing the point. 

The assignment was to create a self-sustaining village.  To be a good place to live a village would need a) a food supply b) a fuel supply sufficient to cook food (if they are doing that) and heat homes and workplaces (if they need to) c) a water supply and d) a method of getting rid of waste.  To be self-sustaining they also have to have energy outputs that don't exceed their energy inputs.  (In other words, they need a source of power that they aren't going to use up). 

So let's see how the kid did.  Food supply.  I hope they like bacon, eggs,  and crappy bread because that's mostly what they are eating.  And maybe some sheep's cheese.  The cows will mostly be dead since they won't have anything to eat that I could tell; the sheep will take up most of the grazing and the villagers aren't growing hay.   So it's all pork products all the time.  With maybe some mutton.  To go with that, they'll have plenty of god awful bread to eat. 

But not for too long, the small amount of wood that is left is their sole source of energy and also is used for building materials (and maybe as torches?).  Planting the trees close together will stunt and kill them, by the way.  The folks who live here are going to be in a wood-shortage pretty quickly.  Without wood, they won't be able to preserve the pork (there's no salt anywhere for food preservation which is also going to mean the bread's going to suck). 

Even more pressing is the water supply issue.  There's a well and baths, but no river or sewer system for disposing of wastes.   Most of the folks here will be dead from dysentery right quick.  (And come to think of it, the fields don't have irrigation either.  One drought and they are done). 

Further, the population here is massive.  There's an army and tons of workers to build the cathedral.  They have to extract this wealth from somewhere that isn't this village to support all those folks. 

Even if we assume that redstone and glowstone are basically free energy, there's not nearly enough inputs here to equal the outputs.  Clearly those soldiers are using their archery skills to raid nearby villages for wood and food and slave labor to work those mines. 

And if you think, I'm being overly harsh, this is all middle school curriculum stuff.  For example, I could have pointed out that the well next to the mines means that the mines are constantly flooding and that the drinking water is likely contaminated.  But I didn't did I?  I'm not vindictive.  I'm not trying to beat up on the kid.  What I am trying to do is point out his project isn't very good no matter how creative he is.  Creativity shouldn't be an end in of itself.  It can't be.   It has to serve some other end. 

Otherwise you wind up with very pretty castles, where everybody dies. 


  1. This is great, Dave. As you may recall I'm no Minecraft fan. I hate to sound like Ayn Rand or Ron Paul, but the Minecraft world is so completely antithetical to reality with its supplies, food, and mineral wealth all just lying around for the taking in unlimited quantities that it seems like an especially poor medium for an exercise like this one. Heck, colored pencils are more realistic, in that they eventually run down/wear out and in that you'll get knocked down if you try to swipe someone else's pencils for your middle-school project.

    I'm sure this kid spent a lot of time on his Minecraft World, but that's a world invented (with its possibilities and all of its limitations) by someone else. When will people listen to the argument that simpler technologies actually allow for greater creativity and problem-solving? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller???

  2. I kinda like minecraft. But that's because I sucked at drawing which made me a crappy DM for D and D games. I coulda minecrafted some awesome campaigns. And there's no reason he couldn't have built something sustainable on a small scale. Or at least put in a freaking river like every River Valley Civilization (which I assume is what they were studying for this unit). But he got so carried away with the medieval that he's putting in castles and cathedrals. Not sustainable. FB friends wondered what the kids' grade was, which is kind of relevant.