How Minecraft Changed (Electrical) Engineering Forever

So. Minecraft. If you haven’t heard of it – well, where have you been? It’s probably one of the most popular indie games ever, pretty good for something that has you punching trees into submission to keep big green blobs from eating you. Basically, you collect materials, build stuff, fight off monsters, and repeat until you end up dead or with a really fancy castle. Pretty fun, pretty detailed, but what the hell’s it doing on a hardware blog?

I’m getting there. See, when version Alpha 1.0.1 rolled around back in 2010, it included a little thing called Redstone. Collect enough Redstone dust and you can start spreading it around as wire. Put a little on a stick, and you’ve got a Redstone torch. Connect the torch to a line of wire and it’ll transmit power all the way to the end. Stick another torch at the end, and you can turn it off and on by fiddling with the other one. Then you throw on a couple switches, connect up a few more wires, add some extra torches, create a few basic logic gates…

Are you seeing where I’m going with this?

You can build computers in Minecraft. Real, honest-to-god computers. I want to be clear, here: this isn’t what Redstone was designed for. Redstone was supposed to let you power carts and doors and build traps and stuff. But the people who played the game clearly decided this wasn’t bizarre and time-consuming enough and started making digital calculators and playing Pong in massive jungle arenas.

Just because they could.

Which is why Minecraft might end up totally changing the way people learn electronics. Used to be, if you wanted a hands-on look at circuits you could just break open a computer and rummage around in the guts. Not so easy now. The focus is on software and cute little sealed-up tablets you’d need power tools to get into. At this point your average computing student wouldn’t know an XOR gate if it hit them in the face.

Redstone is so basic you might as well be typing out binary, but at least you can see what you’re doing, and like the videos prove, you can make some pretty wicked landscapes out of it. Plus,it’s a lot easier to see circuit-building as a challenge instead of a chore when you’re doing it in between mining lava and smashing zombies.

Learning electronics through simulation means students will stay interested longer and work a lot harder. It also means way more materials to work off of, since gamers have their grand traditions of sharing guides. I’m not saying that multi-story tic-tac-toe boards are the electronics of the future, but the work that goes into them is 100% applicable to real-world computer design, and plenty of people are already starting to make that shift.

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