Minecraft, that seemingly simple world simulator, has collided improbably with the real world in recent days. And the ramifications seem entirely significant.
First we find out that Minecraft has been turned into a revolutionary 3D printing app, making proper solid objects out of mere pixels. Then it’s reported that the actual UN, no less, is using a different modified version to help regenerate local areas. And finally, a geo-location app is launched which allows anyone (not just the Minecraft faithful) to scatter models made in the original game across the globe with centimeter precision via augmented reality.
Which means there must have been quite a buzz at the Minecraft conference last weekend held, appropriately enough, at Disneyland, Paris. The hardcore of the 40 million-strong Minecraft community is making a big global impact.
But what does it all mean? Is Minecraft some kind of foundation technology from which many Edge Technologies will continue to spring? How come the UN got involved?
Minecraft developer Mojang is leading that global initiative. But Swedish authorities have already adopted a version which allows anyone to input into the urban planning process by altering virtual versions of their neighbourhood.
That the game has already jumped such a big chasm is testament to how easy ordinary users find it to build sprawling environments. From a bottomless set of virtual Lego.
“Minecraft creator Notch hasn’t just built a game,” according to Cody Sumter, part of the Human Dynamics group at the MIT Media Lab. “He’s tricked 40 million people into learning a CAD program.”
Sunter is responsible for turning Minecraft into the app which allows players’ elaborate reconstructions of objects – like the USS Enterprise or Taj Mahal – to become real via a 3D printer.
And, according to Sumter, “Minecraft has something that is lacking in actual CAD programs — fun.”
So Minecraft is going to make an impact on urban planning. And does it also mean the adoption of 3D printing might be accelerated?
Sumter’s work is not – yet anyway – for the feint-hearted. A notice on Minecraft.Print() site warns:
‘If “run a python script from the terminal” doesn’t make sense, hold off until we release a more user friendly version.’
But when that becomes a reality in the next few months, this Edge Tech will become accessible to the mainstream. And surely a lot more useful than those Minecraft Lego bricks you might have on order.
The genius of press-ganging Minecraft into the job of CAD or urban planning engine is the first-person perspective.
Minecraft’s 40 million-strong user-base proves that this is something many of us find intuitive. And given the game stands up extremely well to significant homebrew mods, imagine what a small army of professional developers could produce. What other tasks might be best accomplished in a mode of experience previously reserved for teenage boys fragging the hell out of each other?
That the visual language of first-person shooters may soon jump into many areas of our lives might be quite a surprise.
But given the news of the last few days, we’re not betting against that being the case.