What could Minecraft & the NHS possibly have in common?

What could Minecraft & the NHS possibly have in common?
3D printing Minecraft creations

3D printing Minecraft creations

A quick Internet search for *Minecraft* and *health* results in a plethora of sites which tell you how to restore the health of your player – health being the meter of endurance in Minecraft and represented by the number of hearts you have  on your screen. What pops up next are the desperate pleas of parents wanting to know how to keep their children’s obsession with Minecraft *healthy*. What doesn’t readily appear is anything about Minecraft’s application in a health context.

I’ve been fascinated by Minecraft since, like millions of others, my youngest child became obsessed by this open ended creative and imaginative game. His focused hours of application, concentrated self-directed learning and mind-blowing creations must be the stuff of dreams for many a primary school teacher wanting to motivate their pupils. And not surprisingly there is a growing industry developing around Minecraft as an educational tool.

I went along to the Playful Leeds Minecraft Unplugged workshop, along with my resident 10 year old Minecraft enthusiast, in order to think about how the game might have an application in an NHS context. The session was led by Adam Clarke, who amongst other things, has created Tate Worlds and Alan Lewis who has won awards for the virtual worlds he has built in Minecraft.

Although I couldn’t find any reliable figures on the web, I was surprised to learn from Adam that there are fairly equal numbers of males and females playing Minecraft.  I also found out that there is a Minecraft server for children with autism and their families called AutCraft but I’m not aware of anything else out there related to health. Please tell me if you know of anything!

The possibilities for Minecraft in an NHS context are only limited by my/our own imagination and I have a mission to get professionals thinking about the game’s application in a health context. I am particularly struck by the role Minecraft could play in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) – finding ways to engage, involve and harness young people’s passion for Minecraft as a tool for improving mental health and wellbeing seems like an obvious opportunity.

Here are four initial thoughts as a starter for ten:

  • Familiarity – creating a virtual Minecraft representation of CAMHS services so that young people who have been referred to the service can walk through and experience the space online before they visit – reducing anxiety and giving them an opportunity to explore CAMHS in a space they feel comfortable in
  • Participation – encouraging participation in re-imagining CAMHS with young people creating, editing and developing virtual worlds as a means to contributing their ideas to continually improving services so that they better meet their needs
  • Therapeutic – using Minecraft as a therapeutic tool where the clinician and young person collaboratively build virtual worlds that enables them to have conversations about their mental health in a space they are comfortable in (a bit like art therapy but with Minecraft rather than a paintbrush as a tool)
  • Digital citizenship – groupwork in Minecraft that helps young people develop skills in collaboration and citizenship, managing vulnerability and building relationships in a safe online space.

These are just my imaginings and I’ve no doubt others will have richer insights – especially CAMHS and NHS practitioners. Watch this space for a workshop promoted on the events page of the mHealthHabitat where I hope to get Adam and Alan along to help us think about possibilities.

And finally, the workshop I mentioned was all day on a Saturday in a library with a group of adults and I could barely tear my 10 year old son away. Whatever we think of online games, we shouldn’t underestimate the potential of Minecraft to bring young people and adults together to collaborate, learn and have fun – entering their world rather than expecting them to enter ours.

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