Creativity is in block form

Responding to creative play #Minecraft #Lego

I recently read a blog post from a colleague of mine, Sue Watling, who attended a Lego Serious play event in Manchester. Her thoughts on the idea of creative play struck many chords  with my work in Minecraft, and prompted me to think again about my own creative play in Education. Here are my reflections on her post.

Enter Minecraft…..

Replace the word “Lego” with “Minecraft” and the arguments and effect are the same.

A new teaching space in Minecraft
Minecraft is often referred to as “Digital Lego” but it is so much more than that, yet the similarities cannot be ignored. In Creative mode, Minecraft blocks are unlimited, so the landscape for content creation and play is also infinite. Infinite play can be a daunting place to be: The blank sheet of drawing paper,  the un-sculpted block of clay, the box of Meccano can both inspire and terrify at the same time. As a Graphic Design student, I was always told to scribble on the first page of a new sketchbook to break this fear of the new, the fresh, the space; to leave my mark and move on. So the gamer, the lego builder and the Meccano® engineer reach for the first piece and the cycle begins and the fear recedes.

Interestingly, Lego has come full cycle with an existential approach to Minecraft with its own “Minecraft Lego” setsDigital lego in real Lego? It doesn’t get much stranger than that. Or does it? Lego Worlds is a digital building world of endless possibilities (Minecraft) using Lego blocks and characters as the materials (Lego). Minecraft in Lego, Lego in Minecraft, Minecraft Lego… Creativity is creativity; play, wherever and however one engages with it, has value and meaning.

I like the idea of a “lego soundtrack” with the bricks clicking together… It reminded me of my favourite game of all time, Mahjong. The sound of the tiles in Mahjong clicking together is the “chirping of the sparrows” and a very important part of the game.

Minecraft has its own soundtrack of course and this too invokes many different feelings. Whilst the click of a lego brick takes generations of builders back to their first Lego sets, so too does the sound of Steve punching a tree, the ‘hiss’ of a creeper, or the sound of a chest creaking open.

Games have the power to move us emotionally; we get excited, nervous, happy, sad frustrated. We play games that we never forget from our childhood, in adult life and are transported back immediately to our initial experiences of that game.

Video games are unlike board games in that the computers that drive them change, get faster, have superior graphics which can make revisiting old (retro?) games a disappointing experience as our memory of the game is often shrouded in a context of time and place; our expectations have moved on and we look back through google glasses that demand so much more of our games in 2016.

So how does revisiting Lego after 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years compare to the Lego of today? The Lego might have changed shape, colour and size, but the click is the same. And so is the pain if you tread on a piece in bare feet.!!

Watling, S, 2016. Bricking it. digital academic. Available at: [Accessed June 20, 2016].

About the author

Joel Mills

Joel joined the University of Hull in 2014 as a lecturer and advisor on all aspects of technology enhanced learning and pedagogy.

The focus of his work is Games Based Learning, Electronic Management of Assessment, MOOCS and overseeing the development of online learning courses.

Published work:
Bainbridge, J., Counsell, K., Grealy, F., Maharg, P., Mills, J. and O'Boyle, R. (2013). iPads in Legal Learning (iLEGALL): mobile devices in professional legal learning. European Journal of Law and Technology, 4(1).

Mills, J., 2016. Recreating medieval towns – an example of why Minecraft is a great learning tool. The Conversation. Available at: [Accessed October 11, 2016].

Mills, J. & Lorch, M., 2015. How Minecraft could help teach chemistry’s building blocks of life. The Conversation. Available at: [Accessed October 11, 2016].

Areas of research:
Game Based Learning
Virtual learning spaces and disruptive learning

Current passion is Minecraft.

Joel is currently Acting Head of Technology Enhanced Learning

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