Minecraft. If you’ve had any interest in computers over the last decade, you’ve heard of it. It is a wildly popular game that has made the leap from being pure entertainment into a genuinely useful program. Classrooms around the world use it as a place to teach and learn about all sorts of things in a hands-on and visual way. Educators are using the game for everything from science classes to high school graduations, which begs the question, “Can kids also learn coding with Minecraft?”

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is primarily a game about collecting and placing digital blocks in a three-dimensional world to create all sorts of things! The game itself doesn’t give the players any real instructions or defined goals for what they should do. Instead, it leaves that up to the players themselves.

First off, what even is Minecraft? Minecraft is primarily a game about collecting and placing digital blocks in a three-dimensional world to create all sorts of things! The game itself doesn’t give the players any real instructions or defined goals for what they should do. Instead, it leaves that up to the players themselves.

That blank-slate style of gameplay combined with a huge open world to explore and build in works very well to inspire creativity. It’s a concept called a “sandbox”, where players can explore and build, and has proven to be immensely popular, especially among kids. It’s an expansive game and has something for all sorts of players.

There are two main modes: Survival Mode and Creative Mode.

Both modes can be played as a single-player experience, but they can also be played as multiplayer games. As a multiplayer experience, players can choose to interact with the world at large, or to only play with players they already know on small personal servers.  

Some play the game in “Survival Mode” because they enjoy fighting off zombies and skeletons while collecting the resources needed to build a home. Others revel in exploring the different locations generated by the game and searching for treasures. Many prefer to use “Creative Mode” to build entire cities without having to deal with the inconveniences of collecting resources or fighting off enemies. On top of the normal game modes there are also player made “mods” that add their very own sets of rules.  

Some even use Minecraft to learn to code.

Student Built Marketplace
Student Built Minecraft Marketplace

What Coding Language Does Minecraft use?

Minecraft was originally programmed in a coding language called Java. While Microsoft has made plenty of additions and tweaks to the program, Java still makes up the largest portion of the game. It is also the programming language that people most often interact with when coding mods for Minecraft.

Java is a very common programming language around the world, which has helped increase Minecraft’s popularity. It can be seen in a wide variety of well-known projects, like Wikipedia Search, or monitoring and controlling NASA’s Mars rovers. Millions of programmers depend on Java on a daily basis to get their jobs done. You may even be using Java at this very moment, since it is also the language used to build Android apps!

Needless to say, programmers who know how to work in Java are in huge demand and have been for some time. Despite how fast-moving the coding industry moves, Java has been around since 1995. And it continues to be an effective programming language!

Minecraft mods are typically written in Java, but they aren’t the easiest starting point for someone just learning to code. Rather, they are a project to aspire to. That’s ok, though, because there are plenty of other ways to start learning about coding in Minecraft.

What Programming Concepts Can Minecraft Teach?

Minecraft wasn’t actually designed to be a teaching tool, so it’s surprising how well it works for that purpose. There are a ton of different programming concepts you can teach your kids using the game, even without opening up the code itself.

Redstone

Part of the fun of Minecraft comes from building wondrous contraptions that do whatever you want them to do! The main ingredient for doing this in Minecraft is using an in-game resource called Redstone. It works roughly like electrical wiring and its uses are almost limitless. While making smaller things with Redstone can be fairly simple, more complex constructs require learning more advanced programming concepts. 

Takuto's Redstone Archery Range
Student Takuto’s Redstone Archery Range

Some of CodeWizardsHQ’s students have made some truly remarkable Redstone devices, from self-harvesting farms to archery ranges that can automatically give out rewards for good shooting. All of it comes out of an understanding of the programming basics demonstrated through Redstone mechanics.  

Much like a computer’s binary language, Redstone exists in either a powered or unpowered state. Learning how to use those signals through logic gates is a key element to getting things to work. The main problem with this approach is that figuring all this out on your own can be difficult to figure out without help. It is possible to learn a great deal through experimentation, but it is not the simplest nor the most direct way to learn most coding concepts. Many kids can overcome that difficulty by watching online tutorials that show them the basics. From there, a little inspiration and motivation are all that’s needed to get them learning the basics of programming in a fun way!

Console Commands and Command Blocks

A more direct way of interacting with coding in Minecraft is through the Minecraft console commands. These are written commands that you can type into the chat box to make things happen in your Minecraft world. It allows players to do things like change the weather cycle, teleport to far off places or create items that would otherwise be impossible to get. This in itself isn’t truly coding, but it does teach an important concept about coding. That’s the idea that the things that we type into the computer can have an effect on the digital world in front of us.

Ryan's Iron Factory
Student Ryan’s Iron Factory

In 2012 a new block, called the command block, was added to Minecraft that took console commands to the next level. These blocks can execute console commands in the game itself whenever certain requirements are met. When coupled with Redstone engineering, command blocks can introduce complex concepts like conditionals. This changes the commands found in the console into a kind of Minecraft coding language.

This Minecraft coding language doesn’t work outside of the game, but it does a great job of introducing programming basics to new students.

Minecraft Pi (Python Modding)

The next step is moving out of learning programming concepts and into actual code. It is a good idea to start with simple and well-documented languages, like Python. One way to practice Python is with Minecraft Pi. Minecraft Pi is a version of Minecraft developed specifically for the Raspberry Pi. The game comes for free with Raspberry Pi devices, but the real draw is the modding console that comes alongside it. This console allows coders to use the Python language to build mods that change the gameplay in Minecraft. Changes happen in real time so students can immediately see what their code does. It’s an awesome way to play around with the Python language and learn a lot about what it can do!

Sheena's Boolean Logic House
Instructor Sheena’s Redstone Testing Room

While the game is a great motivation to dive into coding, it doesn’t actually teach Python itself. Instead, it is necessary to look up one of the many tutorials online and use it to learn Python. You could also take a live class in our middle school or high school coding program to start learning Python

Code.org – Minecraft Hour of Code (JavaScript)

Java and Python are both great languages to learn, but they are far from the only ones out there. If you’re interested in learning JavaScript instead, Minecraft Hour of Code through Code.org might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Hour of Code doesn’t actually use the Minecraft game to teach coding. Instead, it is coding Minecraft characters using the Blockly editor created by Google and MIT. Blockly is a drag-and-drop JavaScript editor that allows a student to use pre-made blocks of code to solve different challenges. Each block uses real JavaScript code that the student can view to get a better picture of what is happening behind the scenes.

It is a gamified way of teaching coding that uses the Minecraft theme to great effect. And it’s a lot of fun!

You can find more gamified methods of coding education on our list of 46 Free Classes, Websites, and Apps

Minecraft: Education Edition

The other big way that Minecraft is helping kids learn to code is through Minecraft: Education Edition.

Education Edition is a version of Minecraft created specifically for use in school settings. As such, it has features aimed at helping teachers to manage their classrooms, like the abilities to limit where students can go, or what they can change in-game. It has special items designed to facilitate taking notes when doing assignments. And there are a ton of maps that teachers created to teach interesting topics in a virtual setting.

While maps built for teaching code do exist, the platform itself isn’t aimed at coding. Instead of teaching a specific topic, it acts as a virtual classroom space used to teach any topic.

Education Edition also has limited availability. It is only for schools and organizations that can prove that they are using it to further the education of large groups of kids.

Can Minecraft Teach My Kid to Code?

Minecraft has proven to be a flexible platform for education. It has been used as a tool for teaching a myriad of concepts, so it makes sense to assume it would be useful for teaching coding to kids. And it is! 

Student playing minecraft on computer

Minecraft does a great job of providing an environment to learn coding in by giving students both a place to virtually meet with their educators and by visually showing them the effects that coding can have. But it isn’t as simple as launching the game and letting the kids learn. Instead, it works best as one of many tools used in a more complete coding curriculum.

As part of our interactive coding curriculum we teach our students how to create their very own games based off of Minecraft. They’re able to learn programming in an exciting hands-on environment that does more than teach them the basic principles. It teaches them how to apply them. And unlike so many video based programs, our coding classes, for elementary, middle, and high school, are taught by live teachers so our students can get feedback on their projects in real time.

The main thing is this: Minecraft on its own will not be able to teach a kid how to code. Rather, it is a great way to build their interest in coding and can be useful as an educational tool in a well-crafted curriculum.