An innovative educational initiative is teaching Jewish children and teenagers about Israel through the video game Minecraft.
Dubbed Minecraft Virtual Israel, the initiative was launched by Lost Tribe Esports, a group that uses esports and gaming as a means of engaging with and educating younger members of the Jewish community.
The program has been in use for children aged 8-12 since early 2021 and its new courses in March will cover a variety of topics such as the Dead Sea, Masada and the holiday of Purim. However, it is far from limited to just that, as the program’s expansion in 2022 is spreading to religious high schools, and is even set to open up summer camps later in the year.
But what does this sort of program entail, and why does it use a video game?
Minecraft is, by far, the most popular video game in history. Since made available by developer Mojang in 2009 and then fully released in 2011, the game has managed to sell over 238 m. copies around the world and ported to every major gaming platform.
With constant updates, universal critical acclaim, and a very engaged and dedicated fan base, the game’s popularity has only continued to rise, highlighted by Minecraft content views on YouTube reaching one trillion by late 2021.
The game is a sandbox, providing players with a wide, open world to explore; however, it allows users to create structures and shape the world around them, as well. These mechanics provide a massive range of potential applications, such as planning landscaping, architecture and virtual design projects. It was even used by Reporters Without Borders to create a library of journalistic works by reporters from countries where they have been censored or arrested.
Many schools around the world began using the game as an educational tool, with Mojang even releasing a special version for this purpose known as Minecraft: Education Edition.
The fact that Lost Tribe Esports is doing so too is therefore unsurprising. But what is interesting is that the curriculum of Minecraft Virtual Israel doesn’t just teach about subjects, it literally takes students on a virtual tour.
Using Minecraft, Lost Tribe Esports managed to make 1:1 recreations of several iconic locations in Israel. This includes Masada, the Dead Sea, the Western Wall, the Bahai Gardens, Carmel Market and Azrieli Tower, though more are planned.
The students will be taught about the sites they visit while being able to experience Israel, even if a digital recreation, in Minecraft. As well, each site has a dedicated activity or mini-game to play to help with the engagement. For example, at the Western Wall students will be allowed to write a virtual note, which a Jerusalem contact of Lost Tribe Esports will then slip into the wall in real life.
“This is the cheapest and fastest way to take North American teens and preteens on a meaningful Israel trip, while building community at home,” Lost Tribe Esports community engagement director Samantha Brown explained.
“We are providing them with a direct connection and a positive portrayal of Israel and an appreciation for the beauty of the country and culture through the power of technology.”
Indeed, teaching through Minecraft has numerous advantages. The fact that it is virtual allows Lost Tribe Esports to reach out to Jews that may be disengaged, or live in areas that don’t have access to religious schooling.
But another thing this educational effort is hoping to achieve is to get Jewish teens to come to Israel on a Lost Tribe Esports trip during the summer.
To do this, the organization has partnered with BBYO to launch Lost Tribe’s Israel Journey: Tech & Gaming, to have teenagers interested in gaming and technology come to Israel and experience the country, while also getting a look at the Israeli hi-tech and gaming scenes, in addition to the typical teen tour attractions such as visiting the Dead Sea and Masada – but this time in real life, not just in Minecraft.
To register for upcoming Minecraft Virtual Israel courses for those aged 8-12, visit https://truvie.org/class/minecraft-judaism-2. For those interested in the Lost Tribe's Israel Journey: Tech & Gaming, visit https://bbyopassport.org/trips/summer-experiences/destinations/lost-tribe/. For Jewish teenagers interested in Lost Tribe Esports, join the Discord server here discord.gg/losttribe.