From clips to classroom: the cultural impact of 10 years of the game Minecraft

The virtual blockbuster Minecraft exists ten years. Time to look back at the cultural influence of the best-selling computer game of all time. As if you were emptying a box of virtual Lego onto the floor: good luck, dear player. This is how the computer game Minecraft started in May 2009. You stack blocks and experience adventures in the world that you build yourself - that's all it is. Ten years later Minecraft is the best-selling game of all time and it is hard to escape. Four areas in which the cultural impact of Minecraft can be felt.

1. Influential on social media

The Greek temple Acropolis, Manhattan in New York, the continent Westeros from the fantasy series Game of Thrones. These are just a few of the impressive creations that players have recreated with the virtual brick box. Think of a famous building or a film location and chances are it has been recreated in absurd detail. As a player, you want to proudly show such constructions to others.


Fortunately for all digital architects, social media like Facebook and YouTube were just becoming commonplace at the time Minecraft emerged. They were flooded with Minecraft images and references, like this one:

Not only did an endless series of videos of impressive digital buildings land on YouTube, but also complete film scenes and parodies shot in the world of blocks. For example, the complete trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was depicted in the world of blocks:

Or take this elaborate parody of the music video for the pop song Dynamite by Taio Cruz:

Minecraft was one of the first games that you regularly found on social media,' says Martin Verschoor, editor-in-chief of games magazine Power Unlimited. Not so strange, he says, as it is very easy to make recordings of it. Even Who's the Mole is re-enacted in Minecraft'.

The game thus contributed significantly to the popularity of game videos on social media, which in 2019 are a billion-dollar business in themselves thanks to advertising revenue. Last year alone, more than 50 billion hours of game videos were watched on YouTube, the video platform tells tech website Venturebeat. Minecraft remains one of the most prominent sources of such videos, alongside the shooting game Fortnite, among others. Just last April, Minecraft was number 12 of the most searched search terms on YouTube worldwide - including all other topics, outside of games.



People have bought Minecraft176 million times so far. This makes it the best-selling video game of all time.

4 billion square kilometres is the total surface area of the game. This makes Minecraft's surface area eight times larger than that of the earth.

90 million players are active in Minecraft every month.

USD2.5 billion is the amount for which Microsoft bought the game and its publisher Mojang from the game's creator Markus Persson in 2014.

2. References far beyond the gaming world

The Minecraft style- in which everything consists of blocks that are deliberately designed with almost laughably large pixels - is recognisable, so that the game also lends itself well to references outside of social media.

For example, the characters Rick and Morty from the animated series of the same name play the game several times, and in an episode of South Park , the parents of the main characters become addicted to Minecraft. An episode of The Simpsons opened entirely in Minecraft style: 

The game is also briefly featured in the music video for Lady Gaga's song G.U.Y. Not surprisingly, Lego Minecraft is for sale, for those who prefer to stack blocks in the real world. A Minecraft film is even in the works, reportedly scheduled for release in 2022.

3. Useful in the classroom

Working with the periodic table. That may not sound very appealing to many students, but when you do it in Minecraft , it becomes a different story. At least that's the idea behind the educational edition of Minecraft, released in 2014 and now in use by thousands of teachers worldwide, according to its creators.

Because the game in which more or less everything can be built is proving popular in the classroom. Minecraft is used to teach children programming or to let them walk around in the cells of plants and animals. In one of the chemistry modules, it is possible to combine atoms into new molecules, which in turn create new building materials.

A countless number of educational projects have sprung up in the virtual world of cubes. With RoMeincraft, for example, children could recreate Roman buildings based on archaeological facts as a history lesson. Museum GeoFort leads the GeoCraft project, in which the whole of the Netherlands is recreated in Minecraft, from the Dam to the Euromast to the neighbourhood around the corner. This is used for online educational activities such as treasure hunts and workshops to develop spatial awareness.

4. The game industry changed forever

For a long time game builders thought that you always had to take people by the hand and lead them through an adventure,' says Martin Verschoor.Minecraft gave people resources and a world and let them go wild.

Many players like to fiddle around on their own, without direction or an underlying story, it turned out. The popularity of this so-called sandbox model had repercussions on video games after that time, according to Verschoor. From Mario Maker, which is all about designing the Super Mario levels yourself, to the possibility of designing a playing field in the popular shooting game Fortnite.

Or what about the many 'clones', games that more or less adopted Minecraft 's play style, with names like Creativerse and Total Miner

Another influential factor was that Minecraft was not so much a finished whole that you could play through, Verschoor continues. It is more of a platform, which for example also has characteristics of a social medium. Players meet each other in their self-constructed worlds. This social component has been followed up in online games such as Fortnite, the highest earning game at the moment, which recently even featured a digital concert given by a DJ:

But the distinctive look of Minecraft also had an impact on the game industry, according to Verschoor. Ten years ago computers became more and more powerful, and everyone tried to make their games more beautiful and realistic. And then Minecraft, with its clumsy blocks and huge pixels, suddenly became a mega-success. Players don't always think it's important that a game is extremely beautiful, as long as it's good, it turned out.

This article was written by Niels Waarlo and appeared in the Volkskrant. Niels is Tech Editor and can be followed on Twitter via @nielswaarlo.