This ‘how to’ guide was produced as part of Digitally Democratising Archives (Opening Archives) an action research project, designed and led by The Audience Agency as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Connected Heritage programme.
East Riding Archives and Local Studies collect, preserve and make accessible the documented heritage of the East Riding of Yorkshire. It is a nationally accredited service that preserves our history for this and future generations.
The East Riding Blockdown project invited 11-16 year olds based in the East Riding of Yorkshire to contribute their thoughts and memories of life during lockdown in the Covid-19 pandemic.
The experiences took the form of scenes, objects and written contributions created using the Minecraft videogame, either on a multiplayer world called the Archiverse or in their own private game. Minecraft Java Edition was used to enable remote engagement with the project via the multiplayer server. Minecraft: Education Edition was used for structured, in-person workshops using in-game classroom and portfolio features.
The purpose of the project was to record contemporary responses to a historically significant period and preserve the contributions as digital image files within the East Riding Archives. For the archive, this filled a gap in contemporary collecting initiative regarding the pandemic and also introduced a new audience to the archives.
- As a participant, I must be able to participate without having used Minecraft before, and I must have a fun experience
- As a guardian of a participant, I must be confident in the ethics of how the participant is credited and how their creations are used and stored
- As a researcher, I must be able to view and explore the archive records digitally
Technical needs of users
- Users required basic digital skills to use a laptop.
- No Minecraft experience necessary.
- ability to use Minecraft (any platform, PC, Playstation 3, etc.)
- ability to take screenshots / photos of their creations and emailing these to the archive
- OR technical ability to join the project’s online multiplayer Minecraft Java Edition server.
End user requirements
To access the permanent digital archive, end-users (researchers) will require a device with internet access to visit the online archives catalogue. The project website is also available online.
A website is critical for introducing your project and explaining what is required, and is an incredibly useful resource to point people to for more information. If you cannot create a whole website for your project then you could use a single page on a pre-existing website. WordPress can be used to create and maintain your own website and/or a blog.
Minecraft Java Edition and Minecraft server
Minecraft is a sandbox video game published by Mojang Studios that can be played individually or with others over online multiplayer. Players explore a procedurally generated 3D world and can extract raw materials to craft items and build structures.
Minecraft is currently the best-selling videogame in history (source) and popular with the target demographic 11-16 year olds. The sandbox element of Minecraft provides options for creativity and storytelling through building and writing. The multiplayer feature enables collaboration and sharing of stories. Minecraft Java Edition was used to enable remote engagement with the project via the multiplayer server.
Minecraft Education Edition
Minecraft: Education Edition is an educational version of Minecraft specifically designed for classroom use. It was used for structured, in-person workshops using in-game classroom and portfolio features. If you are running in-person workshops then you must have a licence for each game installed on a computer, laptop or tablet.
Consider the ethics, safeguarding and permissions for the project. Produce parental consent and registration forms and store them securely. These parental/guardian consent forms were essential to:
- Determine how the participant was to be credited
- Obtain permission for participant contributions to be publicly displayed in exhibitions and publications
- Obtain permission for participant contributions to be permanently preserved in a publicly-accessible archive
- Obtain permission to be photographed (optional)
Purchase Minecraft: Education Edition and/or Minecraft Java Edition and learn how the game works by playing it.
Build your ‘world’ for participants to explore. For example, the Blockdown project recreated the archives building to set the scene and introduce the archives service to the participants. Pay and set up a server, including uploading Minecraft world files. You will need experience in using Minecraft, but you could also work with someone who has prior experience with the game.
Produce a project website or webpage that explains what the project is and how to get involved. Organise physical events and create a marketing campaign to attract your audiences.
Keep a track of your participant registrations and store them securely. If you are using an online Minecraft server, verify the details of the participants and add them to your server’s whitelist to allow them access.
Run a mixture of one-to-one sessions and group workshops either at your venue or at another community venue, such as a school or library. Users require basic digital skills in using the laptops but no prior experience of Minecraft is necessary. Make sure to take screenshots of participants’ creations and save them to your own device.
For remote participation, users require a copy of Minecraft on their chosen device, and must know to take screenshots or photos of their creations to email to the archive.
An alternative option is to join the project’s online multiplayer Minecraft Java Edition server and make their creations there. Users joining in this way must still complete their consent forms and registration so that you can add their details to the whitelist for your server, meaning nobody without permission may join the server.
If you are a professional archive service, make sure you have screenshots of participants’ creations in Minecraft and that they are organised according to participant name. Transfer the files into your digital archive and assign a collection name (this could be the project name, i.e. ERBP East Riding Blockdown Project).
Catalogue the records in cataloguing software using a hierarchy structure – as an example, see East Riding Blockdown project catalogue.
If you do not have specialist digital repository software that provides access and preservation tools then make an ‘access’ copy on a CD-ROM for users to consult and make a ‘preservation’ copy of the files every five years on a CD-ROM.
Learn to play Minecraft yourself (it’s also fun!) and consider the different game editions and their limitations. For example, Minecraft: Education Edition is not compatible with Minecraft Java Edition, so we had to manage two versions of our Archiverse world map.
Research and conduct testing of all technical aspects of the project before release to participants, such as ensuring safeguarding ‘plugins’ (software to add new functions) and the whitelist work correctly on your Minecraft server.
Ask participants to add their name to their built and written creations. When their work is being preserved forever, attributing the correct person is essential.
Make a backup copy of your Minecraft world after every session.
Be organised and consistent in your file names when exporting screenshots of participant contributions from Minecraft. It helps to process the creations after each session.
Make a plan for how people will access your ‘digital archive’ in 5, 50 and 100 years time. This includes considerations of how the records are described, arranged and preserved, and by whom.
This project built a collection of experiences about the COVID-19 lockdown with contributions from over 50 young people. These experiences are now permanently preserved for future generations. The project introduced archives to over 50 young people who had never engaged with archives before.
We learned that many participants were already Minecraft experts. We harnessed this technical expertise to improve our Minecraft world, with participants becoming co-creators. Young people also felt comfortable sharing their lockdown stories using a medium that was familiar and which gave them creative freedom.
- East Riding Blockdown Project website:
- Project catalogue (available permanently)
- East Riding Archives
This ‘how to’ guide was produced as part of Digitally Democratising Archives (Opening Archives) an action research project, designed and led by The Audience Agency, supporting 10 organisations to explore archives, community engagement and digital tools. It was funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2021/22 as part of the as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Connect Heritage programme.
Please attribute as: "Using Minecraft to engage young people with archive services (2023) by supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0