This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Standing before a room of 100 kids on 100 laptops, Donna Cooper, executive director of the nonprofit Public Citizens for Children & Youth (PCCY), made what should have been an exciting announcement.
"If you want to take a short break to see the fire truck that’s outside, you’re welcome to go do that," Cooper said amid a chorus of key clacks and mouse clicks.
That’s right, a bright, red fire truck — with real, live firefighters waiting to give tours. Could there be anything more alluring?
"I just wanna let you know it’s right outside this door," Cooper said. "OK? All right, kids…"
As the kids remained firmly in place, it became clear there is something more alluring. And that something is Minecraft.
"We have a time limit on making this challenge, and I’ve seen a fire truck before," explained Ellie Zdancewic, 12, as she glanced down at her computer screen.
Minecraft has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. It is one of the most popular computer games ever created. The Block By Block Party, held this weekend at the University of the Sciences, offered a glimpse inside that popularity.
Over two days, hundreds of kids gathered – in person, in the actual flesh – to play Minecraft together. The event’s stated purpose was to raise money for Cooper’s organization. With the cash, PCCY plans to start a fund that will give grants to Philly public schools that need better tech.
And with better tech, perhaps even more kids across the city will fall in love with Minecraft.
The game is sort of like digitized Legos, with elements of computer programming mixed in. There’s no set objective. Users move through computer-generated landscapes and manipulate blocks that can be transformed into just about anything.
"You build your imagination," said 10-year-old Paul Richiutti, a 5th grader. "So if I was imagining something and like, ‘Hey, I really wish I had this,’ I just go right on Minecraft and start building."