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Australia Turns to School Kids and Minecraft to Help Design Their National Parks

School kids in the South Australian city of Adelaide can finally put those video game skills to good use

image via (cc) flickr user teetoeuf

“Play enough video games, and you could help design a national park.”

That’s the message being given to school children in the South Australian capital city of Adelaide. There, the local Natural Resources Management (NRM) board has issued a unique challenge: Create your ideal national park using nothing but your imagination and the massively popular Minecraft computer game, and you could see your virtual landscape built in real life.

The NRM’s website explains:

Get your class to put their Minecraft skills to work by designing their perfect national park and they could win a fun-filled and educational Belair excursion—and may even see some of their ideas used in real life parks.

Grades four, five, six and seven from across the metropolitan and Adelaide Hills schools region are invited to take part in the competition.

This competition is part of a community engagement project asking people of all ages what sort of facilities would encourage them to spend more time in national parks.

The contest is the brainchild of Georgia Gowing, local environment department community consultation officer. Looking for creative ways to spend the nearly $9 million dollars set aside by the state government for park development, Gowing decided to take a unique approach to elicit community buy-in. Speaking with local Adelaide news site InDaily, she explains:

“We’re looking for new ways to get people to talk to us. We’ve got an online survey for the adults, but for the kids, we thought we’d have a go at doing something a bit innovative. We want to know what children want from national parks. Do they want more mountain bike trails? Do they want rock-climbing walls? Do they want natural play areas? It’s a really good thing to get kids using (video games) as a positive. They do this stuff on a screen and then they get out into a real national park.”

To ensure a level playing field, the contest rules require all applicants use a basic edition of Minecraft, without any “mods, plugins or texture packs.” Since the virtual park design will be incorporated into the real world, contest entries must be feasible suggestions. To that end, the NRM suggests features like barbeque pits, hiking trails, and orienteering courses. But, they add, applicants should feel free to add “something completely different that no-one has ever thought of before!”

image via (cc) flickr user kjarrett

Entries will be judged based on based on their usability, sustainability, design, “fun-factor”, and the submittor’s age. Finalists will have video of their virtual park uploaded to NRM’s YouTube page, and the eventual winner will earn their class a trip to Australia’s Belair national park. Applications will be accepted through June 12, with the winner to be announced the following month.

Minecraft has been recognized as an educational tool before, and has even released a special “MinecraftEdu” edition made specifically for use in academic settings. While this is the first contest of its kind, it’s not the first time the virtual construction program has bridged the gap between digital and real worlds. Just this month the Tate Museum partnered with expert Minecraft builders to offer “Tate Worlds”—a virtual tour of popular museum exhibits faithfully recreated in the game.

[via the daily dot]

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