‘You build your imagination’: Minecraft draws hundreds of kids to Philly schools fundraiser

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Minecraft has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. It is, very simply, 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.

Standing before a room of 100 kids on 100 laptops, Donna Cooper, executive director of the nonprofit Public Citizens for Children and 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 firemen 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? Alright 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 firetruck before,” explained Ellie Zdancewic, 12, as she glanced down at her computer screen.

Minecraft has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. It is, very simply, 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 who 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 traipse 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 fifth 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.”

Richiutti and his friend, Vic Trotta, worked on a replica of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. Ellie Zdancewic and her sister, Sarah, 10, earned rave reviews for the playground they built, complete with multi-colored slides and a roller coaster.

Best friends Lindsay McGinely and Zoe DePaula, both 10, recreated one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

“The big statue of the big Roman,” DePaula said. “I forgot what it’s called.”

For the record, it was the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

Unlike the stereotypical gaming convention, the Block By Block gathering at least looked diverse on its surface. There were lots of kids of color and many girls. Sarah Zdancewic says it’s not always like that, but she likes it when she sees other girls playing Minecraft.

“It’s apparently only supposed to be that girls only like prissy princess,” she explained. “I hate those games! Those are really boring and I hate them and they’re never good quality.”

Minecraft’s explosive popularity and infinite mutability have given it a growing cache in the education world. Some believe it has important academic value and may even shape how the next generation solves problems.

But those at the Block By Block Party swear it’s fun — really fun.

“Minecraft is the best online multiplayer game that has ever come to this world,” exclaimed Vic Trotta.

At this weekend’s gathering, it would have been tough to find anyone who disagrees.

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