“Look, here on the left is Erasmus Paviljoen with the restaurant inside and the theatre. And there is the pond on the right. Further along you can see Polak building”, stated Alexander Whitcomb, Operational Manager at Erasmus X. These could be the words of a Eurekaweek guide taking his or her group on a tour of the campus. But Whitcomb is sitting behind a screen using the Minecraft version of Woudestein.
The Minecraft version is an exact digital replica of campus Woudestein. Walking around the campus takes around the same amount of time as walking around the real campus, stated Whitcomb. You can also see inside the most important buildings. For instance, you can enter the Aula, Polak or Erasmus Paviljoen. The tables and chairs are there, as is the Paviljoen’s open stage.
His team came up with the idea when they saw a Japanese school doing their diploma ceremony via Minecraft. “Berkeley has a Minecraft campus too. In this coronavirus period we thought that this could become the replacement of a shared space where people can meet. So we started building it a few weeks after it became clear that the campus would close.” They are also ‘mining’ for a campus at TU Delft. “But we got there first”, smiled Whitcomb. The Erasmus University College location and Erasmus MC are also being constructed.
Although Minecraft is a place where players occasionally bash monsters’ brains out and where most of the time is spent mining and building, it also has a special educational version. “We are considering using this, but still aren’t sure. This offers tools for education, such as giving an explanation or a presentation, whereas the other version mostly has group games, such as paintballing or a treasure hunt.”
Whitcomb explained that ‘thinking outside the box’ is a part of ‘disruptive innovation of education’. On a large screen he shows the Minecraft version of the building in which he is currently also standing: Tinbergen building. “We want to devise new forms of education to drive innovation and improvements”, he stated.
Dark Souls gamer
It can also be useful for first-year students to get to know the campus, as well as being a great addition for Eurekaweek, stated Whitcomb. “For instance they could organise a group activity in which groups try to build a replica of a campus building, with the group producing the best replica winning a prize. Or they could organise online tours. Online is currently where you can still get a bit of a campus feeling.”
Whitcomb, a gamer himself (although he plays more fantasy games such as Divinity: Original Sin 2 or Dark Souls), could sometimes hardly believe that this was his work. “It was fantastic that we were allowed to do this!” When should it be considered a success? He didn’t want to specify any concrete visitor numbers, more of a feeling: “If it becomes a place where people enjoy engaging in the social interaction that they miss due to the coronavirus.”