Minecraft Brings 2020 Fair to Life
Friday, July 24, 2020
Posted by: Kelly Dziak
When the announcement came out in early April 2020 that all in-person New Jersey 4-H programs (including fairs) were cancelled due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions, everyone shared in the disappointment. From the youth members to the general public, the county fair holds a special place in everyone’s heart and is thought of as a sort-of family reunion. To not have a county fair in 2020 was a major blow to the 4-H community. When Morris County 4-H members were asked what they would miss most about the fair, the unanimous answer was a sense of community connection (i.e. belonging) that is key to the fair experience. How could that feeling possibly be recreated in a virtual setting?
Leave it to 4-H members to have the answer and lead by example! A group of 4-H teens proposed a novel idea to the 4-H Association and county staff. What if the Morris County 4-H Fair was recreated in the virtual world using Minecraft? This way, anyone could visit the familiar Fair through game play, YouTube videos, and in-game live tours. For those unfamiliar with Minecraft (which included many of the volunteers and 4-H staff supporting this project), this open-world online games promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. Players are encouraged to build together and get creative with their designs. Minecraft is wildly popular with kids so it was a natural fit to recreate the Morris County 4-H Fair in this virtual world.
The plan was to recruit 4-H members into a new short-term club focused on building the Minecraft 4-H Fair and have a finished product ready for public view on July 16, 2020 (the original opening day of the Morris County 4-H Fair). The teen leading the project secured a donation of server space from MCProHosting for this project. Over 40 youth members representing 12 4-H clubs and 10 adult volunteers signed up to support this project. In a month and a half, this team of youth and adults poured over 800 hours into building a scale replica Fair and the surrounding town. In addition, they included creative details only possible in a virtual world, creating hidden puzzles and mazes for players to explore, and filming walk-through tours for YouTube.
The result was an in-depth Fair experience connecting visitors to the familiar Fair favorites (i.e. food, animals, rides) and the fun of exploring something new and exciting designed by youth. The original intent of this project was to recreate something loved by so many. Instead, the Morris County 4-H Minecraft Club created an experience beyond anyone’s expectations. It was a real 4-H Fair in its own right by showcasing the hard work of 4-H members, inviting the public to explore and participate in interactive games and activities, and connecting people in a meaningful way in a time when we are physically separated.
The success of this project relied not only on the kids’ building skills, but on the adults ability to quickly adapt their tech skills. Build sessions took place in Minecraft which required each individual to purchase a Minecraft account. For those without Minecraft accounts, Discord (a group chatting platform originally intended for gamers) was used to share the video screens of Minecraft players and keep everyone connected to the voice and text conversations. At least two adult volunteers supervised each build session via Minecraft and/or Discord. When the project went live to the public, visitors could tour the Fair using their personal Minecraft account or join a Zoom meeting utilizing screen share of another 4-H volunteer in Minecraft. Outside of the live events, visitors could explore the Fair through the many YouTube videos. 4-H volunteers and staff quickly learned the finer details of all these technologies in order to provide high quality and engaging in-world experiences for visitors.
The Morris County 4-H Minecraft Fair was a success in bringing together 4-H youth, volunteers, community members, and the general public. In fact, several Fair visitors came from outside of the state including Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Missouri. One visitor attended from Italy! Unlike an in-person fair, this project was accessible to everyone regardless of physical location.
Since the Minecraft Fair’s conclusion, plans are underway for the next Minecraft build project with sights set on recreating the beloved NJ 4-H summer camp. Morris County 4-H has gained new youth members interested in not only Minecraft building, but other project areas. Adult volunteers have gained a stronger appreciation for the imaginative and “can do” attitude of Morris County’s 4-Hers. Volunteers are also more confident in their technological skills and actively exploring additional virtual program opportunities.
Nothing can ever replace the magic of the in-person fair experience. However, the Morris County 4-H Minecraft Fair proves that fostering a sense of belonging is not limited to the physical world. Thanks to the creativity of our 4-H members and the many tech tools and resources available, the 2020 Morris County 4-H Fair will be remembered as a unique and incredible experience for years to come.
Take a tour of the Morris County 4-H Minecraft Fair https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwyD0T8vH60HncKOO6QuheQ