Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut April 15, 2015 - 11:20 am

Nunavut promoters pitch Minecraft video game for mining education

“It doesn’t matter that there’s zombies in it, they’re learning about mining”

THOMAS ROHNER
Franco Buscemi, left, and Ryan Oliver of Pinnguaq laugh at one of their own jokes during their 20-minute presentation at the Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit April 14. The pair explained how video games can help educate and prepare young Nunavummiut for careers in the mining industry. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)
Franco Buscemi, left, and Ryan Oliver of Pinnguaq laugh at one of their own jokes during their 20-minute presentation at the Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit April 14. The pair explained how video games can help educate and prepare young Nunavummiut for careers in the mining industry. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

If the Pangnirtung-based tech company Pinnguaq gets its way, kids in the future will play video games for homework — not instead of homework.

While doing so, kids could learn about Nunavut’s mining industry and gain knowledge that could help land them a job.

That was the message Ryan Oliver and Franco Buscemi pitched on behalf of Pinnguaq at the Nunavut Mining Symposium at Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn April 14.

The annual symposium, which got underway April 13, brings together representatives from the mining industry, government, regulatory bodies and other Nunavut organizations involved in mining in Nunavut.

Oliver and Buscemi gave a 20-minute presentation to two dozen of those representatives about how modifying a popular video game — Minecraft — could engage future generations of Nunavummiut in many aspects of the territory’s mining industry.

“It doesn’t matter that there’s zombies in it — they’re learning about mining,” Buscemi said with a laugh to the audience.

Minecraft is a popular video game that allows players to build a virtual, although simple-looking world. Players have to do many everyday things like eat, sleep and build shelter.

Buscemi told Nunatsiaq News after the presentation that he approached Oliver, owner of Pinnguaq, with the idea of adapting the game for Nunavut children after watching his four-year-old son’s creativity and critical thinking skills while playing video games.

In Minecraft in particular, Buscemi added, kids learn to aim for goals using different tools in a world with different rules.

“It teaches kids how to achieve goals with the tools and the world they have,” Buscemi said.

Oliver told Nunatsiaq News that video games can engage and educate youth at the same time by allowing them to step into someone else’s shoes.

“There are so many experiences that you can bring people into with [video] games. And our company was created to bring those kinds of experiences to indigenous populations, to create a better understanding,” Oliver said.

Modifying Minecraft to reflect Nunavut’s mining industry would allow kids to see what it’s like to be a miner — and potentially set them on a career path, Oliver said.

“Let’s go through the whole life cycle [of a mine], and we can do it in 15 minutes. You can develop more of an understanding that way than you ever could with only textbooks.” 

Oliver explained that in addition to learning where minerals come from and how they’re processed, kids could learn about the need for sustainable mine development as well.

“On top of resource extraction, there would be a relationship with the land where your basic survival relies on the land and what’s going on around you,” Oliver said.

Almost all animals in Nunavut are available in Minecraft, and those that aren’t can be created, he said.

“You have to eat in Minecraft, otherwise you don’t survive… And as you destroy the land, animals are going to move away. So it’s going to be about creating safe zones where your food supply isn’t too far away.”

Both Oliver and Buscemi acknowledged that video games are still seen by many, especially older Nunavummiut, as sources of distraction, not education.

But Oliver said elements of video games are becoming increasingly present in all industries and kids are at a risk of being left behind if parents maintain this one-sided view.

“The generation that’s coming up, especially, is going to be used to an education system and a world where they’ve been challenged through games. They’re going to need that in their jobs, they’re going to need that for their world-understanding,” Oliver said.

Buscemi said his son learned a lot about safe firearm use — including about the safety button, scope and aiming— through video games.

“You’re looking at two guys who grew up on Nintendo and Sega Genesis and we’re mostly all right,” Buscemi joked during the presentation.

The pair pitched the idea at the symposium, hoping to find investors to move the project along.

Pinnguaq already has a few educational applications designed for phone and tablet use including Singuistics which aims to teach Inuktitut through songs.

Oliver also announced April 14 the renewal of Pinnguaq’s scholarship program which awards $6,000 annually to a Nunavut post-secondary student studying digital media, science, technology engineering or math.

For more information on Pinnguaq, you can visit their website here.

Or you can meet them today when the symposium hosts a trade show at the Frobisher Inn which is open to the public between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

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