Lockdown social: Minecraft taskmaster
Usually we organise a couple of socials each term for the women students in our department. These involve meeting up for a coffee or some drinks, and provide an informal way to support women students as it can be a little odd being in a minority.
As Wales went into a “firebreak” lockdown, a friend suggested we do some kind of online social to entertain the students. This is a difficult year for everyone in education but I think students must find it particularly hard – it is frustrating being locked down in a house, I can’t imagine being locked down in a student accommodation. I’m a fan of Taskmaster, and particularly zoom Taskmaster, so I fell to wondering whether we could do something like that but in a virtual world. Minecraft. A quick chat later (on our Aber Comp Sci Women discord server) and it was obvious this idea had legs. We knew someone who managed a server who was OK with us playing on it, and Jenny Thyer (one of our undergrads) was not only a taskmaster fan, but also a minecraft expert and would help me host the first one.
Anyway – as England goes into Lockdown now, I thought I’d write a post about what we did just in case anyone else fancies trying to do something similar. I think it worked very well, and I had a lot of fun both hosting and playing. So here is how we ran ours, and some tips in case you want to do the same:
You can run a minecraft server on an old computer or even a raspberry pi. The rule of thumb is that you need at least a gig of ram for the server, and then an additional 1gb ram for each 30 users (if you’re using a default server with default settings). To play, people need to have Minecraft Java edition which costs money (about 18 quid), however it seems like a lot of students already have it, and if you have ever bought it the license still works (I think I bought it 5 or 6 years ago).
The server runs with a whitelist of users, so we got the Minecraft usernames for all people who wanted to play and whitelisted them just before the event.
Pre event setup
Before the first event we built an arena and setup some tasks (boat race, obstacle course, looms). We also allocated people to teams, and we called the teams North, South, East and West. This worked really well as it enabled us to say “go off in your teams direction and build XXX” and we didn’t have to create any team specific areas for building stuff.
Game one was played in creative mode, mostly, so everyone had access to all the materials. Game two was played in survival mode, so Jenny and her co-host Hannah provided each of us with natty armour (in team colours), an iron sword, and 64 baked potatoes.
Jenny and I also got “little Alex Horne” and Greg Davies skins for our minecraft avatars.
- Make the most awesome Halloween display (obviously, other festivals would work)
- Build a trap for creatures – build at the start, check traps at the end
- Boat race (minecraft boats are strange to control)
- Obstacle course (the one I designed was fairly easy, the one Jenny and Hannah designed was impossible for beginners:)
- Make a banner
- Forage the largest number of different types of flower (only works in survival mode)
- Make a mixed grill for the taskmaster – all cooked (beef, fish, pork, chicken)
At the end of the first game, as we were all in creative mode, everyone went a bit mad and spawned baby pandas (and other animals). At the end of the game played in survival mode, everyone had a massive fight. Both of these were pretty fun:-)
We had 15 players for our first taskmaster, and 13 for the second one; both times there were a few people who were interested but unable to make it so the pool of interested people was larger. Now I’m wondering if we can get a server hosted inside the department, so we don’t have to rely on the kindness (and equipment) of friends; and I’m also wondering about scaling it up for larger groups – would the dynamic be different if it wasn’t a cs-women social?
Four teams worked well, but I think it’d be OK with 8 (you could call them North East, North, North West etc. and just have a more detailed compass). Larger teams could also work fine – for the race events we took slowest time (boat race) and fastest time (obstacle course) and so team size didn’t really matter. For build-based and foraging activities, bigger teams could be a bonus.