MENAcraft Program in Partnership with Stevens Initiative Uses Minecraft as a Platform for Virtual ExchangeJul 17, 2023
Esports may soon be the biggest sport on the planet. The NASEF’s recent NASEF MENAcraft™ program connected youth around the world, using esports and video-conferencing to foster cross-cultural connections and understanding.
Esports offers more than just games; it fosters a global community, open to all, that can help build confidence and community by blending play and learning.
In 2022, the Stevens Initiative partnered with the Network of Academic and Scholastic E-sports Federations (NASEF), a global non-profit that taps into massive youth interest in esports games as a platform for students to acquire STEM-based skills and build relationships.
NASEF’s signature offering MENAcraft™ created a safe, neutral online community to gather young people from the United States and Middle East / North Africa region (MENA). Youth developed esports clubs and practiced career skills by creating logos and other marketing materials. They used the popular online game Minecraft to illustrate their daily lives, created videos with details about their local experience, and built online communities. In doing so, participants developed relationships and empathy for others around the world. Additionally, speakers working in the esports industry highlighted key career and life skills and helped participants learn how those skills translate into workforce opportunities.
Bee Logo created in Minecraft by the Eastside Esports League
MENAcraft focused on three key pillars: create share-able personal and cultural models; learn from professionals working in the esports ecosystem; and connect with students across the globe.
Personal and Cultural Exploration
Using Minecraft, MENAcraft players participated in community and global esports clubs as a means of exploring and sharing cultural interests.
Students completed several challenges to illustrate what their lives were like, then shared them In The Story of You, students exchange personal interests, hobbies, favorite foods, family life, and unique skills as a Minecraft build, or in a simple document, drawn by hand or supplemented with tech-based resources. For example, Faisal, a student at the Al-Bayan Bilingual School in Hawally, Kuwait, shared his love of cooking and his “super power” skill (“I can be good at anything with just a little practice”) in a creatively drawn self-profile. Alzain loves Paris and loves both traditional sports and esports.
For another challenge, students researched local monuments or their flags, and then used Minecraft to build a replica or model. They created a video overview describing what they learned.
For another challenge, students formed work groups to construct a virtual souk/ سوق / שוק; the US equivalent of a street fair or swap meet, filling it with alleys and stalls of goods and products unique to their global location. A souk created by students in Ohio featured popular American offerings including ice cream, football and jewelry. Here’s an excerpt of the student’s video sharing their build:
Students from the Middle East shared that they might go to a local souk / market to buy clothing for Ramadan or other special occasions:
Students created these videos and highlighted local information and cultural offerings, adding personal insight. These videos shared online via a video app, fostering engagement and building interaction.
Professionals in the Esports Ecosystem
Through MENAcraft’s expert Speaker Series sessions, which features STEM professionals and industry leaders, students are introduced to career opportunities and are encouraged to become change-makers in esports and in the world. Guest speakers, including Cory Vincent, Vice President of Marketing and at NRG Esports, a professional competitive esports organization, shared life and work experiences along with personal insights to inspire students.
Speaker Paul Santoro, known as Pauly Hype, is a tournament host, streamer, and shout-caster who helped set expectations for a career in streaming. “There’s a lot of analysis and data involved with playing. For example, I liked the fighting games and I learned the frame data, which is mathematics. I would do quick math while playing to win events regularly and build a strategic advantage.”
Noura, a popular streamer and gamer from Egypt, spoke to students on the female gamer experience, saying: “Girls, don’t think about the negative comments or what other people think. Believe in yourself and do what you love. Boys, accept that girls are the half of this community: we are here, we are doing what we want to, we want to prove that we are good. Don’t look to gender, just see that I’m a player like you. Girls are half of this world and we have the rights to be in here in esports too.”
Building International Friendships and a Global Community
MENAcraft participants enjoy learning about careers as they share and interact with each other’s creations, yet the real power of MENAcraft comes to light when busy students align schedules across opposing time zones to meet each other virtually.
One such online meeting connected students in Florida and Kuwait, where they shared a common love of sports, favorite foods, and school schedules. The Kuwait students, fluent in English, shared with their American friends what the Arabic alphabet sounds like, teaching them important Arabic phrases such as: “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and something they occasionally hear from their teachers: “Listen to me!”
Through observation and interaction with peers around the world, MENAcraft participants build empathy and cross-cultural understanding as they share models of personal and cultural experiences, learn from esports professionals, and build connections through shared experiences. Many youth across the globe are eager to express themselves and share their pride of culture through audio, video and multimedia. Relationship building is essential to growth and learning, building confidence along with a sense of belonging and community; and ensures that today’s youth have the necessary knowledge and skills to be educated, productive and empathetic individuals.
NASEF’s MENAcraft is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by the Aspen Institute. The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.