A Minecraft super-fan visits MoPop's new exhibit. Credit: Nancy Chaney
Ten years ago, a Swedish programmer named Markus Persson created a sandbox video game (in just six days) and called it Minecraft. Based on a simple 3-D grid and blocking system, the premise of the game was that the act of placing and breaking blocks of all kinds of materials could unleash infinite creative expression.
Within five years, Minecraft had become wildly popular and was purchased by Microsoft for billions. In 2019 it became the world’s bestselling video game.
Also 10 years ago, my son was born. It took a few years before he was introduced to the block-building video game — but once he discovered its crafting tables, minecarts, mobs, skeletons and Nether portals, he quickly became a superfan, especially of survival mode.
In honor of my son and the game's shared ten years of existence, I took him and a friend to “Minecraft The Exhibition,” the new exhibit at MoPop, which opened on Oct. 19 and runs through Sept. 7, 2020.
Covering 6,000 square feet on the third floor of the museum, the world-premiere exhibit is designed to immerse visitors in the square, colorful world of Minecraft: an IRL version of the world that kids are used to accessing via controller and screen.
The opening room charms right away: You can sit on a blocky Minecraft bed that all gamers will immediately recognize and watch an intro video that interviews top developers and execs about the awesomeness of Minecraft. As a “noob” myself (I know the basics from playing with my son, but am skilled only at falling off cliffs), I appreciated the context for why the game, described as the “ultimate sandbox,” has such a grip on kids (and adults).
The exhibit continues, with torches lighting the way and backed by a soundtrack of that strangely calming Minecraft music. Kids can pose next to a variety of fuzzy, full-scale characters, including a panda and a llama, and explore dioramas (some walk-in size) of Minecraft scenes such as the Nether, complete with fire and lava. Minecraft paintings grace the walls. Even the carpet is in blocks.
Throughout, displays and videos chronicle and celebrate the creation and growth of the Minecraft world, focusing on topics such as a Minecraft in education and how Minecraft is being used to create a better world.
Price of admission
It’s all interesting, but is it enough to make it worth the not-small price of MoPop admission plus special exhibit charge on top?
We were welcomed to the exhibit with these four magic words: “You can touch everything.” But, frustratingly, there wasn’t that much to touch, especially for little littles who haven’t yet gotten their hands on a controller.
There was a real-life crafting table where kids could play with materials. More entertainingly, a station lets visitors punch a Minecraft “tree,” complete with sound effects, to release wood. But those opportunities were few and fairly busy.
The highlight of the exhibit for most will be the huge multi-station gaming room, with several four-station hubs with themes such as Amazing Builds and mini games. My son and his friend immediately gravitated towards the “Try Minecraft” hub, where they built a shared world and started playing. One downside: At least three out of 12 or so stations were not working during our Saturday visit. But despite this, the wait was not long.
The boys spent a good 30 minutes, headphones on, enthusiastically creating and moving around, while shouting directives at each other like “kill yourself so you can teleport next to me!” and “I need wood!”
In other words, they were doing what they loved best about Minecraft: playing the game. Which brings up an obvious question: Is it worth shelling out over $100 for a family of four to go to an exhibit whose biggest draw for children might be the activity they can presumably do at home?
That depends on the kid and the family. While the kids I brought were drawn to playing Minecraft over reading about it, other grown-ups and kids alike were enjoying learning about the history of the game. Displays explain how it’s being used in surprising ways and the influence the game’s passionate users have had on it.
A friend who visited the exhibit with her son on a different day told me her son liked playing Minecraft on different platforms: Xbox, PC and tablet, all available at the exhibit. At home, she said, he plays only on an older-model Xbox.
I appreciated learning about how Minecraft has been used to get community input for urban design efforts (teenage girls in Hanoi came up with ideas for safer streets, for example), the magic of redstone (it can be used for all kinds of mechanical contraptions); and about how many now-standard Minecraft elements were originally suggested by the “modding” community.
If you’re a Minecrafting family and/or are already members of MoPop, the exhibit is an obvious must-visit (it’s an extra $6 for members). If you’re on the fence, you can try to reserve a museum pass through The Seattle Public Library, which will give free admission to four people (though you'll still have to pay the special exhibit fee of $6 for adults).
Otherwise, consider whether your family will want to go deep on the history, culture and community of Minecraft, and how much interest they’ll have in other exhibits on at the museum: Currently, you can find everything from science fiction and fantasy to horror and Hendrix. School-age and older kids love the Indie Game Revolution area and the Sound Lab, both totally hands-on.
If you go …
What: “Minecraft The Exhibition” is on display now through Sept. 7, 2020.
Where: MoPop, the latest short-hand for the renamed museum (now called the Museum of Pop Culture; formerly EMP and other names), is located on the east side of Seattle Center. The entrance is nearest the corner of 5th Avenue N. and Harrison Street.
Cost: Admission to the museum and the Minecraft exhibit is $36 per adult; $31 per student with I.D.; $19 per child ages 5–12; and ages 4 and under are free. Save $2 booking online. (Regular museum admission without Minecraft entry is $19–$28; ages 4 and under free).
Membership: Do your math: An annual family membership is $139. Adult members pay $6 to enter the Minecraft special exhibit; youth members ages 5–17 enter free.
While you’re at MoPop: Other exhibits to explore include the terrific Prince From Minneapolis exhibit (leave your kids at the Indie Game Revolution exhibit across the way) and, for brave souls, Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film. And don’t miss some climb time at the fantastic and not-for-the-scared-of-heights Artists at Play playground, just west of MoPop.
Snack time: The Armory (or Center House, for old-timers) holds a bevy of eateries.