Weekly Feature

2014-04-09 / Lifestyles

Young builders exercise creative minds, social skills through virtual worlds


Cousins Luca Grande, 9, and Carmen Marabella, 11, play Minecraft together on their personal electronic devices at Performing Arts in Depew. 
Photo by Stephanie WardropPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Cousins Luca Grande, 9, and Carmen Marabella, 11, play Minecraft together on their personal electronic devices at Performing Arts in Depew. Photo by Stephanie WardropPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com A group of children huddle together with faces buried in personal electronic devices.

Since October, Minecraft Club has been taking place at noon on the third Saturday of each month, at Performing Arts, a music and arts studio and store in Depew, which offers private lessons, performance opportunities and workshops.

While it’s easy today to blame technology for enabling antisocial tendencies, Samuel Marabella, the studio’s owner, said the monthly club has become a place of inclusion and positive social interactions for participants.

“I think it gives them a time to geek out,” said Marabella. “They don’t worry about their sneakers or what they’re wearing. … They don’t even know each other, and they just sit right next to each other — it’s connecting them.”

A pixilated world sets the scene in Minecraft — a computer game about digging and building. Think of it as virtual Legos.

According to parents of club participants, the game, which was launched in 2011, has children buzzing.

Marabella said that on average, the club gets about 25 participants, ranging in age from 7 to 16 years, from various areas of Western New York.

“It was such an easy thing to advertise,” said Marabella of starting the club. “It’s like this tight niche — this community. That’s kind of the whole premise of Performing Arts though, is to kind of build a community.”

Perhaps one of the best examples of the club’s inclusive nature is that a variety of children come from near and far to play this game — which could be played alone — with others.

“There is a very specific group of kids — you know, to be very honest with you — that have special needs that love it, and I love to see everyone huddling around their creation because they’re kind of connected,” explained Marabella.

Marabella’s son, Carmen, while navigating one of his Minecraft worlds on a Kindle Fire, noted, “It’s fun to play in your free time.”

“And we like connecting with each other,” added Luca Grande.

Carmen, 11, and Luca, 9, explained that the club allows them to play Minecraft with many friends at once. With the game downloaded onto personal devices, such as iPads or iPods, the participants can hop into other players’ worlds through the two wireless servers at Performing Arts.

And as players hop different worlds, masterpieces can be built. It’s all about placing and breaking blocks of different materials in a three-dimensional environment.

Carmen and Luca, who are also cousins, noted that the game is played in either “survival” or “creative” mode. And while the goal in “survival” mode is to survive different villains — like zombies — by building essential structures, “creative” mode gives players the chance to exercise their imaginations.

Marabella explained that players convene for lessons in building a better world at every club meeting.

Led by Lauren Thompson, a “master builder” and instrumental music teacher at Performing Arts, participants learn how to construct things from helicopters and buildings to historical monuments and whole cities.

“So it’s a cool game,” said Marabella. “It takes some skill and it takes some focus to really build something that large.”

Carmen showed an example of one of his own creations — a 3-D replica of the Titanic — mid-sink — complete with 59 rooms and an iceberg.

While Carmen said his Titanic took about three weeks to build, other participants explained that a basic house can be constructed in about five minutes.

According to Marabella, who admitted to being out of touch with the innermost workings of Minecraft, the club has given him a new perspective.

“It’s kind of opened my eyes ... about how much I don’t know about what’s going online,” said Marabella.

Marabella expressed his interest in also having a guest speaker discuss with parents the myriad applications and social media existing today.

And due to popular demand, a one-week Minecraft camp has been set to take place from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily, July 28 through Aug. 1, at Performing Arts, 5334 Transit Road, Depew.

If interested in attending the monthly Minecraft Club, call Performing Arts at 239-3907 to register. The club is free for members, and costs $10 for nonmembers.

email: acelano@beenews.com

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