From a learning kit to a major exhibition: Gallipoli in Minecraft®

Nils Pokel, Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand, Wendy Burne, Auckland Museum, New Zealand, Janneen Love, Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand , Tanya Wilkinson, Auckland Museum , New Zealand


In 2014, Auckland Museum took up the challenge of engaging youths in an outreach project to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the battles of the ANZAC troops who fought in the Gallipoli campaign in World War I. Although it was initially intended to be a only digital resource, the quality of the produced work and the great interest in the project all around soon led to the development of a major exhibition in 2015: Gallipoli in Minecraft. During the development of the exhibition, the Museum team explored new ways of working to truly co-design it together with its target audience. This meant: • Turning a learning programme into an exhibition • Having youths involved with the process all the way • Embracing gaming culture as an educational vehicle • Bringing virtual reality technology into the galleries This case study demonstrates the elements needed to successfully run an outreach programme with youths and how to involve them to co-design a truly immersive exhibition experience that works across all ages and cultural backgrounds.

Keywords: co-design, gaming, Minecraft, outreach, youth, education

 1. Introduction

Auckland War Memorial Museum, the Auckland region’s oldest and largest natural and human history museum, is also the region’s centre for commemoration, collections, and archives for the two world wars. Throughout New Zealand’s nationwide World War I centenary programme (2014–2018), the Museum plays a vital role in connecting modern audiences with collections and with New Zealand’s experiences of the Great War.

Gallipoli in Minecraft®, one of the Museum’s centenary outreach programmes, used game-based learning to promote significant new milestones for the Museum in both youth engagement and co-design practices. Initially developed with a group of students as a digital learning resource for schools, the programme unexpectedly expanded into a major ten-month exhibition, with the students maintaining a key role within the Museum’s project team. By putting young people at the core of the development process as co-producers, the Museum has gained new and unexpected insights into the likes and motivations of the target audience, and in the process has created a new type of analogue-to-digital interpretation of items in its collections.

A new lens on the history of Gallipoli

A whole century has passed since the tragic eight-month Gallipoli campaign of 1915 by the ANZACs (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). Despite the passage of time, public interest and sentiment remains strong and has seen a resurgence in recent years. This historic event is a significant centenary focus for the New Zealand Government’s WW100 commemoration programme, and remains a platform for contemporary discourse about New Zealand identity and nationhood. Each year on April 25, Anzac Day is observed as a public holiday as “a day of remembrance, not just for those who served and fell at Gallipoli, but for those who have served in all conflicts to defend our country” (WW100 Programme Office).

Figure 0: ANZAC troops

Figure 1: soldiers serving in the ANZAC campaign (Image: Auckland Museum)

As a core curriculum topic for schools, the lens through which the events are usually explored has shifted from heroism and victory to the wider issues of war and its impact on New Zealand and its people. Personal stories and experiences told by soldiers, nurses, and other service personnel provide a basis for insight and remembrance, and are a focus in the Museum’s war collection, public programming, and the Online Cenotaph database, which serves as the gathering point for the personal and official memory of the people who served for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Therefore, for the Museum’s schools centenary programme, themes of remembrance, reflection, and honour are important, as is providing students with an opportunity to develop the key competencies and learning outcomes expressed in the New Zealand curriculum. All of these are essential programme features sought by teachers when booking school programmes.

Alignment with Future Museum (the Museum’s twenty-year strategic plan) includes increasing access and emphasising the breadth of the heritage collections, increasing awareness of the Museum’s Online Cenotaph database, and developing new ways of interpreting and interacting with collections and communities.

During the lead-up to and planning of the centenary commemorations, the Learning and Engagement (L&E) team sought new and truly innovative ways to present the collections and engage students with historical topics and content. They knew a digital learning strategy would play a key part of youth engagement, and when an unexpected insight came during a Volcanoes lesson, it set the team on a new trajectory.

A magic key for engagement

The eleven- to fourteen-year-old age group is a notoriously difficult target audience for museums to engage. No longer steeped in the wonder of middle childhood, they begin to challenge authority and often seek more independent and self-directed learning opportunities.

When visiting the Museum in 2013, a group of twelve-year-olds were handed various types of volcanic rocks, and for some the learning was as dry and dull as the rocks themselves. Pumice, scoria, and basalt were being examined with diminishing enthusiasm. But when the black volcanic glass obsidian appeared, everything changed. The word “Minecraft” ricocheted off the walls. Faces lit up. Interest heightened. The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Volcanoes lesson was never to be the same again—the Minecraft® connection had been made.

Figure 1: Obsidian volcanic glass

Figure 2: obsidian volcanic glass is a valuable resource in the Minecraft game (Image source:

Figure 2: Obsidian in Minecraft

Figure 3: obsidian in Minecraft game

Educators saw immediately that Minecraft®—a “sandbox” game for building worlds, structures, and objects block by block (conceptually something of a virtual Lego® system)—provided a connection with the Museum’s collections and could serve as a potential springboard for deeper engagement. The WWI centenary programme offered the perfect opportunity and content with which to investigate and develop the idea.

Game-based learning has been tracked by the L&E team over several years, and gamification elements incorporated in small ways where applicable. But Minecraft® offered a ready-made system that they could connect into and leverage. When the Museum’s programme Gallipoli in Minecraft® was initiated, it was the early days of the game’s use in the museums sector, and only few dedicated portals like MinecraftEDU and, more recently, Microsoft’s Minecraft® in Education existed (Microsoft has also recently announced it has acquired MinecraftEDU). With little precedence in the sector, and no in-house Minecraft® infrastructure or expertise at the Museum, the L&E team embarked on its own journey of discovery to develop a Minecraft® programme and learning resource at the Museum.

Minecraft® as an educational tool

Minecraft® is a worldwide phenomenon: an award-winning computer game played online, on devices, and on games consoles by children and adults. At the time of writing, over twenty-two million people had bought the PC/Mac version of the game. It has an active and engaged community which can create almost anything by using textured building blocks, “mining” resources, and “crafting” new materials. Users create virtual models, landscapes, and entire worlds that can be explored, shared, and played in.

For the Museum, digital learning in a gaming environment provides a way of meeting students in their world—finding what is familiar and interesting for them, and using this as an access point to engage them with collections and resources.

Minecraft® offers a virtual world and a multi-user creative space ideally suited to learning activities such as simulations, artistic performances, modelling, and role play, all of which confer the possible benefits of increased motivation, engagement, and collaboration (Senges & Alier, 2009; Dalgarno & Lee, 2010). While students work within a structure, Minecraft® gives them some freedom, self-direction, and responsibility for their own research and inquiry (Levin, 2012). Additionally, it offers a vehicle for social collaborative learning and collaborative problem solving; it is a tool that can even make kids forget they are learning.

2. The Gallipoli in Minecraft® outreach programme

Having established the Minecraft® connection, Museum staff sought to develop a concept with a specific theme and focus. It was to be a journey that explored the year 1915 and the events of the ANZAC Gallipoli campaign using the Museum’s collections for research and inquiry. The project was to recreate the Gallipoli peninsula as a world inside Minecraft®, as it was in 1915, complete with trenches, encampments, wharves, gun emplacements, and naval ships. Player avatars (“skins”) for both ANZAC and Turkish soldiers would be built in uniform with kit.

Figure: Landscape detail in the Gallipoli in Minecraft world

Figure 4: landscape detail in the Gallipoli in Minecraft world

It would be a resource created by young people for young people during an intensive outreach programme. The virtual world of Gallipoli would then be made available to schools for download as a teaching resource, along with a series of supporting Museum materials such as videos, digitised photographs and maps, and learning guides.

The completed virtual world could be used for exploration, creating, building, and sharing, and for reenactments using the avatars to simulate the 1915 campaign. Parts of the world could also be rebuilt to give new groups of students the chance to create their own unique versions of Gallipoli.

The outreach programme would focus on deepening students’ understanding of what it was like for New Zealand soldiers, the events they took part in, the scale of the operation, and the hardships of daily life during their eight months on the peninsula. The aim was to make the experiences of 1915 come alive for students through the translation from analogue to digital of collection items and personal stories.

The building programme

Given that the Museum had neither the Minecraft® building expertise nor the servers to host the software and virtual world, they needed a gaming and technical partner. At the start of the project, the Museum partnered with local tertiary provider Media Design School and its gaming specialists. This assistance was essential to get the project off the ground and achieve stage one: importing topographical information from raw GIS data to build the foundation landscape and create the texture packs and initial set of avatars. For stages two and three, the Museum approached several local schools to seek a student group interested in building the finer details of the environment. This is when the Alfriston College students got on to the tools.

Figure: Terraforming the terrain based on GIS data

Figure 5: terraforming the terrain based on GIS data

Located in South Auckland, Alfriston College is in a lower socioeconomic bracket and an audience the Museum wishes to engage with more and grow, with an active group of gamers and teachers who saw the benefit of Minecraft® as a learning tool. Alfriston had supportive teachers who understood from the outset the value of the project to their students and the wider education community—but it was the students who were the real experts in Minecraft®, and they collaborated with Museum staff to design, build, and develop the world.

It is important to note that, such was the passion for the project and Minecraft®, the thirty-two students were happy to work on the world mostly outside school hours. They worked across four building weekends during 2014 with a release and small display planned for Anzac Day 2015. Some students, particularly in History, were able to incorporate aspects of the project into their course work; but for most, this was a volunteer project.

Interpreting collections: From analogue to digital

The building weekends hosted at Auckland Museum and Alfriston College were programmed in, each with education sessions that looked at specific locations and events of the Gallipoli campaign. Students were provided hands-on experiences with collections to enhance the understanding of each event and paint detail into the life of a soldier at Gallipoli. They took part in reenactments of military strategy and examined hundred-year-old photographs, maps, letters, and diaries to learn about the living conditions, landscape, and objects they were to recreate.

The building workshops at the Museum were run in a pop-up “lab space” inside the Armoury, a public gallery, for other visitors to experience. They proved to be very popular for participants and visitors alike; wonderful moments of intergenerational learning happened when the kids collaborated in Minecraft’s multiplayer environment with input from the war veterans who work as volunteers in the Museum.

The project was also aided by the collaborative features inherent in Minecraft®. Students formed building teams, each responsible for constructing a set object or area. They worked interactively and leveraged off each other’s skills and insights through collaborative problem solving and independently managing their workflow. These teams used the knowledge they had gained from the workshops and planned, designed, cross-referenced, built, reviewed, and rebuilt to bring the world to life.

The world the students created was not expected to be 100 percent exact or photorealistic. It is an abstract representation of an historic landscape built in virtual blocks, within the possibilities and unique features of Minecraft®. The work is also based on an interpretation of a wide range of reference and historic source material, which doesn’t always marry up to a single source of truth or provide information for every area. Group members had to question what they saw, fill in the gaps, and make the best decisions possible based on the evidence in front of them. This ended up being one of the most valuable skills they learnt in the project.

Once the virtual world was released to schools, new students had the opportunity to rework and develop the landscape and buildings based on their own research into Gallipoli, which could very well differ from the interpretation made by the Alfriston team. The learning outcome focuses on how students actively research and engage with this important period of New Zealand’s history thanks to a powerful hands-on and interactive digital tool.

Here are a couple of representative comments made by students involved:

“I learnt so much about Gallipoli through this process. We learnt [that] the environments they were in were not what it seems when we think about Gallipoli. They had some tough things to endure there.” – Harry Lloyd, student, Alfriston College

“It was great to be able to work with other classmates to actually contribute something at the Museum like this. And incorporating history and technology is a great idea because it makes it more relevant to our generation.” – Kreesan Reddy, student, Alfriston College

3. An unexpected exhibition

The final stage of the Gallipoli in Minecraft® project at the Museum was initially planned as a small student display in the Armoury gallery as part of Anzac Day 2015 commemorations, before the virtual world and associated resources would be released for download and use by schools. But when an unexpected opening in the exhibitions programme came up in January 2015, the project dramatically expanded into a major ten-month exhibition.

One of the Museum’s original goals for the education project had been to provide a student mentoring programme; it was to be student driven and would provide authentic learning opportunities. The exhibition therefore could take this opportunity to another level. The student team members were not only the Minecraft® builders and experts, but they also became the source community, Minecraft® consultants, and a test audience for the exhibition.

Some specific input they had included: testing the Oculus Rift DK2 glasses and head mounts for the virtual reality (VR) experience; advising on and testing the hacked game controllers; advising on Minecraft® mods, their installation, and settings; reviewing the exhibition’s architectural three-dimensional designs; and reviewing and commenting on the colour schemes and exhibition graphics.

For Auckland Museum, which is in an active period of gallery renewal, the Gallipoli in Minecraft® programme and exhibition provided important insights into engaging and working with young people. The students involved have been a critical source community for an important centenary project, helping Museum staff to ensure that the exhibition, like the building of the virtual world, retained an authenticity capable of capturing its audience.


Figure 18: The final look & feel of the Gallipoli in Minecraft exhibition (link to interactive)

Figure 18: final look and feel of the Gallipoli in Minecraft exhibition (link to interactive)

From digital back to analogue: Merging Minecraft® with museum collections

The education component of the project relied on the interpretation of analogue material—objects, photographs, diaries, maps, and letters—in digital format. It was a reconstruction of the physical world in a pixelated virtual world. The exhibition, by contrast, meant showcasing a virtual world in a physical environment, juxtaposing it with the physical objects that had first inspired and informed it. Telling this combined story relied on multiple dimensions and levels of immersion in the exhibition design. This stage was led by the Museum’s Exhibitions team and developed with the help of the students and Jasmax, the architects involved in the 3D design of the exhibition.

The fluid to-and-fro translations included virtually recreating real collection objects in Minecraft® and then reuniting them with their equivalents in the galleries, and using the abstract virtual world to inform a landscape in the physical gallery space for a sense of immersion in the game. This physical recreation of the landscape in blocks, which dramatically increased the scale of a part of the virtual world, was a feature that the Museum’s Visitor Market Research (VMR) showed worked well for all audience groups.

Minecraft® provided the designers with a strong design aesthetic that was attractive to the target audience. The palette is immediately recognisable by its grass-covered blocks, and—as a game taken seriously by its dedicated fans—the exhibition design needed to stay as true as possible to the Minecraft® look and feel. This is where advice from the student team was invaluable. Microsoft’s New Zealand office was supportive and kept up to date with the project immediately after Minecraft® was acquired from Mojang in 2014.

Minecraft® was present in several forms: in built form (seating, steps, carpet, wall graphics, and hanging block clouds); in video fly-throughs over the virtual world of Gallipoli; on screens and consoles for visitors to explore themselves; and through Oculus Rift VR glasses, which provide an immersive 3D experience.

Tied into the Museum’s digital research and development programme, the Oculus Rift headsets provided an opportunity to test the VR glasses within a gallery environment. They also provided a novelty factor to grab the attention of youths, including seasoned Minecraft® players: in the exhibition, they could literally “step inside” the game, a very different experience to looking at it on a screen. The headsets were the most popular feature in the exhibition and created queues within the space. They were so popular, in fact, that other exhibition objects were often overlooked by visitors as they were too focused on keeping their place in the queue.

Collections objects that inspired the build—photographs, a jam-tin bomb, trench-digging tools—were presented in combination with their Minecraft® facsimiles. Enlarged virtual objects were printed onto the base of glass cabinets with the original object floating above them. The direct comparison between, for example, a physical spade and a digital spade reunited the source object with its virtual counterpart at the same scale, and was intended to demonstrate the translation process the students unlocked. However, VMR found that not everyone made the connection that the students had built the world using Museum objects and resources. A video explaining the project was not widely viewed inside the exhibition—partly on account of its location, but also because most people were simply distracted by other attractions. Nonetheless, the printed, pixelated version of the object was a pleasant surprise and much enjoyed by the younger visitors who noticed this feature. It also encouraged these visitors to look at the other objects.

Figure: Minecraft renditions of real collection objects that were used in the game and the exhibition

Figure 25: Minecraft renditions of real collection objects that were used in the game and the exhibition

In addition to the educational focus and Minecraft®-inspired elements, there were more muted spaces within the exhibition as appropriate for the theme of remembrance. This included a printed timeline, historic maps, and a haunting projection of Minecraft® soldier figures morphing into Minecraft® poppies as a counter noted the dates on which the 2,779 New Zealand casualties took place over the course of the eight-month campaign.

It was an exhibition about not just an important time in history, but also a learning process. Visitors who watched the “making-of” film (and understood the work done by the students) commented that it made the whole exhibition more relevant to young people, and that it showed them the educational value of Minecraft®. They were impressed that the Museum had listened to young people’s ideas and perspectives, and they saw it as an amazing learning opportunity for the students involved, with many parents wishing their children could have the chance to be part of something similar.

Intergenerational interaction and conversation

Catering to a diverse range of visitors, the exhibition experience needed to be meaningful and engaging across the generations. A delightful outcome by any standard for a museum exhibition space has been the occasional instance of intergenerational conversation in which the children could be experts, too.

Although not a widespread experience amongst visitor groups, there were cases where highly engaged parents/grandparents were genuinely and respectfully interested in the Minecraft® element; this led to children explaining the features of the game and world to them and in return being open to listening about Gallipoli. War veterans, for example, explained to children the peculiarities of dreadnought ships by referring to the large-scale Minecraft® renditions, and directed children to locations and landmarks on the wall maps, retelling family histories and referring back to photographs and objects.

Figure: The exhibition design and content were conducive to intergenerational learning

Figure 26: the exhibition design and content were conducive to intergenerational learning

This is an important step into the future for the Museum, as it is a recognition of the growing paradigm around empowering children and giving them opportunities to voice their own perspectives, knowledge, and experience. To encourage intergenerational conversation to take place more easily, it was suggested that the Museum could have provided caregivers with key information and question prompts about Minecraft®, and included more Gallipoli-related information within the Minecraft® world.

Virtual reality: Adding a sense of scale to the Gallipoli campaign

The Oculus Rift glasses were used mainly by school-aged students, and for most of the users they provided a first experience of VR, introducing a completely new, truly immersive way of experiencing Minecraft®. The headsets gave a sense of what it was like to be a soldier in Gallipoli and made the campaign seem more real. VMR showed the experience brought Gallipoli to life for kids much more so than the photographs or objects did.

Figure: the Oculus Rift VR terminals in action

Figure 27: the Oculus Rift VR terminals in action

Of the adults and children who already had a good grounding in the Gallipoli story, most were surprised at how much bigger the area was than they had previously thought, and by the amount of infrastructure (buildings, medical tents, beds, etc.) needed, all of which conveyed a real sense that the soldiers had lived there for months and not just fought there. This demonstrates some of the key strengths of using Minecraft® as a learning platform.

Anecdotally, the greatest insights provided by the VR experience happened for visitors who had significant prior knowledge of the Gallipoli campaign. School groups and older children (aged nine years or above) were generally well informed, as many schools had covered the topic during the centenary year, but this knowledge could not necessarily be relied upon in other years and with other themes.

The Museum team first anticipated the headsets would be a single-user experience, and mitigated this by adding slave screens so that onlookers could see what the Oculus Rift wearer was viewing. In reality, it was easier to use in pairs, as one visitor would wear the headset while their companion would use the controls to navigate them through the world, effectively creating a social, multi-user experience. It was sometimes difficult for the headset wearer to use the controls on their own, so the slave screen and a companion were often helpful to operate it, especially for those visitors who lacked previous experience with game controllers or virtual reality. Young visitors had a lot of fun interacting with each other: helping each other with the controls, exploring together, and playing in the world. The slave screens were also invaluable for keeping visitors entertained and engaged in the queue, and provided parents with a sense of security and a way to understand their child’s experience.

A number of computers with conventional two-dimensional, on-screen exploration were provided as a fall-back for younger visitors or those not comfortable with the VR headsets.

Particular care had to be taken to lock down the computers, as the game had to be played in Creative Mode, which by nature is designed for user input (i.e., mining, crafting, and building). While Minecraft® offers the functionality to view a world in Spectator Mode, this mode was not suitable, as it allows flying through walls and landscape features, which would result in a confusing visitor experience. This was also the reason to disable other game characters such as creatures, monsters, and other players. Keyboards and mice were replaced by competition-grade game controllers that were modded to be simpler and fit for purpose, accessing game-specific functions like teleportation. This important safety measure took away the ability to use custom commands and hacks so that Minecraft®-savvy visitors could not change or “grief” (vandalise or compromise) the world in the exhibition.

Visitors enjoyed the autonomy of exploring the world freely (i.e., with no pre-programmed route), but there were also complaints that there was no “goal” in exploring the world, leaving some visitors unsure of what to do there. It was suggested these visitors might have valued more prompts, signs, and information within the world, telling them where they were and what had happened at that location. Some also wanted a map of the world and original photos close by so they could compare the two. The world was originally built as a learning tool, not an interactive exhibit, so this would be resolved differently for future exhibitions. This could include using more “gamification” elements, such as building tasks or quests to drive engagement and providing more contextual in-game information through elements such as signs or embedded photos.

VMR found that using Minecraft® as a key feature within the exhibition influenced the perception of the Museum by the target audience. Particularly young visitors saw the Museum as more of “a place for me,” more modern, and less “boring.”

Research also found that the exhibition effectively acted as a gateway for many children and families who wouldn’t normally come to the Museum. These visitors came specifically for this exhibition and then went on to enjoy some of the other galleries, and those who wouldn’t normally be interested in war histories visited the war galleries after the Minecraft® exhibition.

The use of new technology created some spatial and technical issues within the exhibition. The main challenge was the headsets’ sheer popularity, with unexpected queues resulting in bottlenecks that sometimes obstructed visitors from exploring nearby parts of the exhibition. Also, the intensive use of the units led to stations regularly breaking down. Software and hardware requirements (including the use of a pre-release development kit of the Oculus Rift, the DK2) also presented their own set of technical challenges for the Museum during the development phase, particularly when locking down Minecraft® so users couldn’t hack the world. However, despite best efforts, savvy kids still managed to create “bottomless pits” that could kill players by sucking them into the void—not a good experience, especially as the Museum was keen to avoid any connotation of violence in the game.

The exhibitions galleries were permanently staffed, and Visitor Hosts had to be trained up to respond to these issues, restart the computers frequently, and answer game-specific questions by young visitors—many of them became Minecraft® experts in the process!

4. Evaluation

On-site visitation

Visitor Profile Surveys showed that in its first few months, 52 percent of Museum visitors in family groups (50 percent of all visitors) went to Gallipoli in Minecraft®—a strong opening period visitation result, the likes of which haven’t been achieved previously for this particular exhibition space.

The final conversion rate across the entire ten-month duration of the exhibition was 48 percent of visitors in family groups (39 percent of all visitors), which compares very favourably with recent exhibitions at the Auckland Museum.

Although the exhibition space had no door count, the exhibition has been a very popular destination particularly with school-aged children, the target audience, and found to be best suited for nine- to eleven-year-olds, especially if they had already studied Gallipoli history at school. Between April and December 2015, 4,495 students were booked into the Museum’s schools war programmes, and 2,813 were booked on self-guided tours that noted war as the topic. The Museum has no record of the number of these who went through the Gallipoli in Minecraft® exhibition, but estimates it was a high percentage. The exhibition certainly became a destination for young people, whether or not they were visiting the Museum to learn about World War I. It was the Minecraft® focus that drew them (“Look, Mum, it’s MINECRAFT!!!”), and as a consequence they began exploring the landscape of Gallipoli.

Anecdotally, staff have heard that children have been encouraging their parents to visit, and there have been many repeat visitors, for example school students bringing their parents back after a school trip, or just wanting to come back and explore again. This was verified in the VMR, as many research participants had already been to the exhibition at least once before, and in some cases multiple times.

In general, youth outside school groups were engaging more with the Minecraft® element as such and were not particularly focused on the Gallipoli aspect. For many in this group, the experience could have been anywhere as long as it was Minecraft®, especially younger children and students who had not learned about Gallipoli at school. Everyone loved the physical design of the exhibition, with lots of photos taken to look as though the kids were “in” Minecraft®.

Take-away postcards describing the project (and listing the URL to download the world and resources kit) were placed inside the exhibition. There was an initial print run of 12,000, followed soon after opening with a reprint of 30,000.

Online interaction

From the time the first pages went up on the Museum’s site through to January 25, 2016, when the exhibition closed, the website recorded the following online visitation:

  • 129,789 views (54,515 unique) across all pages related to Gallipoli in Minecraft®.
  • 23,635 views (9,383 unique) on the virtual world and resources download page, where the world can be freely downloaded for use. (Note: there is no counter for the number of completed downloads.) This means 17.2 percent of unique website visitors interested in Gallipoli in Minecraft® went on to visit the download page.
  • “Minecraft” was the most popular search term on the Museum’s website for the entire duration of the exhibition.

Visitors were encouraged to share their snaps and comments using the hashtag #AMMinecraft, but the overall number of tagged posts from Tweeters, Facebookers, and Instagrammers remained below expectations.

5. Our co-design approach

Directed by the overarching goals of Future Museum (the Museum’s twenty-year strategic plan), the project applied co-design and co-creation principles where possible (Burkett, 2009; Sanders & Stappers, 2008), aiming to be agile and using a rapid prototyping approach as the exhibition component needed to be developed and built in a record twelve weeks.

Collaborating with youth is a core value for the Museum and has been growing through the popular UrbanLife outreach programme and the establishment of the Museum’s Youth Advisory Group at the start of 2015. Working with members from the target audience for the Gallipoli L&E programme and exhibition created several benefits for both the Museum and the youth involved.

Youth involvement meant the Museum had Minecraft® subject experts working on the project who would test Museum assumptions during all stages of the learning and exhibition development, from concept to implementation. For such a large and diverse audience as Auckland youth, whose preferences and interests change quickly and constantly, it was the only way to develop a programme like this such that it wasn’t going to be out of date at launch.

The students demonstrated to themselves, their school, the Museum, and the public—confirmed by the public success of the project—the value, skill, and knowledge they can offer their community. They delivered to a high standard at every stage of the project and engaged in an authentic experience with tangible and long-lasting results. It was a project made by young people for young people, and at the same time ignited confidence in their abilities, sowing the seeds of potential for future study or career pathways.

To facilitate the co-design process, Auckland Museum ensured:

  • Project goals and purpose were kept to a minimum and communicated clearly so they could be understood by a diverse team of staff, students, and Museum volunteers.
  • Natural leaders were allowed to emerge from the student group who were passionate about the project and gave it real traction.
  • Adults didn’t try to do things better, or to “fix” students’ work via the type of editing that compromises their sense of ownership of the project. Instead, the Museum sought to facilitate rather than dictate. Respect for the students’ vision and voice prevented them from being patronised and kept the experience authentic for everyone.
  • Adults embraced the way students communicated and worked—the way they learn, the way they understand, the way they interact—whether through online chat and real conversations, or while multitasking. Within the boundaries of a few ground rules—such as turning off Mincraft’s built-in chat in a public space, and control of screen names (so that students couldn’t hide behind a pseudonym or use inappropriate language)—they were allowed freedom to engage and develop their ideas in the way they saw fit.

6. External recognition

In May 2015, the students from Alfriston College received Anzac Youth Awards from the Ministry of Youth Development. Awards are given to individuals or a group of young people whose activities have helped recognise the centenary of the Gallipoli landings. This national recognition of the students’ work created a great sense of pride and achievement for all involved.

Industry recognition was received when Jasmax (the exhibition designers) and Auckland Museum won a bronze award at the 2015 Best Design Awards, run by the Designers Institute of New Zealand, in the Spatial Design category.

The learning project and exhibition have also captured much media attention. The students’ work has been showcased on New Zealand’s TV1 and TV3 channels, as well as the popular children’s programme The 4:30 Show. Numerous articles have been written about the project, from gaming magazines to business magazines and as far afield as the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. Microsoft’s publicity referenced the programme when the Minecraft in Education portal was launched in 2015, and the project also appeared in the Turkish press.

7. Conclusion

As an early adopter and innovator within a museum education environment, Auckland Museum took calculated risks on Gallipoli in Minecraft® in order to discover exciting new ways to access and share collections with the current generation of school-aged children.

The Learning & Engagement team sees the co-design and co-development aspects of the project as an important way to authentically engage this audience while learning more about them, their interests and their motivations—a mutually beneficial two-way process. Working with youth to develop resources for youth has been part of the team’s approach for some years now, with Gallipoli in Minecraft® offering some major new insights into co-design and game-based learning. The Museum will continue to work collaboratively with school-aged children and youth to develop themes associated with the Museum’s collections and research, maintaining a strong digital dimension and always seeking to innovate.

The Gallipoli in Minecraft® outreach programme ran from early 2014 through to its opening in April 2015, with the exhibition closing on January 25, 2016. The virtual world and associated Museum digitised collections resources are available for download.

Related online resources


  • Alfriston College Minecraft team
    • Sahil Ahmed
    • Zaid Bayatie
    • Punit Bhatt
    • Elliot Bigus
    • Anaru Carr
    • Christian Crawley
    • Tyler Dance
    • Mason Demmery
    • Akhil Eldhouse
    • Timothy Hardy
    • Moses Ilyas
    • Mathew Isho
    • Ruta-Kau Korau-Rangi
    • Jordan Li
    • Patrick Manson
    • Wiremu Martin
    • Cameron McDermott
    • Carlos McNally
    • Harrison Osbourne
    • Stefan Puiu
    • Dylan Smith-Hughes
    • Daniel Tapu
    • Jacob Ward
    • Nathan Ward
    • Jordyn Wati Tua
    • Vaughan Webb
  • Harry Lloyd
  • Mark Sutherland @ Alfriston College
  • Mike Porter @ Media Design School
  • Stephen Johnson
  • Andrea Stevens @ Folio
  • Microsoft Education New Zealand
  • Jonathan Goss and Yirao Lee @ Jasmax
  • Auckland Museum Armoury staff and volunteers


Burkett, I. (2009). An Introduction to Co-design. Knode. Available:

Dalgarno, B., & M.J.W. Lee. (2010). “What are the Learning Affordances of 3-D Virtual Environments?” British Journal of Educational Technology 41.

Levin, J. (2012). Trending Topic: Structured vs. Unstructured Play. The Minecraft Teacher. Retrieved May 28, 2012. Available:

Minecraft®. (n.d.). Website homepage. Available:

MinecraftEdu. (n.d.). Website. Available:

New Zealand Ministry of Education. (2015). Anzac Day – Lest we forget. Updated April 8, 2015. Consulted January 25, 2016. Available:

Sanders, E., & P.J. Stappers. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. CoDesign (preprint). Available:

Senges, M., & M. Alier. (2009). “Virtual Worlds as Environment for Learning Communities.” In M.D. Lytras, R. Tennyson, & P. Ordóñez de Pablos (eds.). Knowledge Networks: The Social Software Perspective. IGI Global.

Sheldon, L. (2012). The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game. Hampshire: Cengage Learning.

Cite as:
Pokel, Nils, Wendy Burne, Janneen Love and Tanya Wilkinson. "From a learning kit to a major exhibition: Gallipoli in Minecraft®." MW2016: Museums and the Web 2016. Published January 29, 2016. Consulted .