The City of Launceston has expanded its engagement to a whole new audience thanks to the universally popular video game Minecraft. By developing downloadable Minecraft maps of Launceston, Council has been able to engage with a community group traditionally difficult to interact with and gain insights from – children.

The idea to develop downloadable Minecraft maps of the Northern Tasmanian city was born in 2020 when a staff member created a Minecraft world, based on the Council’s 2016 3D model of the city, as a passion project.

City of Launceston Smart Cities Project Officer Cameron Smith said the project debuted quietly at a 2020 student careers fair.

“Unfortunately at the time it didn’t get a great deal of attention as our stall also had a remote control lawnmower, which the children found much more interesting,” Mr Smith said. 

“The original 2020 version covered the whole city and didn’t have the colours and textures that we’ve been able to add to our current Minecraft Worlds, which meant it was harder to recognise landmarks and easier to get lost.” 

The Council typically uses 3D modelling as part of its work in many areas including assessing planning applications across the city and emergency management, and having undertaken new 3D mapping of Launceston in 2022, it made sense to update its Minecraft maps. 

Mr Smith said the Council had utilised new technology in its 2022 survey, which meant it was a relatively simple process to create new Minecraft maps using the data captured.

“We were able to build the tool cost effectively using the 2022 3D City Model as a starting point, along with a sophisticated data translation tool called FME Desktop, which is used to convert data into different formats,” he said.

“From there, specifics were added within the game to make it as accurate and recognisable as possible. The Council was also able to leverage off a partnership with Esk Spatial to help develop the Minecraft Worlds.”

Esk Spatial is a leading geospatial company based in Tasmania with expertise in mapping and data.

“As a result we created three new Minecraft maps, which feature iconic Launceston locations Riverbend Park, City Park and the Cataract Gorge First Basin,” Mr Smith said.

“The biggest difference with the new maps is that they represent the actual colours of features we see in Launceston.

“So for example, the big yellow Sky Walk in Riverbend Park is a big yellow Sky Walk in the newest Minecraft map, the green grass in City Park is green in the Minecraft map, and the stone barbecue shelters at the First Basin are stone-coloured in the game.

The Council tested the maps out with approximately 800 Grade 3 to 6 students using four PCs and three iPads during National Science Week in August 2023.

Students were encouraged to identify their favourite parts of parks and showcase their ideas by building them in the game.

“The students built interesting things, mostly buildings or mines, however some put in quite a bit of thought into it – for example, one Grade 4 student from Invermay Primary School built a new toilet and shower facility at Riverbend Park to support people who are homeless,” Mr Smith said.

“Another pair of students extended the flood levee around Riverbend Park as they had heard that there was a chance that it would flood. 

“Another trend started where children would add new animals to City Park that they would like to see, in addition to the monkeys we already have.

“Council staff also took the opportunity to use the game as a conversation starter, asking questions about what the children would like to see in playgrounds that are being renovated – feedback that may influence what we do during our upcoming City Park and Punchbowl Reserve playground renovations.”

Mr Smith said the ability to so effectively engage with young people was a new and invaluable experience and outcome resulting from a Council project or initiative. 

“Children are, for obvious reasons, a group the Council would traditionally struggle to engage with; children are unlikely to complete one of our surveys, write to the Council or attend one of our regular engagement workshops – but they are likely to play a game such as Minecraft where they can build something new and show us what they like and what’s important to them,” he said.

“They respond very well to games and visualisation tools that allow them to consider their world from a new perspective.

We know a number of schools across Tasmania have now downloaded these maps and used them in the classroom, including St Thomas More’s Catholic School which has identified Minecraft education as an effective teaching tool, building creative problem-solving skills and systems thinking.

“These maps are a good example of how Launceston’s data can be visualised in different and exciting ways.”

As a result of media exposure around the student engagement, the City of Launceston has since had members of the local, national and international Minecraft community reach out to share their builds. 

“A great example of this is local resident James Winter, who has a keen interest in architecture and local history,” Mr Smith said.

“He’s been playing Minecraft since 2012, and building local iconic buildings with a great level of detail since 2021, utilising the Council’s publicly available 3D model to help him with building dimensions not accessible from Google Street view.

“We’re very impressed with James’ efforts and are looking forward to collaborating further with him going forward.”

In addition to its educational uses, City of Launceston Mayor Matthew Garwood said the Council’s Minecraft maps were proving to be a popular engagement tool attracting the interest of residents of all ages.

“We used our Minecraft maps as part of our recent community engagement pop-up stall in City Park and got a lot of great feedback from kids through to seniors,” Mayor Garwood said.

“We absolutely plan to use these at our future pop-ups and school visits, and we’re also seeking to capitalise on the engagement through the availability of our Minecraft worlds for anyone to download via the Council’s website.

“We’re also hoping to incentivise competition by inviting people to share their builds.”

The City of Launceston is so far unaware of other Australian Councils using Minecraft maps in a similar way.

“But we’d be very keen to hear from any Councils or other government organisations who are doing so or are interested in doing so, so we could explore opportunities to collaborate or offer assistance as this has definitely become a passion project for our Council and community,” Mayor Garwood said.

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