The College of Coastal Georgia now has a new, unique honor that has little to do with traditional academics, but everything to do with technology and team-based learning.
Two students at the college recently earned the top spot in the International Minecraft Hunger Games competition.
Students Mitchell Hodzen and Eli Golden won the regional, national and now international competition held in late November. It not only marked the first time the college has snagged the award, but also the first time the school had ever entered, said Debbie Holmes, dean of libraries with the college, who assisted students in organizing the gaming event.
"Our students came to me to be a part of International Gaming Day and I said, 'Sure.' They really took responsibility of the event and got all the details ironed out," Holmes said.
"I'm so proud of what they were able to accomplish. We'd never done this before. But for the first time, I'd say our students really did a great job. I mean, they won worldwide, which says a lot about their commitment."
Minecraft Hunger Games, also referred to as Minecraft Survival Games, is a mash-up of the virtual open world Minecraft and The Hunger Games series. In the tournament, nearly 100 library groups participated, including 71 from North America, 11 from Europe, and 14 from Australia, each selecting multiple groups of two-member team players.
To participate, each library registered as a "district" with its own specialty, ranging from creative skills to survival techniques, Holmes said.
Overall, 96 libraries from around the globe took part in the eighth annual International Games Day, which is sponsored by the American Library Association.
The local edition of the competition came together with the help of Holmes and the Mariner Video Game Club, with students Malika Mosely, Brian Walsh and Chris Smith leading the charge.
"When our students get together for events like this, you see them really get into it and get to know each other better," Holmes said.
"This was a unique event that really lit up the students who participated. It was funny, too, because we had to have a team name and the students said they wanted to be the Pirates, but used the Pi sign as the 'p.' They really got creative with the whole thing."
Though the students on the winning two-person team had never met prior to the strategy-based gaming event, they pulled together like pros, Holmes said, beating out all their international opponents and claiming the title of International Games Day Minecraft Hunger Games World Champions.
Golden and Hozden won each round of play during the hours-long tournament, topping teams from Germany and Australia in the international final.
"Virtual games like this really bring groups of people together to test their own skills. The students, not just the winners but all who participated, really got a reward out of this," Holmes said. "It was a great time of bonding on our campus."
While the honor of winning the worldwide gaming champs title certainly comes with its own reward, witnessing the creative, strategic and energetic enthusiasm displayed by students was a trophy in itself, Holmes said.
"When we realized we won, it was a moment of glory," Holmes said. "I was so proud of these students for coming together and working as a team to make this a reality."
Holmes, too, noted that she learned a few strategies about the gaming world while watching her students play. Though she is 64 years old, Holmes was no stranger to gaming, having played Minecraft a few times herself.
But seeing alternative strategies play out on the big screen taught her a few new skills for the next time she delves into the gaming world.
The days of practice and tournament play helped her come to grips with the idea that the game itself is not the overall point.
Gaming teaches students how to work as teams, how to step into a more creative mindset and how to build on strategies for advanced problem solving techniques, Holmes said.
"Minecraft sounds like it is just a video game, but really, it's an outlet to develop a range of skills. During the event, one student has to be a moderator, and that helps with public speaking development," Holmes said.
"And students also have to team build, be creative to find survival solutions and really think outside the box to understand ethics, language, history and mathematics. Our students are learning all these things and maybe not even realizing how much they are sharpening their own skills. I have to say, I learned a lot, too. So it was win-win, and a real win, for the whole college."
While the grand glory bestowed upon the college from the gaming world certainly was a moment worth celebrating, it likely won't be the last time the honor is earned. The server used by the college to take part in the gaming challenge was on loan from the Ann Arbor, Mich., library district, which took part in the gaming challenge, but the college will be investing in its own server soon.
That means the gaming tournament and practice sessions can continue, Holmes said.
"In the coming months, we'll be adding our own server to help us practice more and more for the next International Gaming Day. I was so impressed at how well our students, our winners and the gaming club overall, did with this tournament," Holmes said. "They truly stepped up and took ownership. It was such an enjoyable experience and I look forward to participating in similar events in the future."
Spotlight on Schools appears Wednesdays. Contact Anna Hall at email@example.com at 265-8320, ext. 322 to suggest a topic for a column.