Post-millennial hackers build hospitals of the future in Minecraft

From the long line stretching down the hall at the Kids-Only Minecraft Hackathon, a 7-year-old could be heard shouting, “Would it be helpful if I gave access to others on my server?”

Parents perked up with curiosity. Many of the kids, waiting to sign in to create the hospital of the future, looked even more excited. With a ton of enthusiasm and some impressive design skills, the kids got to work on their laptops and tablets re-designing the hospitals of our future, one digital brick at a time. The first-ever Kids-Only Minecraft Hackathon was well underway.

The challenge: A more fun, kid-friendly hospital

The event, produced by Hacking Pediatrics in collaboration with HUBWeek, the Museum of Science, Boston Children’s Hospital and Microsoft, uncovered a new population of health care innovators: children aged 5 to 18 from around the Boston area, including some of our patients at Boston Children’s Hospital. They came together at the Museum of Science October 1 for a day of building and innovating.

Kids-Only Minecraft Hackathon

Participants were given complete autonomy to build their hospital of the future, save for one rule: the hospital had to promote fun, health, and happiness. The Minecraft Hackathon provided our patient innovators with the platform and the tools to communicate their vision for the future of health care.

Finding the tools to build the hospital of the future

Minecraft hospital of the future

Hacking Pediatrics has hosted three hackathons to date. Those hackathons have all catered to professional audiences. For young innovators, the challenge was to bridge the age gap and find a tool that would enable children of any age to build out their creative ideas. That tool was Minecraft, the beloved block-building computer game.

“It’s a really good building and design tool,” one kid told 14-year-old aspiring filmmaker Duncan Bonnell, who captured the event on video (see above). “I’ve done a lot on Minecraft and I thought this is one of the coolest things I’ve done on it.”

Kids-Only Minecraft HackathonProviding our patient innovators with the platform and tools to innovate is critical. While patients may not work alongside clinicians in the lab, they’ve experienced being in a hospital and are fiercely passionate about creating and presenting their innovations — provided the channels are in place to create and present them.

We connected with a local group of gamers who created different gaming “mods” that offered additional materials in the Minecraft world, created specifically for the Kids-Only Minecraft Hackathon. Many of the kids played on the Minecraft Pocket Edition during the event.

Inspiring builds

While the innovators had different levels of Minecraft expertise, they came to the Hackathon with a positive attitude and a strong desire to work together. Nearly every participant could be seen providing or receiving advice and guidance about how to build the best hospital of the future.

Kids-Only Minecraft Hackathon

Their imagination and builds were inspiring, bringing ideas that could shape the future of care. One Hackathon participant built a roller coaster transport system in their hospital. Another built a rocket ambulance to improve transportation. Others built homelike environments and areas for playing. The kids were excited to walk through their builds with the Hacking Pediatrics volunteers and staff, explaining the purpose of each room, machine and wing of their hospitals.

However, our Minecraft Hackathon didn’t end upon the completion of the Minecraft build. Some of the end designs will be incorporated into a 3D printed model of the hospital of the future and displayed in Boston.

Greg Weintraub works for Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA) and volunteered at the event.