By Tanner Higgin, Common Sense Education

The success and popularity of Minecraft in and out of classrooms is no surprise. It’s one of the best examples of the potential of learning with games because it embraces exploration, discovery, creation, collaboration, and problem-solving while allowing teachers to shepherd play toward any subject area.

But Minecraft is not the only game of this kind. Take a look at some of these.

1. Garry’s Mod 

garryscreenshotGarry’s Mod (GMod) is a sandbox game like Minecraft but instead of building and exploring, students use a fun physics engine that simulates things like gravity and mass. They also use a virtual toy box of assets from Valve Software’s popular games. The tool is a step up in complexity from the elegant simplicity of Minecraft, but with Garry’s Mod, students are exposed to physics concepts while having madcap fun.

2. Kerbal Space Program

kerbal_screenshotKerbal Space Program has a robust physics engine too, but it’s more focused than Garry’s Mod. Players purchase rocket parts, put them together, and then see if they can get a ship into orbit, to one of two moons, or even to another planet. These aren’t easy tasks, so play is focused on trial and error testing, and, like Minecraft, seeking help from the community is part of a successful strategy.

3. Sound Shapes 

soundshapes_screenshotSound Shapes is a visually stunning platform puzzle game set to a rich musical soundscape. Even better: students can create and share their own levels – like interactive sheet music — using sounds and objects unlocked by playing the platform game. It’s an accessible entry point into musical composition as well as game design, and provides an experience that builds on the creativity of Minecraft while offering something wholly unique for music lovers.

4. DIY

DIYFor creative kids who want to get their hands dirty, check out DIY, a site where students can find things to build, instructions for how to build them, and ways to share their creations with others. All projects are aligned to 50 skills that run the gamut from outdoors to indoors, and feature various challenges to complete and cool badges to earn and display.


screen568x568Computer programming is a great next step for students who love to mod Minecraft or toy around with the redstone resource (which simulates basic logic and circuitry). One solid entry-level tool is Stencyl, a game creation program focused on codeless, cross-platform game making. By snapping blocks of code together, students can create games that can be published and played on a variety of platforms including mobile phones.


Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 3.31.05 PMCodecademy is a web-based, self-paced site that teaches actual industry-standard languages like PHP, Javascript, Python, Ruby, HTML, and CSS. While students don’t create publishable games like they would in Stencyl, their learning is purpose-driven and contextualized, e.g. JavaScript for web development or Ruby for app development. And students do get to see their code’s output directly onscreen.

Minecraft has introduced a lot of youth to games as well as the critical thinking, problem solving, and creation skills necessary for self-motivated learning. The games and sites on this list have the potential to extend that learning, providing fresh outlets for self-expression in the digital world and beyond.

Tanner Higgin is director, education editorial strategy at Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best edtech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology thoughtfully, critically, and creatively. Go to Common Sense Education for free resources, including full reviews of digital tools.

Beyond Minecraft: Games That Inspire Building and Exploration 2 August,2017MindShift

  • davekasper

    Little Big Planet is another fantastic example. With a great physics engine and create mode, the possibilities for learning and creativity are endless. Make a movie. Make a level. Make friends. Collaborate on projects. Compose music. Build robots and vehicles. Create scenic environments and oh yeah. Over 6 million levels!!! You can’t help but learn, and the graphics are gorgeous!!!

  • Lisa Smith

    Hello, my name is Lisa Smith and I am a student at The University of South Alabama majoring in Elementary Education. I am currently taking a technology course called EDM 310 and my professor assigned me to read your blog this week.
    From viewing your site I have learned that Minecraft has introduced a lot of youth to games as well as the critical thinking, problem solving, and creation skills necessary for self-motivated learning. I intent to reference your site at much as possible as a tool to further my education experience.

  • I really enjoyed Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 as a kid. I spent a lot of time building my own courses. There’s a special feeling you can only get from creating something on your own.

  • Johnsmith

    Really interesting blog i really enjoyed while reading.

    Dress up games

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  • ElenaBuran

    I recorded an interview with Cyril, who likes to play and learn the game. Please see!

    In Garry’s mod there is a device called “chips.” Need to know what they are doing to use them. It’s hard. They allow you to change the properties of the game environment, objects in the game ..
    A: We can put in the game laws of physics, algebra, or whatever, and you will learn them by playing? ..
    C: Yes, you can do it, probably need to deal with it …
    A: Do you mean to say that no one teaches you in the game, if there is such a character as Aura, which will be good fairy-assistant, explaining, telling and helping to find the right solution to support at best, it will be very useful?

  • Evan

    It makes me sick to think that people are now calling software like Stencyl “programming”. This does not help help kids learn how to actually program, it merely just teaches how to arrange different things to create a simple game.

    • AdamTolley

      Syntax isn’t hard, neither is typing. Problem solving is hard, and the core of programming that results in anything new or valuable. Visual programming languages still require functional decomposition, and and require an understanding of flow control, logic, and state in order to do anything meaningful.

      Look up Turing machines,
      and Turing Completeness,

      Languages/evironments like scratch or stencyl far exceed formal requirements for a turing-complete programming language, in that they can model and implement a turing machine.

      Learning to “actually” program as you put it would be simply reapplying those skills and intuition in learning a more mainstream language, or 20, I learn new programming languages all the time, but I seldom get the opportunity to relearn programming.

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    Hey You forgot Terraria thats an important one seriously

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  • richwhite

    Patterns by Linden Labs –

  • You should check out – it’s a great site that has all kinds of user-created games and a huge community of players. I think you’ll be surprised by the number and quality of the games created there.

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  • Owen

    Tanner, this article gave an interesting view about computer games. I recently began playing around with the Kerbal Space Program and found it had great applications in both engineering and physics. Games such as these bring a real world, yet fun, example of applied knowledge into the classroom. As a highschool student, I would pay more attention if we used Kerbal Space Program to learn about Aerospace engineering vs. a simple lecture. The competitive nature of games further motivates students to learn in order to be better at the game. I feel games like these will begin to make their way into the classroom, and create educational pastimes for kids.We’ll have to see if these games inspire kids and teachers to go beyond traditional learning.

  • Luxa

    Nice list of games, however Minecraft Free Games is my favorite place for playing small minecraft games filled with fun!

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