Central Standard
9:00 am
Wed July 10, 2013

What Does The Minecraft Video Game Tell Us About Society?

The work of many individuals in one server playing Minecraft.
Credit DancingChimp / Imgur

Perhaps you've seen kids - or some adults -  busily playing away on their computers or Xbox, moving through a virtual world of blocks, digging and building.

Maybe you've wondered: What exactly is that game?  

Minecraft is an open world or "sandbox" game. It starts with your player spawning into a generated world, typically near water. You might be near trees and rocks and soil, and from there you can explore this world. In Minecraft, there are no points, there is no set mission or quest; the only adversary you face: creatures that generate when the sun goes down, but disappear in the morning.

"I think one of the most genius elements of the games design is that the game plunks you down in a landscape initially and it really doesn't tell you what to do," says Sean Duncan, research scientist at the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at Indiana University

Players discover that they can harvest the blocks that make up the vast world around them and with those resources can craft other objects.  For example, harvested wood from a tree can be used to craft wooden tools, which enables you to more efficiently mine stone so that you can then craft stone tools. 

In Minecraft, your only limitation is your imagination and players have used this open platform to construct massive communities and intricate machines.

Minecraft was developed by a Swede, Markus "Notch" Persson, who programmed the game in his spare time.  Now, it's sold over 20 million copies across all platforms and spawned a culture of creativity and inspiration.  

For instance, the YouTube channel Yogscast has over 5 million subscribers and has over 2 billion video views.  They started broadcasting with other massive multiplayer games like, World of Warcraft, but it was Minecraft that catapulted them to internet fame.

Credit DancingChimp / Imgur

Bron Stuckey, a fellow at ASU Center for Games and Impact, has been working on using Minecraft in an education setting. Her work centers around providing Minecraft servers to children and adults all over the world where they can gather to build and share experiences together. The most compelling thing about these Minecraft servers is that the members who compose them, mostly children, end up making the rules and setting the standard of behavior for the community as a whole.

Sean Duncan, who's also studied Minecraft, documented a group of homeschoolers who used Minecraft in their education. In this context, Minecraft brought together other homeschool children from all over the world, sharing their imagination and creativity together.

But, just as in the real world, not all interactions in Minecraft are perfect. Stuckey comments that community standards can often be put to the test. She witnessed one student who came into the server and crafted dynamite, or TNT. He used that TNT to blow up his peer's structures. He was banned from the server for a period of time by the group, but Stuckey points out that the group eventually missed his presence - and when he returned to the server he worked hard to became one of the moderators.

Design of buildings is just as important on the inside as the outside.
Credit DancingChimp / Imgur

As Stuckey notes Minecraft engenders a spirit of generosity as players, even some as young as four, share videos and tutorials on crafting puzzles they've unlocked or challenges they've overcome.  One of the most profound things she says she's witnessed is Minecraft as a place where children can become the mentors to adults, teaching them skills and aiding them through the autonomous world that the children have created for themselves.  In a world with limitless possibilities, and lacking the social structure of our mundane lives, people can give life to beautiful, unique and humbling creations, they just need to be given the chance and that freedom.

Additional Minecraft resources:
 - A school group led by Marianne Malmstrom designed a game with Minecraft that requires cooperation to archive larger goals
 - See more of people's creativity in photos from just one Minecraft server
 - Brett, a 10 year-old of Kansas City, Mo., shared with us he YouTube channel where he posts YouTube videos from some of his builds on Minecraft

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