+++ this post has been refreshed from a 2012 version, enjoy your summer +++
"Imagine if we could generate this kind of energy and enthusiasm for a work project!" I said to one of the parents of the 5th grade graduates who had descended, my invitation, on my house for an afternoon of Minecrafting.
Parenting disclaimer: yes, I know kids spend too much time at-screen and not enough time at-real-time activity, preferably outdoors. Yes, I hear you saying that computer games can rot the mind. Yes, I know it seems obsessive how hard these kids play/work at this "game." Yes, I hear your concerns.
When my son began Minecrafting during Christmas break I had some idea of what I was getting him into. I had no idea the breadth and focus he would bring to his work/play, or the impact it would have on him and his friends. The rest of the story is rather stunning. And I am not the only parent of a Block Builders Group member who has been amazed and supportive of this–let's call it–"healthy obsession."
To listen in on a Minecrafting work session is to hear cooperation, leadership, asking for help, tutoring, battle to the death, in-world games like capture the flag, and for the most part, during the entire 4 hour party yesterday, unwavering focus on working together. Working under the game rules and spoken rules of their team, within this virtual world to build massive structures and manage resources. I am reminded of a few of the best collaborative programming and design teams I have been on. These videos are really like mini-design conferences. How many times I have been pushed to work in this fashion to complete a deadline, working right across day and night until the project/website launch was complete.
Maybe these kids will go on to be programmers, game designers, explorers, who knows. But I honestly believe they are learning some of valuable skills in preparation for the real world. Here's how I think this Minecraft play is great training for work.
- Project management and leadership by consensus.
- Task and resource sharing.
- Collaborative architectural design and build.
- Time-at-task learning.
- Training and assistance for new members of the group.
- Shared and individual goals.
Minecraft is like a giant Lego(tm) world where you not only have to design and manage your constructions, you also have to make the bricks. (In survival mode.)
There is a dark side to Minecraft as well. And my son and his crew are testing and playing in those waters as well. An activity known as griefing is one of the more brutal parts of Minecraft. As in the real world, there are factions of people who are only interested in destroying other's creations and wreaking havoc within the Minecraft world. Some of these guilds are actually looked up to, in the way they do their mischief and the quality of the videos they create of their exploits. And my son is not immune to the joy of absolute power. Installing a hack mod (hacking code build to modify the rules of the game in some creative or destructive way) can give your character the ability to see through all the walls and easily grab or loot the resources of others. Another MOD can allow your character to fly even when the game mode prohibits flying.
And as my son's team has now established their own online world, they are having to police and deal with the hackers who come to grief their creations. Yesterday, for example, an invited virtual-guest began destroying things. Immediately my son's team, the OPS (or operators) put the offending player in JAIL and MUTED his ability to spew his complaints in the chat window of the game. Another player showed up shortly thereafter and began to ask for the release of his "friend." It was an interesting moment. This "friend" began to tell a tale, "Let me share a story…" he began, in the chat window. Meanwhile he was lobbying to get his "jailed" friend released.
Of course he had no way of knowing that the entire OP team was sitting in my living room at the time as he tried to divide their loyalties. He poked jabs at each of the OPS in sequence until one of my son's friends said, "I know all of the OPS in person, and they are nice people."
Here the real task of managing griefers, hackers, and theives comes down to my son's team to deal with. And when they go out on their less-frequent griefing raids they have a new understanding of what a pain in the ass griefers can be. And they even have to deal with eloquent petitioners who are arguing for the release of their clients.
Today my son's server allows up to 16 players at once. They seed the Minecraft worlds they visit with offers of a new world and watch as the unknown players arrive. Everyone is evaluated on their activity and chat. If someone is nice and cooperative they can move up the ranks and perhaps get OP powers. If they are griefers the will be dealt with accordingly. And now the task for my son and team to figure out, is how to make money to pay the $20 per month fee of their server. And if they want more concurrent players, well… Their work is cut out for them. And the creative ideas for funding have begun.
Who knows, maybe in a year I will be working for my son's group to manage and monetize their 20,000 player world.
To see a Minecraft party in action: Minecraft Madness (video)
TED Talk: "Make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online gaming."
Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.