As part of our homeschooling curriculum, our kids spend an enormous amount of time designing complex circuits and structures using a state-of-the-art computer program. They also spend a lot of time communicating with others and finding online resources that can help them when they need to solve a problem.
Doesn’t that sound better than “our kids play Minecraft a lot?”
Minecraft is the best-selling computer game of all time, and since its launch way back in May of 2009, it has been fascinating to see how “Minecraft culture” has evolved. It has unleashed a host of YouTube entrepreneurs who review mods and make tutorial videos explaining their creations. Companies make online courses that teach people how to write Minecraft mods using Java. Minecraft is so open and so easy to customize that it isn’t a stretch to say the only limit is the player’s imagination. We’re still working on building out our kids’ channels, Elevator Zombie and Cupcakes and Meat Patties. One of the lessons they’re going to learn, I think, is that this is an open market with no barriers to entry and, therefore, not a market in which they will be able to earn economic profits. But we’ll get to that hard lesson eventually.
Like all parents we’re working to help our kids navigate the online space and avoid getting too attached to gaming at the expense of other things, but it doesn’t really bother us that much that they play games like Minecraft and Roblox at every opportunity. It has been fun to watch them develop design and problem-solving skills, but—perhaps surprisingly—it has been an excellent opportunity for them to develop their social skills.
Minecraft servers and Roblox games have different, constantly-evolving norms and a robust marketplace for rules. The kids get to learn how to endure various slights and griefs, to be sure, but they also learn how to cooperate with strangers by playing team games on Minecraft servers or by trying to earn more in-game currency by helping someone harvest wood in Roblox Lumber Tycoon 2.
They also teach great lessons about entrepreneurship. If you don’t like a game, you can design your own. If you want to cater to a specific community or subgroup, it’s easy. There are, for example, Minecraft servers created specifically for children on the autism spectrum who might want to play the game with others but without running the risk of being raided or killed or otherwise abused.
I’ve been especially surprised at just how big Minecraft has become online and beyond. One of the best things about Minecraft is that it is practically infinitely customizable, and the internet is filled with mods one can download, install, and enjoy. Once again, norms are evolving to govern the use (and sometimes abuse) of mods and modders, and reputation-based mechanisms help people know which sites they can trust and which sites they can’t when it comes to mod downloads.
There are people—DanTDM and Stampy Longnose, for example—who make very comfortable livings running YouTube channels consisting almost solely of videos of them playing Minecraft, Roblox, or some other game. They are legitimate celebrities. A year or so ago, a company started making a line of “Tube Heroes” toys based on famous YouTube Minecraft players, and you can see videos of Minecraft and other gaming conventions at which thousands of people are there to see DanTDM play and at which people line up for his autograph. There are also people who earn their living making games and items for Roblox, which has an in-game currency called “Robux” that can be purchased with real dollars and then spent on game passes, special items and upgrades, and so on.
Games like Minecraft and Roblox give virtually unlimited play to the imagination, and they provide decentralized platforms on which people can build, divide, or conquer—or simply find a community of gamers with similar interests. The internet brings out the worst in us, but games like Minecraft and Roblox show how it can also bring out our best.
With the Spring semester over and the summer finally upon us, I’ll be looking forward to checking out “Liberty Minecraft,” a new project created and maintained by a Learn Liberty viewer named Nathan, which uses a highly customized Minecraft server that reshapes the game’s interactive multiplayer world into an immersive tool for teaching players about private property and free enterprise.
Imagine that… playing Minecraft in order to Learn Liberty.