Studies have already begun to come out about how video games can benefit mental and intellectual development. StarCraft recently became a shining example when researchers at Queen Mary and University College London released a study on how it helps increase neuroplasticity. While a study has yet to be done on the following concept, I propose Minecraft is helping improve development in children in an even more powerful way. (I hope you researchers are paying attention!)
“Big Fish” Theory - We Can Only Grow As Much as Our Environment Allows
As the Tim Burton movie Big Fish so effectively discusses, a fish’s growth depends on the size of its environment. If you put equally young goldfish in two different sized bowls, chances are the one in the larger bowl will grow larger. This effect is manifested in many ways in nature. We, as organisms, adapt to our environments. We contract when are restrained and expand when are liberated (also a possible explanation for America’s obesity).
Big Fish = Big Brains
There are many studies on how play is essential for early development (here’s one). It doesn’t take much to draw a parallel between “Big Fish” theory and play. If the mind has room to grow, it will. If the mind feels constrained, it will limit itself to comply with surroundings. As children, we form our view of the world in this way. Play helps children feel empowered to explore and manipulate their environments. Without play, the mind develops a sense of helplessness and limitation.
Minecraft is a Really Big Bowl!
Minecraft is to the brain what an open olympic gymnasium is to the body. Minecraft’s open non-linear play combined with basic in-game objects which simulate binary logic, robotics, engineering, architecture, aesthetics, and even resource management gives children a near unlimited range of mental play and exercise. Beyond that, the game rewards collaboration and teamwork with friends. This “big bowl” is allowing children to develop skills and confidence around creativity, project planning, organization, and innovation earlier and more powerfully than ever.
My Own Little Mind Mutants
(photo: My son’s “village.” In the middle is a monument they build to me for Father’s Day. It is holding the American flag.)
I have had the privilege of watching my own two boys learn and grow in the world of Minecraft. When they first got into the game, they acted like worms.. literally. They just started digging and building random tunnels and rooms, nothing made any sense or had any order. Now they are designing entire cities with working subway systems, electrical grids, and automated doorways. I can hear them planning together when they build a new city, “I think all the food should go in a restaurant, we can charge ten iron for a cake!”
I Know It’s True Because It Has Happened Before
Think about all the creative, innovative, and problem solving savants you know. Now try and name me one who doesn’t like Legos. Even our own generation has had the benefit of an expanded “mental playground” with creative toys which allowed us to feel creatively empowered much more than our parent’s generation. This is part of the reason we hate structure and “that’s just the way it is” culture. When people say Minecraft is “Legos on computer” they are right on, times a hundred.
The World of MInecraft’s Future
When this generation of children grow up to their 30s there will be little to no tolerance for helplessness or complicity. They will refuse to live in a world which is not highly moldable, dynamic, and adaptable. Let’s not forget that Minecraft is not the end either, there will be further evolutions of the play we provide our children. At some point, our children will enter adulthood with the blueprints for the future already drawn out with crayon. Thanks for leading the future, Notch!