|Part of the game’s weird charm are the clunky-looking graphics. But the game isn’t intended to dazzle you, but to provide a powerful learning environment.|
Царевич has developed a crazy affinity for the game Minecraft. If you don’t know what this is, you are over 12. And already dozens of parents, like this one in particular, are rolling their eyes knowing many kids who wandered into this game and its many incarnations and never really returned.
Царевич plays the XBox 360 version, and has already (with no outside help) used its components to design a fully formal integrated logic circuit that he demonstrated for us. He’s seven.
Anyway, the Czar admits he enjoys it, too. The game has two primary modes of play: Creative, in which you can build crazy landscapes and complex buildings Lego-style (except you have something like a trillion bricks) and then walk around in them and interact with your creations; the other is Survival mode. In Survival, you start out with basically nothing but your wits and bare hands in some alien landscape. You then need to dig around to find resources; from there, you can build items you need to survive or you can trade with mute villagers to obtain supplies. Your goal is to not die from starvation and exposure: for this, you need to find food, track and trap animals, plant and farm, and build shelter. You need to reinforce your shelter as well. Hostile forces are everywhere who will attack you and your farm animals. And if you find valuable things, you can keep them, use them, or trade them for tools that will make procurement easier.You can eventually build yourself palatial structures, design traps for the wandering monsters out there (get them before they get you), and establish a never-ending empire of trade with the locals.
What an amazing teaching tool the Czar sees in this. For all the goofiness parents see and dismiss about this game, the Czar says hold on a second.
The kids are learning to make something from nothing. They understand the value of buy versus build; that resources do not pop out of thin air, but need to be dug up and converted to raw materials. And then you need to assemble things in different ways to make them work for you.
You have to prioritize: do you buy a tool that allows you to dig faster, or do you obtain food to stave off growing hunger? Which particular item in your inventory is more valuable to you? You can trade it or use it. If you trade it, you can profit from it by getting yourself something nicer. And plan ahead—if you get frivolous and wing it, you wind up dying of hunger.
So kids learn about free market economy: you dig it up, you can use it. You can trade it, and if you make profits from it, you can use those to improve your quality of life. You can build complex machinery to automate your process, and transportation networks to distribute your materials as needed.
But beware: creepers, zombies, skeletons, and other monsters can sneak up and just kill ya. Creepers in particular can stroll up and destroy your shelter in a second…like local politicians. Worse, the Endermen (the federal government) can appear from nowhere and steal your goods with no explanation and you get nothing in return.
You need to prepare for them by planning ahead and diversifying your possessions. Who knows or cares what these monsters want: they just want, with no explanation, and you’re supposed to just give it to them. Or you can fight back; that’s what most players do.
And to what end? The game has optional objectives—you can of course embrace your inner Camus and keep playing it forever, improving and profiting. Or you can transport yourself to other levels for epic battles.
So while many parents scoff at the stupidity of this simple little game, think about what the kids are learning. These kids will enter a workplace understanding that stuff comes from somewhere, and that prioritization and planning makes efficient use of those raw materials. That you often need to pick between survival and comfort—and that both are needed. That ambition and foresight can spread your wealth and mitigate disaster. That profit is a good thing, but needs to be worked for: you can’t survive for long on handouts. And that there are random forces out there hostile to your achievement; you can fight, or run, or trap. Sometimes a little of all three, so think fast.
All in all, this is one of the best economic teaching tools ever. And very little kids around the world are mastering it. Imagine when they grow up how they will choose to solve their problems.
Perhaps we should buy the President a copy.