Earlier this year, I set up a Minecraft server for my daughter and her friends, and it’s been an interesting experience. Managing a bunch of 8 year olds on Minecraft is not easy. For it to be an effective educational tool, it is better to use it in a classroom setting. I struggled trying to manage them remotely. A lot of conflicts happen on it because the world of Minecraft has no government. It starts out with complete anarchy. So, kids miscommunicate, misunderstand, and misbehave. They break things other kids built. Alter things without asking the original creators first. Go around dumping lava everywhere ruining the environment. They lie about what they did because nobody else was around when they did what they did. Fight over who owns what. Etc.. But this is where the big potential lies.
I couldn’t do this because I was managing them remotely but if I were a teacher in a classroom setting, I would at first let the kids do whatever they want in the same shared environment, say, for a few days. Eventually there will be many conflicts. At that point, I would stop the server, and gather the kids and discuss how we should govern our virtual society so that everyone could enjoy playing it. Inevitably certain rules would need to be written down and enforced, and I would try to see if the kids could come up with their own rules and laws. If so, they would immediately learn if the rules/laws are effective or enforceable or not. If not, they would need to be revised. And so on... Through this exercise, they could learn how government works. Why it’s important. And, they could also learn self-governing skills. It’s not only about conflict resolution either. They would need to define how property ownership works too in order to prevent conflicts.
This is easy to do in a virtual environment because nobody would actually get hurt even if a war breaks out, and the teacher could control the environment more easily. Because of the constraints of the virtual world, the parameters/aspects that need governing are limited and therefore manageable.
Most kids resent rules and laws because they do not understand why they are necessary, and that in turn is because they’ve never experienced lawlessness in a society. Grownups would always prevent things from getting out of control, so they never get to experience what happens. With a virtual world, we can afford to let them see what happens, and we can afford to let them work it out. I see a lot of potential in Minecraft for this.