A recent piece in The New York Times Magazine explores the world of Minecraft and how children interact with the game.

Minecraft is a game which allows players to build complex creations in a virtual world, either on their own or in shared spaces with other players. The gameplay combines a number of different elements: creative building with the game’s blocks, logic to make things run, and strategy and problem-solving skills to interact with other players. All of this is in addition to the tinkering needed to learn to play the game in the first place—players are meant to learn the rules of the game through trial and error.

As the New York Times Magazine piece explores, this experimentation is especially interesting for the younger players. While many players are adults, children are also play Minecraft in huge numbers, and learn not only how to play the game, but associated skills, like the basics of coding.

Even more interesting is how children establish their own rules for the game. In Minecraft, different servers can have different rules about gameplay:

What this means is that kids are constantly negotiating what are, at heart, questions of governance. Will their world be a free-for-all, in which everyone can create and destroy everything? What happens if someone breaks the rules? Should they…employ plug-ins to prevent damage, in effect using software to enforce property rights? There are now hundreds of such governance plug-ins.
Seth Frey, a postdoctoral fellow in computational social science at Dartmouth College, has studied the behavior of thousands of youths on Minecraft servers, and he argues that their interactions are, essentially, teaching civic literacy. “You’ve got these kids, and they’re creating these worlds, and they think they’re just playing a game, but they have to solve some of the hardest problems facing humanity,” Frey says. “They have to solve the tragedy of the commons.””]

This is spontaneous order at work. As children play the game and interact with each other, they decide on rules which govern their interaction. There’s no central authority which dictates the rules of the game—the players themselves generate the rules.

To learn more about the spontaneous order in Minecraft and how children interact with the game, read the full piece here.

For more on video games and spontaneous order, check out our video, “How Did They Survive the Oregon Trail?”