Online Games Teach Kids Valuable Work Skills


By Neicole Crepeau, Contibuting {grow} Columunist

Yes, you heard me right. For all the complaining that our children are too plugged in and too obsessed with online games, I think playing those games is actually teaching our children critical work skills.

The Amazing World of Minecraft

If you haven’t already heard of the indie game Minecraft, you will.  This little online computer game is taking the younger gaming world by storm.  Middle schoolers through twenty-somethings are flocking to it– it even appeals to girls.

Minecraft is one of several sandbox games that allow you to build in a virtual world. You literally mine for resources and grow food to support yourself. You can work your way up using resources and craftingto build better houses, tools, and weapons.

The game allows you to get quite sophisticated. For example, there is a stone called Redstone that carries electrical charges. Using it in combination with other stones and tools, you can build complex circuitry, allowing you to create railways, automated doors, whatever you can imagine. Doing so requires learning the ins and outs of Minecraft circuits, though: how to create XOR and XNOR logic gates, pistons, repeaters, etc.

If it sounds difficult, it is (I haven’t figured it out, yet). But young Minecraft players—your kids—have been motivated to spend their spare time reading and learning, in order to build some extraordinary and beautiful creations.  As with much of life, in Minecraft you have specific rules and a limited set of resources. The goal is to develop the best products you can with what you have, through hard work and creativity.

So, Minecraft players learn how to research and gather the information they need, how to educate themselves, and they apply their creativity to come up with entirely new entities. Compare that with watching TV. There’s more, though.

MinecraftGame.Net and other Minecraft Servers 

To play the multiplayer version of the game, you have to join one of the many Minecraft servers available. These servers are generally built and run for free by players. For example, I play on MinecraftGame.NET, a server built and maintained by my son’s 17 year old friend. His moniker is HealthyUncle.

Like many server owners, Uncle has spent considerable time and money on his server. He had to acquire and maintain the hardware, learn the technology for hosting a Minecraft server, keep up-to-date with the product releases, find and install mods (add-ons), regularly ensure the mods are compatible with the latest Minecraft release, maintain the server, and provide support to all the players on it. Hmmm, don’t system administrators get paid good salaries to do this kind of work?

In the case of a large, well-run server like MinecraftGame.NET, management skills are also required. HealthyUncle “employs” various players and friends. He promotes them to moderators or admins on the server. For example, my son is an admin. He gets special privileges in the game (essentially his payment), but is also responsible when he is on the server for keeping griefers at bay (griefers are players who purposely destroy and harass). Moderators make sure players understand and obey the server rules, and help players when needed.

Beyond that, my 16 year old son and HealthyUncle are actively trying to promote MinecraftGame.NET to get more players. They use Twitter and Facebook, promote on various forums, and are working on marketing plans for their server. They also are working on ways to get more players to “donate” to the server.

These teens are literally getting experience administering a server, building a business, managing others, and marketing. As I told HealthyUncle, this is definitely worthy of going on the college resume and the work resume.

Players learn valuable skills, too

You don’t have to be a server admin to learn valuable work skills, though. There is an entire ecosystem around Minecraft, built and maintained by young people. There are extensive Wiki’s that capture the collective wisdom of players, edited and maintained by the young enthusiasts.  Kids create and post videos on YouTube explaining how to build different types of entities or providing tutorials for new players. There are forums for discussing the game and exchanging information. All of this largely created, maintained, and used by your children simply because of their passion for the game. These kids are actively exercising their writing skills and adding to their community by producing and sharing content.

Another important part of the ecosystem that’s developed are mods (modifications). These are add-ons built by third-parties which can be installed and enhance the game. The third-parties? Your kids. Kids are inspired to learn the tools and technology to build the mods they want or think others will want. (My own kids are teaching themselves Blender to build mods for a similar game, Blockland.) Hmmmm, don’t people called Programmers get paid to write code like this?

Kids get exposure to people all over the world, too. I was tickled the other day when I was searching for information about how to accomplish something in the game, and found a video done by a middle-schooler with a Scottish accent. Game players use IRC (real-time chat) during the game, routinely communicating with and making friends with other players from other countries.  Similar to the relationships we build through social media, these kids make friends with children from other countries, arranging to meet them again online. What a fantastic experience for kids who will be working in a global marketplace!

They don’t just “play” with the kids they meet online, though. Your kids are collaborating and working together to build something. With various combinations of IRC (chat), Skype, and in-person meetings, kids will work together to design and build houses, interactive art, tools, weapons, etc. My own sons and daughter will often play together in the study, each on their own computer, but working together to build or explore. They’ll turn to talk with one another frequently, discussing who will do what part, suggesting ideas, debating the best approach, and coordinating the work. Likewise, when my kids’ friends come over, they may each take a computer and then work together on some Minecraft task. Keep in mind that these tasks often span weeks or days—not the immediate gratification we’ve been told that games foster.

Online, kids meet up and use IRC or Skype to talk during the game and coordinate. They pool resources, negotiate designs, assign roles to one another.  Working together, they mine and build. They also compete, of course, to see who can build the best house or, on servers that allow battles, to defeat one another. Minecraft, like many of these games, can be played as a fighting game. Kids can create weapons and forts or castles. They can kill one another (though, death is only a temporary setback in these games). Even then, though, the kids are collaborating as teams to build their defenses and weapons, coordinate their battle plans, and execute them.

Negotiation, collaboration, communication, self-education, sharing knowledge, team-work, critical-thinking, creativity—aren’t these core skills that we, as employees and business owners, use every single day? Aren’t they some of the hardest skills to teach, but some of the most important for a successful career?

Believe it or not, your kids are learning these skills every time they play Minecraft and online games like it. So, the next time you find yourself fretting about the time your kids are spending online, consider what they are actually spending their time doing. You might not fret as much.

Neicole Crepeau a blogger at Coherent Social Media and the creator of CurateXpress, a content curation tool. She works at Coherent Interactive on social media, website design, mobile apps, & marketing. Connect with Neicole on Twitter at @neicolec

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