What is the connection between Minecraft, economic models, and learning from computer games?

What is the connection between Minecraft, economic models, and learning from computer games?

What is the connection between Minecraft, economic models, and learning from computer games?

It’s no secret that economic models are regarded with a measure of suspicion (and sometimes even derision) within certain circles. It is claimed that such models are too simplistic, that they offer only a partial portrayal of a phenomenon, that their underlying assumptions are unfounded, and that, in general, we can’t learn anything from a world that is so far removed from reality that it borders on the imaginary.

Similar arguments are made regarding the possibility of learning from the computer games in which our children are so involved. These games exist in a magical world where reality is suspended, where the phenomena incorporated into the game are partial, where operational consistency is determined by game considerations (e.g., encouraging players to move to the next level, intentional delays to create motivation, ongoing challenges, progressive levels of difficulty), and where the sense of time and space are distorted.

Educators, and critics of the economic models, are reluctant to adopt them, because they aren’t an authentic reflection of reality. If academic study is supposed to be based on scientific validity and a genuine representation of reality – what benefit can be gained from an economic model or a game with only a tenuous connection to reality? And yet – maybe our children can explain to us why it is nonetheless worthwhile to make use of economic models.

In Minecraft, the world is constructed by the players and composed only of gray cubes (a very partial reality). Construction makes use of the consistency of the materials – wood, earth, iron, gold, and crystal – drawn from the real-world nature of metals; however, the strength of the materials used dissipates over time, as a result of considerations relevant to the game. The children are drawn into the game for various reasons, including the enormous creativity involved. They can explain very well the hierarchy of the strengths of the materials, while at the same time pointing out that they mysteriously lose power for no other reason than the passage of time. If you ask them, they will explain that, in reality, a diamond will always be the strongest substance, but the game would be boring if you could always use crystals against other materials.

Economic models, like games, are tools for understanding and investigating phenomena. An economic model highlights an important point about a particular context. The fact that the model is simplified helps us understand the relationships between its various components. The same applies to games. Ask the children! In a game, the deviation from reality is clear and explicit (unlike some study materials), and as such it creates an opportunity for critical thinking and for understanding through experimentation within the limits of the game’s underlying model (“Mom, it’s clear that diamonds don’t lose their strength over time – but otherwise the game wouldn’t be interesting” – that’s the answer I received when I asked why the diamond’s power suddenly disappeared).

Economic models, too, create an effective framework for thinking; they stimulate discourse and differing points of view when analyzing them and examining the relationships outlined within them. Thus Minecraft makes it clear not only why games are integral to learning, but also why economic models – although they disregard the fact that we are irrational creatures, and other factors within the system – nonetheless succeed at explaining certain important relationships, which otherwise would be difficult to understand due to all the interactions surrounding them.


By: Amalia Bryl