11 Apr 2016

World Without Order - Minecraft

I have been using Mine Craft as a Community Simulator during Term One in my three year 9 Social Studies Classes.  We have spent about 5-6 hours in each class’s world, interacting with each other, building, collecting resources, and killing each other.  Now before your imagination runs away killing may not be what it seems so it needs some explaining here.  You can deal damage to another player by attacking them and when their health is gone they ‘die’.  They drop any resources they had collected (free to be picked up by the attacker) and the are sent back to the starting/spawn point of the world.  Essentially it is a way to steal from another player.

I am now reflecting on my goals with this community simulator and where to go with it next term.  There is a section in this previous post about my goals and intention for using Minecraft this term - What Would Student Do If They Could Learn Anything. My Plan for 2016.

Overall there has been some really good learning about being a citizen in a community and how the interactions of the members impact the collective.  

One of the key pedagogies I have used is a hands off student led experience.  I set up the world and said to them we are going to make a community in this virtual world and use this as a chance to practice our citizenship skills.  Then I left them to their own devices to see what would evolve.

There has been several persistent issues in the worlds that they have not overcome yet to progress as a community.  

  • Killing each other and stealing their stuff for no reason
  • Taking each others names and impersonating them
  • Buildings being raided or destroyed by others.

These things have been possible by a minority to make it more difficult than it is worth for the majority to try and keep progressing and building so they tend to follow the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ mantra.  This has led to a ‘Dog Eat Dog’ world, sort of like a world without order scenario.  Chaos is King and pretty much all attempts to progress or get organised are severely hindered by the others.  This is not happening out of malice or intent necessarily.  I believe it is happening out of the natural impulsivity in a teenage boys brains, of acting without thinking through what they are doing or how it affects the big picture.

There are a few exceptions of great progress such as

  • A arena to contain the fighting and give an outlet for this natural competitive element of boys, to be completed.
  • Several great houses and mines that have been successfully defended including a sky house.

One group has had significant issues with members of the community getting access to special privileges (illegally) and getting their hands on some very destructive items and creating a huge hole where they spawn tower was.  This is yet to be played out, and I think that starting in a huge hole could provide a great challenge for the class to try and get back to the surface.  I will let you know how that one plays out.
Looking up from the bottom of the hole.

There have been lots of great reflections from the students talking about several themes from the experience so far such as:

  • How trust impacts others in a community
  • How teamwork is important when working together
  • The importance of clear communication
  • Why laws are important and why people follow them

I have put together a collection of comments from student reflections on the whole term or social studies here - What the Students Have Learned from Term One.

While there has been some success with students experiencing and reflecting on their citizenship in this virtual world, the culture and interactions within the worlds have started stagnating or going round in circles with no progress being made or clear way forward. I am not sure if they have the collective capacity in the classes to band together and overcome the issues they are experiencing.

My dilemma now is whether to exert my influence as the teacher to stimulate progress and diversity in the interactions in the world or sit back and see if they can overcome these challenges on their own.  I believe the greater learning is in students finding their own way to their success and this leads me to want to stay hands off and see where it goes but I feel this may have negative outcomes if the culture within the world continues being faced with the same challenges.

I am thinking that the structure I have set up is lacking one important element.  There is high engagement, student ownership, and choice.  What the simulator is missing is Purpose.  They have created their own purpose by using competition and social hierarchy to survive each other.  They need a common enemy or challenge or purpose to unite if there will be progress.  I was hoping in the beginning this might come from the students and they would band together under a vision of a huge building like the eiffel tower that someone suggested and work together to create it, but they haven’t got anywhere near that sort of organisation.

I have several ideas that I may try next term, including setting up two tribes that need to protect a special object and getting them build defenses and then playing a version of capture the flag.  This would stimulate the community interactions that they could reflect on.

Or secondly, talk about and unpacking what purpose is then get them to develop their own purpose in small groups for a world without order.  Then send them into the world and see if this has a different outcome.

Not sure what is going to happen yet but I am excited to find out.


  1. Love this - Lord of the Flies minecraft styles. And a great reflection of how you have used it. Completely agree re purpose - I had students create games with hour of code last year and it opened up all sorts of discussion when they made the games too easy or too hard. Made for a great reflection on goal setting/ 'levelling up' and them importance of success to resilience.

    1. Yea totally Lord of the Flies! Those themes of goal setting/levelling up, the importance of success to resilience are really pertinent to my classroom at the moment. Thanks for the tautoko. Have you got any of the reflection from your hour of code stuff, it would be good read.