Video games often come under fire for their violent and potentially addictive properties. But a new study from a UC Davis researcher and a Swiss colleague has found that they can have their benefits.
UC Davis researcher Seth Frey and Swiss scholar Robert W. Sumner studied users of the online game “Minecraft,” in which players build structures, creations and artwork by breaking three-dimensional blocks. The game has nearly 65 million users and is “one of a few games with a decentralized, amateur-driven hosting model and a large user base,” UC Davis spokeswoman Karen Nikos-Rose said in a press release.
For their study, Frey and Sumner scanned the internet every two hours to visit and observe 150,000 “Minecraft” communities to see how the “virtual world” teaches leadership and community-building skills that they may be able to apply in real-world domains.
Of those thousands, they found 1,800 who were successful in creating “self-governing internet communities,” Nikos-Rose said in the press release.
Nineteen of every 20 communities failed, she said, but the few that succeeded demonstrated advanced leadership skills. They chose a system of governance and installed bits of software to implement regulations such as “private property rights, peer monitoring, social hierarchy, trade and many others,” Nikos-Rose said.
“Picking from an a la carte menu of rule types, players assemble highly variable and individualistic forms of government,” Frey said in the release. “Although there are trends in what makes an effective government, especially among the largest communities, one of the major surprises of the study is the diversity of systems that prove viable.”
Players changed governing styles according to community size, created complex resource systems to support community members and strategized to beat the competition, according to the study.
While more research is still needed, Frey noted that governance skills learned in “Minecraft” may be transferrable to real-world environments by bringing “community-building closer, (and giving) a lot more people experience with leadership and governance and feelings of responsibility to a community.”