Can Minecraft Teach Conflict Resolution Skills?

minecraftMinecraft is one of the most played video games of all time, loved by kids, parents, and educators alike. It is a fun environment for building, collaborating, and solving problems. What started as an indie game that enabled players to build and craft on their own homegrown servers, Minecraft has grown into a global phenomenon that is transforming how educators think about project-based learning for topics like coding, game design, and engineering.

The New Mission Ventures team is currently partnering with Connected Camps to explore ways in which the Minecraft multiplayer environment might serve as an ideal place to scaffold social-emotional learning (SEL). Minecraft offers a unique environment for teaching and learning SEL skills because the game allows virtual, real-time interaction between players in authentic problem-solving contexts. Kids pursue their interests in the game; as conflicts naturally arise between players, they can address the conflicts in ways that are authentic to the situation, using in-game tools. The game includes a chat feature, a range of plug-ins that allow moderators to observe and intervene in the game action, and a setting for rich social interaction.

In our first phase of exploration, we set out to understand how conflicts arise, escalate and are resolved in the Minecraft space with children ages 8–13. Then we looked into what this implies for embedding SEL strategies within these online spaces.

According to lead researcher Petr Slovak, what we found is that the role of the moderator is key to how problems are solved in-game.We saw moderators monopolizing the conflict resolution process, acting as an arbiter that provides the children with solutions—and punishments—rather than involving them in the problem-solving process. This led to missed opportunities to empower children to develop their conflict resolution skills as part of their in-game experience.

Based on these observations, we identified a combination of existing SEL curricular mechanisms and transformed these into an approach that could be deployed in Minecraft. This led to the development of a suite of training and support tools, specifically designed to help moderators facilitate children’s own problem-solving. These tools include:

  • A set of in-game videos and an associated on-boarding workshop.
  • An in-game tool that provides the moderator with sample language progression to use during conflict, as well as manipulates the chat view to support full focus on the conflict at hand.
  • The in-game tool also automatically uploads the transcript of the conflict to Slack for posthoc reflection and learning (used as the main communication platform for the moderators team), as well as includes an option to call in immediate help from more experienced moderators (also from Slack).

These have been progressively deployed at Connected Camps servers over the last several months.We are already seeing positive responses from the children (including ‘known offenders’), leading to increased participation of children in conflict resolution strategies and a decrease in punitive actions taken on the part of the moderators. Moreover, based on the promising pilots, Connected Camps have fully committed to the new tools, with virtually all moderators now trained and encouraged to use the new tools in their everyday interactions with children on the server.

We are now hoping to develop a scaffolded peer mediator training program for kids that provides a pathway for ongoing training as kids “level up” and develop their skills and interests in being peer mediators. We’re excited to share the results of our pilot program as they emerge. Be sure to check this blog for updates over the coming months!