Picture shows a small Minecraft village.
homeschooling,  minecraft,  politics

Political Studies through Minecraft

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I have reopened my Minecraft server in light of the Covid-19 restrictions and the need to have extra online social activities for children. I host events a couple of times a week on Minecraft and Zoom, and the children play on the server whenever they want in between those events. One question came up recently that introduced some very fun questions about political studies.

Some children asked if they could have special areas on the server where they set the rules. A child demonstrated what he meant with a list of rules and the punishments he wanted to enforce. Was this allowed, he asked? So I’ve been thinking about that and trying to gather comments from other players.

What would it mean to have a municipality on the server with its own rules? Someone could easily post signs with their rules, but what happens when someone breaks one of those. Does the “mayor” of the town have the right to enforce the rules? Do they get to break the general server rules in order do that?

Let’s take an example. Say the rule was that you can’t build a shop selling the same thing as its neighbouring shop, and the rule is that the offending shop will be removed. Breaking other people’s creations without their permission is against the server rules, but here the mayor wants to break the other player’s shop-signs. Should this be allowed?

The justification for allowing it would be that the mayor founded the town and everyone choosing to build in it must agree to the rules in order to do so. Thus the mayor has permission of the shopkeeper to break their shop, because the person consented to it when they built in the area. So, technically, the mayor hasn’t actually broke the server rules.

What about the charging of fines? On my server we have an in-game currency totally disconnected from real life currency. Players can earn it by hunting zombies, selling things in little shops in the survival world, or being paid it by other players for helping build. Should mayors be able to charge fines for those who have broken rules in their municipalities? How would they enforce those fines. I can think of several ways.

  1. The mayor could block the person from building more in their city until the fine is paid. (Equivalent perhaps to the denial of building permits? Or even comparable, in a way, to people having driver’s licenses removed for not paying fines?)
  2. I could grant the mayors the command abilities to extract money from other players. (Comparable, perhaps, to the real life ability of governments to force money off of people’s pay cheques.) Would I trust the mayors not to abuse this power? If the only qualification to becoming a mayor is simply to claim a plot of land and invite others to build on it, I’m not sure I would. I could potentially have mayors email me the information and then I run the commands, but I don’t really want to have to do extra work investigating situations.
  3. The mayor could destroy the person’s building as punishment. One could question whether Likely this would lead to the player deciding never to build in that particular area of the server again. One could ask whether this is a proportionate response or not.

Now the term “mayor” is obviously not exactly appropriate here. I’m using the term to describe a head of a municipality, but it is really the founder of a private community, rather than an elected head of a municipality.

Let’s imagine a situation with an actual mayor. Instead of just having one person lay out a city and inviting players to enter and abide by his rules, a group of players together decide they’ll have a municipality. They want to collectively make decisions. They have a couple of possibilities. They could hold little counsel meetings or they could propose rules which they then vote on using books, signs or the in-game mail system. They need to decide if they will work on the basis of a consensus, where any individual can veto anything or whether they work on the basis of majority rule.

There’s a couple of possibilities for meetings. If they hold meetings at random times, whenever they happen to have a quorum of people online then those who cannot play frequently will be excluded. Perhaps that is okay, since those who play more frequently would be more invested in the online build. Why, after all, should a child who plays once a month and has only contributed a little bit to the city have the same say as a child who plays daily? But, if they say different people have different amounts of say based on how much they play, where does one draw the line? Does it become unfair to some people? It might be obvious that someone who has only contributed half an hour once a month doesn’t need much say, but should someone who plays multiple times a day really get more say than someone who plays a couple times a week? Where would it end?

(I am reminded of an activist group I was once involved in that, for a couple of months, had daily meetings. Obviously not everyone could attend every meeting, and so the result was that a decision could be set one day that would be reversed the next. Having too frequent meetings did not improve the democratic functioning of the group.)

Minecraft gives children a place to practice politics and to think about where authority comes from. Does it come from owning the land or from others consenting to be subject from the authority? Do we consent to follow the rules of our town by virtue of living in it? Do we consent to follow the rules of our nations for the same reason or is that different because most of us do not have the option of moving out of our country?

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