The Digital Building Blocks of SEL

boys-computer-laughingThis summer, Camp EDMO™ is diving deep into social and emotional learning (or SEL for short), and believe it or not, the place where I’m most excited to see this kind of development is… Minecraft!  As it turns out, video games provide excellent opportunities to develop SEL skills, and Minecraft is a prime example.

So what makes games in general, and Minecraft specifically, well-suited for developing SEL skills?  For one, there’s the way that games help players build a sense of agency.  A person with a high sense of agency understands that their choices have consequences, and they are in control of the choices they make.  In video games, the player is encouraged to try something, fail, and try something new until they find a solution.  Because the “cause and effect” loop in a game happens far faster than a lot of the decisions the player might make in real life, games are fantastic at building a sense of agency in the player.   Even more effective in doing this are open-world sandbox games like Minecraft, where the player gets to decide not only how to tackle a problem but also what problems to tackle at all.  Almost everything that happens in a sandbox game is dependent on the player’s choices.  A high sense of agency built through games can translate directly into self-confidence, self-motivation, goal setting, and problem-solving, to name a few core SEL competencies.

On the more social side, Minecraft’s multiplayer nature provides a perfect environment for practicing social awareness and relationship skills.  In our EDMOtopia and PROtopia camps, campers will be working together in the digital world to design, build and manage their own virtual community.  This digital village simulates many of the interactions that take place in real-world communities, in the safe space of a video game that is familiar to most or all of the campers.  A dispute over property in Minecraft has a lot less at stake than the real-world equivalent, but the players can still go through the same steps of conflict resolution, practicing communication, perspective-taking, and empathy.  It’s probably a lot faster and cheaper to build a community center and organize community events in Minecraft than it is in the real world, but it provides the same kinds of opportunities to practice social engagement, relationship-building, and appreciation for diversity.  In these ways and more, Minecraft and other multiplayer video games can act as the “training grounds” for all kinds of social interactions.

Finally, the opportunity to play a multiplayer game with all the players in the same physical space is a terrific way to practice digital citizenship.  When they’re not working on their digital village, Camp EDMO™ campers get to join their classmates in games, songs, skits, lunch, and other fun camp activities.  They get the opportunity to see their fellow gamers not just as avatars on a screen, but as real people.  Wouldn’t it be great to see this kind of empathy and respect instilled in more of the digital citizens of the world?  Wouldn’t our digital interactions be more civil, productive, and all-around good?

I’ve seen a lot of massive, magical and marvelous creations built in Minecraft, but perhaps the most marvelous thing of all that can be built with the game is a better person.