Are toddlers learning to be architects in Minecraft?

I’ve seen a number of posts in which people discuss todders developing architectural skills and knowledge by playing Minecraft. This is interesting, as these posts are written often by adults, whom tend to enjoy projecting adult-behaviours and skills onto children. The psychology of projection is quite a fascinating topic too. It’s often entwined with religious sensibilities and moralising about the nature of children and how they are corrupted, abused etc.,

In this sense, children’s behaviour is often a reaction to adulthood – the old ‘honour thy mother and father’ rhetoric. If the child is able to play Minecraft Pocket, the chances are they are also from a high socio-economic background where higher education, creativity, art and culture itself is valued. At the same time, toddlers need to develop gross motor skills in order to also develop fine motor skills — and therein lies a whole other debate about technology’s role in the physical development of children.

There are limits to what you can and can’t do with Minecraft. Overall, the game’s objective is for the player to create and/or manipulate a naturalistic world one block at a time. Whether adult or toddler, there is a cognitive learning curve needed to do this. It’s not as complicated to operate as a paint brush, but essentially what the toddler is doing is purely experimental and reacting to the ludic rules of the game, and the reactions of the adults, who one assumes are watching them ‘build’.

I’m not saying that no toddler can be an amazing architect at the age of 3. It’s just very unlikely. A toddler might start to represent aspects of the world around her, given the tools to create that world are specifically designed to do so. Minecraft does allow players to create ‘a world’ of endless possibilities – but that isn’t necessarily a great idea for toddlers who need to also develop gross motor skills and many more things – as toddlers.

This leads me to another reality check – games like Minecraft are seemingly endless – but childhood isn’t. There are precious few years to spend with children and I think many parents are beginning to think that media (not just games) is taking that away. There’s little proof, as there’s relatively little research about this. However, when children go to school, they are treated the same now as ten years ago. We try to ‘teach’ them things based on a school-reality that excludes the vast changes to ‘childhood’ itself. Toddlers grow up fast and there’s a real danger that if we allow the media itself to project a consumerist, agenderised rendering of the world on children, that we take away the sheer natural joy of being a child. At the same time, schools ban games as some weird counter-measure rather than try to deal with a generation for whom media is all too keen to engage, sell and deploy them in a never ending media dialogue.

I don’t think toddlers can be architects in Minecraft other than through our own projections of what we think architecture is or should be. If however, toddlers are developing fine motor skills faster now than a decade ago – by playing games – then that’s actually quite a BIG call.