Business Unusual

Minecraft, a game that could one day get your child a job

Innovation and disruption in the labour market move far quicker than in the education sector.

Many of the work opportunities available now did not exist 10 years ago and you could imagine the same to be true for the next 10 years.

The most chilling reality may be that there simply will not be work opportunities in sufficient volume to allow those currently in the school system to ever find a job.

South Africans are only too aware of the compounding factors that less than optimal educational instruction, poor passing levels, limited access to further education, low economic growth and the shift to automation has on the employment rates. The Unemployment rate for young people (15-24) is increasing steadily from 33% in the mid-90s to almost 50% now. This excludes those still studying.

How could a game reduce unemployment?

On its own it can’t but, if added to a range of other measures, it may amplify the impact.

This category of game is known as economic simulation games, open-ended and expansive, covering a variety of genres with the best known of them being Minecraft.

I can’t be sure why modular construction appears to be a Scandinavian thing, but it can’t be a coincidence that Lego (Denmark), Ikea (Sweden) and Minecraft (also Sweden) have created such an impact using effectively the same idea.

It is helpful for those who don’t know Minecraft to describe it as digital Lego. The generated worlds are purposefully created with a simple block structure. Even the recently announced 4K edition with features beautifully rendered and very high resolution graphics maintains the world built in basic looking cubes.

The game released commercially in 2011 to an already enthusiastic base and had grown fast enough to convince Microsoft to buy the company in 2014 for $2.5 billion.

Since then it has gone on to become the most successful PC game of all time and only second to Tetris as the most successful video game ever.

You can play on your own, with friends or anyone online. Game modes include a survival mode where you could be attacked by monsters or creative mode where you get to craft and build anything you can imagine, from a lowly stick to a computer (someone has actually built a basic one).

It is the crafting and the building that makes the game both quite unique and so popular. Children and adults can spend hours planning and crafting impressive landscapes or huge constructions. The Danes have even had the entire country replicated in Minecraft, down to the very last building.

As bizarre as that might seem, it is actually part of the serious potential benefit of the system. It is a simple and easy way for anyone to get a sense for what a space may be like. The UN’s BlockbyBlock Project hopes to build better neighbourhoods by getting communities designing and reviewing potential urban spaces in Minecraft. Johannesburg has looked at options for developing East Street North Park using it.

Some of those designs can be considered art and a group called Blockworks creates just that in the game.

So, the game offers personal discipline in planning and at least a basic understanding of mining, farming and crafting. It fosters collaboration, encourages competition and, as seen above, can be used for community building.

There is a version used for education too. Having children learn lessons in a virtual world with classmates, whether in the same physical space or just the cyber one, is far more engaging than someone standing at a board. Language, content subjects, mathematics or anything can be crafted into a lesson. The game uses a “camera” for the students to take pictures of their work which the educators can use to track progress. Good students can move ahead, struggling students can get more help.

Adding a virtual reality option allows for physical movement and more immersion into the world. No distractions for kids to do their work.

Economic simulations games

The broader category has value for those currently working in offices, factories, in the fields or down a mine.

While the heyday for these titles was the early 2000s; even the old games still have value for testing or demonstrating some key approaches to real world scenarios.

Lemonade Tycoon is a good primer for retail. Choices about procurement, customer tastes for the recipes, locations and price points are simply, but effectively, demonstrated. If a team member were to struggle to get ahead in the game, odds are they will have the same issues dealing with those aspects of the business.

One called TV Tycoon has you buying TV programming content, tracking the popularity and revenue from advertising against the cost to commission it. The SABC may consider having future executives play a few rounds to avoid any more unfortunate business plans being implemented.

For those in the medical field, the silly Theme Hospital takes strange disorders like invisibility syndrome and inflated head as conditions you will need to have facilities, doctors and equipment to treat. If you are about to take on a project to grow a part of your business, this is a good way to focus your attention on managing costs while you seek the greater returns.

SimCity is the other, very well known one and covers everything in managing a city you can think of. Municipal elections should include each candidate's SimCity score as a benchmark for their understanding of managing the many competing priorities that allow a city to survive and grow.

These are still simply games. Their use is to surface potential overlooked skills or deficiencies in your current work teams. It is also likely to give your child an advantage in a rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive labour market.

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