Minecraft : the sandbox

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Minecraft is the second video game to appear at the firm as a therapeutic mediator, fifteen months after The Sims 3, in February 2013.

With the practice of this exercise being now well established, it was time to complete the toolbox in order to offer clients another game that solicits other issues, thereby  proposing the use of other psychological processes.

I had already discovered Minecraft several months before, but I had been put off by its cubic graphics, which I found not very engaging, and the relative complexity of the game. Then the Minecraft phenomenon took off—a lot—as I heard more and more about it in sessions with teenagers.

a view of Minecraft

So I decided to take a closer look at Minecraft, rather than just taking a curious look. After several months of practice, it became clear to me that this game had a place as a therapeutic mediator, and I’ll explain why.

Minecraft is a sandbox-type game, a game that appeals to the imagination and creativity of the player, like those children who find themselves in front of a real sandbox and create, play, invent, dig, shape and tell stories to each other.

This highly creative and free aspect was the first criterion in favour of using Minecraft because it would give some clients a particularly valuable space for self-expression in a therapeutic approach; the second was the fact that I was going to be able to offer a video game to boys, The Sims being a video game that mainly attracts girls (it was difficult for me to offer it to boys of a certain age). A third criterion appeared naturally: being myself in the middle of the learning dynamic to grasp  this game, I felt quite quickly that Minecraft was asking for this dynamic by itself, an interesting element to observe in the therapies of children and teenagers.

That’s where I was in February 2013 with Minecraft. But it has continued to grow both in the media and commercially, and while I thought I had a therapeutic tool for my 12–14-year-old patients, I saw this age decrease month after month with now the majority of patients being 8—9 years old, whereas the average was 10 years old among 45 patients for 250 Minecraft sessions in December 2015 (today in September 2020, for 92 patients and 583 sessions the average age is 11 and a half years old).

I discovered two other phenomena I didn’t expect when I gave this game a place in therapies for children and teenagers: for older clients (around 14 years old) Minecraft is very often absent from the list of games played by clients when I ask them what they play, as if the practice of Minecraft was decredibilising next to the media monsters Call of Duty (CoD) and GTA, games that you have to play to be fashionable, in the norm when of an age at which belonging to a group is of such importance. In a comparing Minecraft to CoD, Minecraft is the “ugly nerd game we don’t understand anything about” compared to the “coolest selling game on the planet”, with the added scent of transgression since it is reserved for adults (PEGI +18 signage). This brings me to the second phenomenon observed: Minecraft demands so many intellectual resources that when faced with a client who has dropped out and/or been rejected at school, I systematically ask if he plays Minecraft when it is not on the list of cited games. Nine times out of 10, it is one of them.

Minecraft then appears in a particular dimension as a space allowing an individual to continue to mobilise his intellectual resources and capacities when there is something blocking these processes in the school context. The overinvestment in this video game is all the more questionable as the disinvestment in school increases: certainly the “video game” aspect is easily more attractive than school, but it is not just any game. The client has invested in a game that mobilises intellectual resources in a consequential way: evolve in an immense, potentially dangerous space, collect resources, combine them to make this or that object and remember this among the dozens of other “crafts” (I will detail in the next article on Minecraft how it is played so that the uninitiated have a more precise idea of the game).

An example of a craft using the workbench

This gives me the impression of a shift towards video games which capture these intellectual processes, allowing them to continue to live and develop to some extent. Because Minecraft is only a video game, it cannot totally replace everyday life.

This brings me to the question of excessive practices, which makes the Minecraft tool no longer just a simple therapeutic mediator but also a therapeutic crutch in the daily psychic life of certain clients. It is therefore necessary to work on this practice in session to make Minecraft go from crutch to mediator, to free blocked processes to redirect them towards a reinvestment in daily life, in this case personal interests, school, social and family life.

The use of Minecraft as a therapeutic mediator is both rich and complex and requires a significant amount of basic knowledge in order to try to exploit its full potential during sessions with clients.

This post is also available in: Français

About Bruno BERTHIER

Psychologue Clinicien en libéral Diplômé en 2001 de l'Ecole de Psychologue Praticiens

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