Encyclopedia of Education and Information Technologies

Living Edition
| Editors: Arthur Tatnall

Shared Regulatory Planning in Minecraft

  • Matthew HarrisonEmail author
  • Roland Gesthuizen
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60013-0_138-1


The Grau and Whitebread (2012) model provides a means for coding instances of social regulation within group activities. While it has been used to examine collaborative interactions in science classrooms, this entry seeks to hypothesize its applicability in a virtual gaming environment. In the multiplayer sandbox game, “Minecraft,” this model identifies the areas of opportunity and tension in its application with a cooperative gaming context through an exploratory coding of regulatory planning in two joint activities. It is a useful tool for exploring and understanding the processes and behaviors that occur within collaboration, which are becoming an increasingly important area of focus for educational systems throughout the world.



Very few digital games can be described as a cultural phenomenon. From players that identify as “gamers,” extending a sphere of influence to anyone with a passing interest in mainstream popular culture (Thompson 2016), it is remarkable to consider how the independently developed game, Minecraft made its impact on mainstream popular culture. One of the key reasons often attributed to this success was its accessibility to a range of audiences and the affordances that it provided users to “play the game” in the manner of their preference (Zolyomi and Schmalz 2017). Minecraft is the rare game that can be almost all things to all players. It was designed to be shared.

While Minecraft can be played as a single player experience, it was most popular as a multiplayer, online game (Zolyomi and Schmalz 2017; Thompson 2016). The increased interactions and socialization between players have inevitably contributed to increasingly sophisticated instances of social interaction, and this is an area that has received increasing academic attention. Research has been undertaken into the different forms of collaboration between players engaged in multiplayer games, particularly in relation to massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft (Uz and Cagiltay 2015; Chen 2012). A key social skill for successful collaboration is social regulation, which can be thought of as the processes for controlling behavior within group interactions. This encyclopedia entry unpacks the concept of regulatory planning, a key process within an established conceptualization of social regulation (Grau and Whitebread 2012), illustrated using two different modes of multiplayer play in Minecraft.

Viewing Minecraft as a Tool for Collaborative Creation

Minecraft was originally conceived by its developers as a simplistic sandbox game, where a player would freely create, locate, and destroy objects called blocks. This form was known as a “Creative Mode,” which presents an open-ended space with no specific objectives or ending. The subsequent “Survival Mode” was soon released, a mode of play that encouraged players to mine resources and construct fortifications to withstand the damaging advances of “creeps,” or challenging hordes of creatures. As Minecraft began to transcend its origins as a niche independent game project and became a mainstream cultural phenomenon, many game players focused their output almost exclusively on building, sharing, and showcasing their creative designs. The addition of more sophisticated design components in subsequent updates to the game allowed players to add functions and automated macros to the static environment. Minecraft was coded in the platform agnostic computer language Java that encouraged players to contribute and share their own content. The affordances offered by these additions allowed the design of automatic doors, context-dependent lighting, and the creation of complex mechanical components such as pistons.

Minecraft has been used as a research tool for exploring understandings of such diverse domains as spatial geometry (Foerster 2017), sustainable planning (West and Bleiberg 2013), digital storytelling (Garcia Martinez 2014), social skills (Petrov 2014), informatics (Wagner 2015), computer art application (Garcia Martinez 2014), project management (Saito Takebayshi and Yamaura 2014), and chemistry (Hancl 2012) and artificial intelligence (Aluru et al. 2015).

The ongoing cycles of design modification and changing player behavior have resulted in Minecraft evolving into a more complex space for collaborative creativity and expression. The release of a server-based multiplayer feature made it possible for many players to work together, or against each other, with an online environment that appeared almost boundless. In a virtual gaming environment with a creative mode such as Minecraft, when players interact and collaborate, then they will consequently plan and regulate their behavior while negotiating, setting goals, and developing sub-games.

Conceptualizing and Capturing Instances of Self and Social Regulation

There has been a shift in the thought surrounding how regulations of cognitive and metacognitive processes in learners are understood, particularly in the field of educational psychology. Regulation has traditionally been described as a process at the individual level, contained to the “self,” with a focus on the child’s own cognitions, emotions, and behaviors (Hadwin et al. 2011). There has been a move away in the literature from such models of self-regulation towards a social understanding of an interplay between regulation at an individual level and a co-constructed social level (Hadwin et al. 2011; Volet et al. 2009; Vauras et al. 2003). These theorists no longer conceptualize students as isolated silos. This shift reflects the emergence of a sociocultural model of cognitive development, emphasizing the essentially social nature of learning. This increased emphasis on social learning, particularly in regards to collaborative problem-solving, has resulted in new models to explain the regulation of individuals within these group contexts that exist outside of the boundaries of self-regulation.
  • Co-regulation is a regulatory process that is intended to influence the “cognition, motivation or behavior of one specific member” of a group (Grau and Whitebread 2012, p. 411). This can be seen through the lens of a master-apprentice relationship or expert-novice tutoring relationship, where a “more knowledgeable other” guides a relatively less knowledgeable or skilled individual in solving an equation, or finding the right note on a musical instrument.

  • Shared regulation is a regulatory process that is “more related to group planning, monitoring and regulation” of a shared activity, characterized by multiple group members interacting with each other to achieve a common goal (Grau and Whitebread 2012, p. 411). Despite this commonality of purpose, this form of regulation may still retain imbalances between participants in relative knowledge, skills, and social capital (Hadwin et al. 2011).

Grau and Whitebread (2012) discuss the interplay between these three forms of regulation, contending that all three are active, often simultaneously, in the collaborative planning, monitoring, regulation, and evaluation of group activities. Figure 1 visually represents the relationships between self-regulation at an individual process, co-regulation as a bilateral process, and shared regulation as a socially constructed co-process occurring during multilateral interactions. The focus is on the social levels of regulation, “co-regulation” and “shared regulation.”
Fig. 1

A visual representation of the self and social levels of regulation, as described by Grau and Whitebread (2012)

As can be seen in Fig. 1, both self and social levels of regulation are conceptualized as consisting of four subprocesses spanning the planning, regulating, monitoring, and evaluation of behaviors. Focusing just on the shared planning processes within this model, Table 1 examines planning processes in three different contexts: planning the completion of a common task, planning the organizational structure of the group, and planning the socio-emotional components of the interactions.
Table 1

Describing the planning processes within joint activities, as listed in the model by Grau and Whitebread (2012)


Planning processes


Planning the task

Indicative behaviors (What does this look and sound like?)

Talks about the relevant content knowledge that should be applied in the resolution of the task

Talks about his/her knowledge about strategies or personal resources that can be used in order to solve the task

Talks about setting goals

Establish task-specific goals that can be used to guide cognition and monitoring

Formulates a step-by-step strategy before solving a problem

Propose a way of solving the task or a way to start doing it


Planning the organization of the group

Indicative behaviors (What does this look and sound like?)

Students plan the organization of the task in a pragmatic level (who is going to do what)


Planning socio-emotional interactions

Indicative behaviors (What does this look and sound like?)

None provided as Grau and Whitebread reported they did not observe any instances of socio-emotional planning

The use of this established model serves dual overarching purposes in helping to understand shared regulatory planning:
  1. 1.

    It provides a framework to capture and explore instances of social regulation in collaborative play in player created artifacts within the Minecraft community.

  2. 2.

    It allows for the exploration of the boundaries and tensions within Grau and Whitebread’s (2012) when applied to a virtual environment.


Recording video and audio has been used as a tool for capturing a time and place, affording the identification of shared regulation with Science classrooms (Grau and Whitebread 2012) and exploring social regulation through the analysis of publicly shared footage from multiplayer Minecraft games (Harrison et al. 2018). Self-regulation is notoriously difficult to observe during a solo activity and a challenge to capture, relying on recording “self-talk” during a solo activity or asking the player to reflect or comment on their own performance. By contrast, in Minecraft, there are clearly identifiable instances when a player regulates their social behavior while planning, either as co-regulation with another player or shared regulation between multiple players. Instances of regulatory processes during joint activities have been observed by analyzing verbal and nonverbal communication between participants (Whitebread et al. 2009).

Exploring Shared Regulatory Planning in Minecraft

As is now increasingly common within gaming culture, Minecraft players and users often capture and share a recording of their game session using screen capturing software to stream live or publish the session to a video sharing service. These public recordings and gameplay artifacts are freely shared online. Not only do these invite feedback and comment but also they are a cyber-ethnographic opportunity to examine the community and culture created through computer-mediated social interaction.

The accompanying player narration is often deeply personal and may widely vary in style and nature from shared laughter, dialogue with other plays, to that colored by profanities or filled with obscure jargon. Players within the view of each other can draw attention or emphasize something by moving in unusual ways such as wildly jumping on the spot or gesturing. Another, albeit slower option is to type and broadcast a text message to other players. While online games are rich in visual images and audio messages, the option for feedback by nonverbal communication is limited. Despite this limitation, instances of shared regulatory planning where multiple players are interacting, collaborating, and competing are quite common. This is illustrated in Table 2 by the following different sub-games or gameplay modes: Game A, a “Team-Build,” and Game B, a game of “Capture-The-Flag.”
Table 2

Contrasting two different modes of Minecraft game play

Game A: Team-Build

(Gamer Chad 2018)

Game B: Capture-the-Flag

(Bajan Canadian 2014)

In this Minecraft game, several teams of players are challenged to construct something around a set theme within a designated time limit and concluding with a vote. The theme this team-build game is about SpongeBob SquarePants, an animated television series created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg

In this Minecraft game, two player teams coordinate a competitive game challenge to capture the opposition’s flag on a randomly generated map. It is a variant of a traditional outdoor game where team’s race to capture-the-flag located at the other team’s “base,” then bring it safely back to their own base

Open image in new window

Open image in new window

Game B involved a more action-orientated mode of game play that required players armed with arrows to engage in medieval combat in a castle setting, attempting to secure the position of the enemies and return it to a home base for points. Points were also awarded for mortally wounding members of the opposing team, causing the deceased to wait a period of time before “respawning” near their own base. Screenshots from these two modes are shown in Table. 2. The differing modes of play impacted upon the team and individual goals, and the rules around interacting with the other teams. Players in Game B could interact in the virtual environment and through text-based chat with their opponents, while in Game A players can only interact with the other teams once the building phase was completed. Focusing specifically on verbalizations or behaviors relating to “planning,” there are some interesting contrasts and some surprisingly similarities between the frequency and nature of planning in the two modes of play.

Understanding Regulatory Planning Through Motivation

Grau and Whitebread (2012) describe three subcategories of planning which may further help in understanding the implicit motivations underpinning these observed verbalizations and behaviors. One framework that has been used for examining player motivation specifically in online gaming is Filsecker and Kerres’ (2014) Volitional Construct Framework. This framework conceptualizes motivation “as a volitional process” (Filsecker and Kerres 2014, p. 456), which can be understood as a system of psychological control processes that allow individuals to stay focused on achieving a goal and to ignore distractions that are not related to achieving that goal (Filsecker and Kerres 2014; Kuhl 1987). These goals may be a joint team goal in the game, such as winning the Team-Build vote in Game A, or scoring higher than the opposing team in Game B. These goals may also be individual goals, such as building a particular structure in Game A, or one player having a higher individual score compared with the rest of his or her team.

With the use of publically shared artifacts from an online video service, such as YouTube, comes a third meta-goal, attracting more viewers to gain increased revenues. When prioritized by the player, this third meta-goal can result in players acting in a way that seems counterintuitive in achieving the first two goals. It is only when placed in the context of attracting a viewership through providing something “out of the ordinary” such that running into an enemy base unarmed begins to make sense. This goal-driven understanding of motivation helps us to understand shared regulation when planning the approach to the task, the organization of the players, and the socio-emotional state of individuals within the team.

Examples of Players Being Motivated by Task Planning

The first of these subcodes is task planning. This centers around any verbalization or behavior that refers to actions that should be carried out in the future to help achieve the task or team goal. The coding scheme provides number examples of social planning processes being utilized in the context of planning how to approach a task in a primary school Science group activity. These examples provided a series of indicative behaviors or descriptions of what task planning may look like “in action” (Griffin and Care 2014). These are useful in considering what these processes in a games-based context may look like.

Setting the Team Goals

Working towards joint goals requires significant negotiation and planning to manage individual and team objectives. The steps for achieving this and the activation of relevant prior content knowledge (Grau and Whitebread 2012) is best illustrated using the instances of task planning as outlined in the following two different games in Table 3 below.
Table 3

Examples of instances of task planning observed in Minecraft play

Indicative behaviors from Grau and Whitebread (2012)

Game A: Team-Build

(Gamer Chad 2018)

Game B: Capture-the-Flag

(Bajan Canadian 2014)

Talks about setting goals

“..our theme is SpongeBob .. and we’re gonna do um like .. where they live and stuff.”

“... I want to build (um) Patrick’s house too. (Yeah yeah you) Didn’t we literally are going to make this Bikini Bottom?” (t = 2 m 55 s)

“Okay I see it, I bring in a flag from that thing.” (t = 2 m 24 s)

Formulates a step-by-step strategy before solving a problem

“This is the road Dollastic. Okay, which way do you want it to go? … Like that way? So right here, you’ll put Sergeant’s house” (t = 33 s)

“Hey guys. Okay, let’s all go down mid. (t = 8 m 53 s)

“I’m going, I’m going around. I went around the whole map, I’m sneaking into their base” (t = 9 m 11 s)

Talks about his/her knowledge about strategies or personal resources that can be used in order to solve the task


“So it’s a neutral game so far, I’m at imagine your spawn is just on where they’re running to. It’s great that spawn point” (t = 4 m 45 s)

“I get back to the flag faster anyways. That’s actually legit strat, you could suicide and get to the flag quicker” (t = 8 m 30 s)

“I’ll be I’ll be a body bag.” (t = 9 m 00 s)

When talking about the goals at the start of a game, players will often communicate the goals of the scenario or mode of play. It is a chance to focus a team towards the same mission then ask questions to ensure understanding of the rules or to align personal goals with this team goal. Most of the modes within Minecraft provide a clue as to the goal through the naming of each particular mode. For example, the aim of a game called “Capture-The-Flag” is fairly self-evident. When a team member in Game B reported back that “Okay I see it, I bring in a flag from that thing,” they were paraphrasing the goal to confirm their understanding. Whist the discussions that then followed explored various weapon strengths and access staircases, an important planning alignment had been first undertaken with other team members with the main goal which was established through the design of this mode. This is confirming of the goals for a particular mode of play is also observed in other modes, such as the Team-Build mode being used in Game A:

... our theme is SpongeBob ... and we’re gonna do (um) like .. where they live and stuff.

... I want to build (um) Patrick's house too.

… Didn't we literally are going to make this Bikini Bottom?

There is a substantial difference between the nature of the goals being discussed in this example of dialogue and the goal used in the previous example. In the example drawn from Game B, the players are discussing a goal that is established through the design of the mode; it is a goal set by the rules of the game. This second example in Game A discusses a goal that is negotiated by the players; it is a socially constructed objective that fits within the affordances of the Team-Build mode of play. It still draws on the conventions of this mode, as the players are arguing what they will build with the objective of achieving the goal set by the mode of play, winning the end of game vote. This raises an important consideration in analyzing goal setting within multiplayer digital games; game design sets the overarching goals of a game, and the boundaries around what is possible, but in many modes of play also encourage a degree of negotiated interpretation by the players.

Pendulous Decision-Making

A player in Game A opened by stating that the team-build game theme was SpongeBob. The player then sets out what the other team members will do and gave a clue about the scope of this project, “where they live and stuff.” This is quickly followed by a remark by another player that begins to explore a smaller personal goal or house that they want to work towards. This then prompts a further clarification about the central mission “Bikini Bottom,” a collection of homes that make up a small city set within SpongeBob. The planning at this stage of a game is pendulous, swinging from a main goal to personal goals, then back to a redefined central goal. While aligning players to work towards the same goal is a common planning task, a complication that is novel to many virtual worlds is how to just make them face the same way.

Avatar Alignment and Pointing the Way

The navigation in virtual games is complicated by direction and orientation cues that impact upon planning tasks.

I'm here. I see them there. No look, right here on top of the tower, on top of their tower

For this exchange in Game B, there is a verbal planning direction to make the other characters turn around towards a distant object and face in the same direction. Lacking cardinal directions, this is so that they can align their faces and attention the same way, towards a threat posed by the opposing team, and then agree on the next course of action. Not only is the planning in a virtual world challenged by the lack of clear directions, when a virtual player lacks arms to gesture or a head to turn, then they are even further challenged to point out a particular direction when elaborating upon their plans for a particular task. There are ways of working around this.

which way do you want it to go? … Like that way?

For example, a player in Game A attempts to probe the physical direction of a chosen for a small road construction by building a small section to draw the attention of other team members.

Without physically turning their Minecraft avatar, it is impossible for a virtual player to raise a hand to point in a direction for a particular planning task. They could become conspicuous and make an idea stand out in ways that are similar to we attract attention in the “real world.” A Minecraft player could make their avatar jumping, wave a sword, dig a hole, build a path to show off their actions to make their point clear and their planning task conspicuous.

To guide work on the same planning task in a virtual world with no clear cardinal directions, it is difficult for a player to ensure agreement and progress towards the same goal unless they can make fellow players face in the same direction. By facing the same challenge and problem, then the task planning dialogue can atomize a task into smaller steps that increment towards the same goal direction and the following task. It is at this point that players will exchange questions and trade their ideas.

Sharing Knowledge and Past Experience

One of Grau and Whitebread’s most interesting indicative behaviors for task planning is when a person discusses his or her knowledge about strategies or personal resources that can be used in order to solve the task. There were a number of instances of players in Game B sharing strategies that they deemed to be effective. Some of these were more conventional in nature, adhering to time-tested tactics developed and refined in other games with similar modes of play, and then transported to Minecraft’s version of Capture-The-Flag.

So it's a neutral game so far, I'm at imagine your spawn is just on where they're running to. It's great that spawn point.

The player shares their personal knowledge of the “great” spawn point, suggesting a level of familiarity with the layout of the map. This is interesting in that while the map is randomly generated, this player has either gained enough experience in the limited play time of this session to make a formative judgement on which “spawn points” are the most effective, or they have identified a pattern in the algorithm that Minecraft uses to place “spawn points” when generating these maps. This dialogue illustrates how difficult it can be to make distinctions between the four broader processes within shared regulation, as this one sentence shows that the player is both monitoring and evaluating their team members. It draws on the knowledge of the other games of Capture-The-Flag to evaluate the performance of the player’s team relative to their opposition, uses this evaluation to predict the opposition next strategy, and then in the same instance uses this knowledge to inform the suggestion of a potential strategy to counteract the likely maneuverers of the opponent.

As in other virtual and online environments (Hanewald and Gesthuizen 2009), task planning is undertaken by players who seem to be trading a currency of support, thoughts, ideas, and sharing experiences. Perhaps it is not surprising that in virtual games, some players would offer to trade with their life.

Personal Sacrifice and Reputation

In the Capture-The-Flag mode, one player has a rather unique understanding of the mortality of his game avatar as a resource to be exploited in achieving the team goal:

I'll be, I'll be a body bag.

This line suggested that the player was offering to position their character as a physical shield and protect another player running towards the opposing team’s flag. To understand this perspective and planning strategy, it is important to understand that players generally view their virtual character as a respawning avatar and recyclable resource. This strategy offers a chance to boost reputation at the risk at failure. A willingness to sacrifice your individual virtual health to assist the team commands a level of creativity and innovation. It does require that the plan is accepted by the other team members.

Justifying Your Plans and Planning by Nudging

Players in a virtual world can easily be seen as being distracted or working off-task. To counter this, they may need to articulate a modified plan that will justify their action or move that they are planning. Two examples of this occurred during Team-Build Game A when it briefly appeared that a player was briefly off-task as they were building a floor in their building and when they had found a fun feature such as a bubbles action that was worthy of distraction.

I need to make sure we get this or the ground in there would be a hot mess, okay?”

“Oh Lets see, I’m gonna go hide it back here, just in case it’s bad

When planning, players will give repeated verbal instructions to nudge another player into the correct position or a construct in a particular direction. While emphasis can be given to a planning task instruction by speaking louder or inflecting the voice, without the benefit of a visual expression or gesture, players can still give due emphasis towards their instructions by repeating them or gently prod another player into a desired location or build position.

.. a bit taller. I’ll be telling just a bit though, just a little bit, just a little bit.”

“.. Please step down, one more step down

Unlike working in the real world of a classroom, laboring on a complex task in a virtual world requires more explicit instructions to help change the behavior of other players. This can wildly vary from a gentle push to move a single block to a boldly unorthodox maneuver that threatens to undermine the unity of a team or destroy the spirit of the game.

Planning Your Task Legitimacy and Morality

Game B Capture-The-Flag involved an interesting discussion about the morality, “legit” or legality of a particular game action or nuances that would advantage them. One player in this game used a particularly unusual movement across the game map by sacrificing themselves but felt it necessary to firmly articulate the details of what they were planning to other team members.

I get back to the flag faster anyways.

That's actually legit strat, you could suicide and get to the flag quicker ….

Okay, just keep coming down.

Okay, watch out this is legit. This is like, this is serious business guys

The exact location of random spawn point where a team player reappears after their demise could provide that team a slight advantage by the novel strategy of a highly unusual but unexpected movement across the game map. Anticipating the potential for scorn from fellow team members, this player has emphasized the legitimacy of the movement, reinforcing that the advantageous movement was not restricted by any explicit game rules. In a sense, this player is using their task planning to affirm the legitimacy of the action that they are seeking and permit its adoption and use.

Okay, I'm sneaking around seeking staircases.

I’m sneakin, I’m sneakin.

Okay I've got the flag

For example in this dialogue from Game B, a player is similarly detailing their planned movements across a map. Many first-person shooting gamers express a disdain for players that hide their position on a map, avoid any obvious movement, then “snipe” or shoot from a distance, a behavior that is derogatively described as “camping” (Ash2x 2007). It seems to be considered more dignified to give the other team a fighting chance by encouraging moving about while you are shooting with the added skill of avoiding becoming a target. By contrast, it is considered fair game to move about the map in secret. What is interesting with this line of dialogue is that the player is attempting to explain their covert actions to verbally justify the morality of their chosen online behavior to the other team players. They are clearly engaging in a form of social regulation.

Examples of Players Motivated by Organizational Planning

The second subcategory of planning is referred to as organizational planning which involves the participants planning the organization of the task at a pragmatic level, such as allocating roles and setting expectations of individual contribution to the team. Instances of organizational planning were observed in both Game A and Game B, although these manifested in different ways. Once again, the rules of play dictated by the game design interwoven with the social norms of each respective subcommunity resulted in contrasting expressions of this process, as outlined in Table 4.
Table 4

Instances of organizational planning observed in Minecraft play

Indicative behaviors from Grau and Whitebread (2012)

Game A: Team-Build

(Gamer Chad 2018)

Game B: Capture-the-Flag

(Bajan Canadian 2014)

Student plans the organization of the task in a pragmatic level (who is going to do what)

“I’m gonna go and get stuff for SpongeBob’s little house.” (t = 59 s)

“I think, I think I’m gonna try to do like the Krista the Krusty Krab. I don’t know if I have time I believe, but I’m gonna try” (t = 4 m 45 s)

“I’ll be the defenseman, I’m gonna post up, I’m gonna post up.” (t = 1 m 32 s)

“You want to run the flag?” (t = 3 m 03 s)

“I got three and got one of them at almost. Tyler, I’m just distracting. Mitch I’m just buying you time” (t = 5 m 57 s)

“Yeah okay I’m through them, through big. I’m going the left side, protect my left side.” (t = 10 m 16 s)


Many statements shared in virtual environments are egocentric in the sense that they notified teammates about what a player was intending to do. Reviewing the instances of organizational planning observed in Minecraft listed in Table 4, a number of considerations become apparent from the dialogue shared in Game A.

I think, I think I'm gonna try to do like the Krista the Krusty Krab.

I don't know if I have time I believe, but I'm gonna try

This can be interpreted in a number of ways depending on the allocation of social capital within the group. It may be the case that this player feels inferior to their teammate, sensing that they don’t have an equal level of experience and hence are in no position to dictate what their peer should be doing with their limited time. Alternatively, they may see their peer as being inept and feel that they will have to engage in most of the construction as a unilateral act if their team is going to be competitive in the Team-Build game. It is important to note that unilateral planning and action is not necessary selfish in nature, as they can be an important process in having a team adjust an unsuccessful strategy.

Sense of Task Urgency

The examples elicited from Game B also show how the sense of urgency provoked through real-time interactions with an opposing team require more spontaneous and shorter-term planning, with less dialogue dedicated to planning for the “long game.” Instead, players were largely observed planning their response to events that had just occurred. Considerable dialogue involved adjusting their strategies in response to a defensive breakdown around protecting their flag.

I'll be the defenseman, I'm gonna post up, I'm gonna post up.

This dialogue from Game B follows the team ceding their flag to the opposition. There is a sense urgency to this comment, with the player fearing that the opponent was nearby, and that another successful maneuver by the opposition could shift the momentum irreparability in the other team’s favor. Through conveying these fears to the rest of team, the player signals a perceived need for a change in team strategy. Recognizing and communicating this recognition for adjustment is an important process within organization planning. It gives notice about continued engagement and the scope for plans to change.

Changing Task Strategy

This is a recognition that a change in strategy is required, with the need for a more defensive posture. Within the broader cycle of shared regulation, this verbalization can be seen as serving dual purposes. It is both a pragmatic allocation of human resources and perhaps more contentiously a subtle reminder to the other players of the need to play a defensive role, as opposed to prioritizing individual glory and focusing on the thrill of capturing the opponents flag. This shift in emphasis from prioritizing exhibitions of individual skill towards planning coordinated strategies where players are willing to take on a secondary role was also seen in the team’s offensive endeavors. Through subsequent cycles of attack on the enemy base, it can be heard by one player that someone else should be going for the flag while the player will protect the designated flag carrier:

You want to run the flag?

Adjusting the plans at the shared-level requires some degree of recognition from the other players that the existing plan is unlikely to succeed. The degree to which players change their actions as a result may reflect their confidence in this plan but can also be influence by their own self interests. They are foreseeably much less likely to agree to a plan if they perceive this new course of action as disadvantaging their process towards their individual goals, such as gaining the most enemy “kills.” This is tension between individual success and group success is a recurring theme when considering organizational planning.

Unilateral Organization Within the Team

In the duress of a competitive game, players are often forced to make decisions without consulting their peers out of necessity. In Game B, for example, players in the game explained a strategy that involved a measure of self-sacrifice for the greater good of a team. In one instance, one described themselves as becoming a “body bag,” hinting at a strategy that would involve their easy death by the opposing side. Another player in verbally justified their planned reckless behavior to reassure the other team members:

Tyler, I'm just distracting. Mitch I'm just buying you time

This dialogue between two attacking players shows an instance where one player has unilaterally recognized that effective planning requires more time and has decided to take matters into his own hands. Although the planning has occurred at an individual level, the player needs to share his plan with his peers to put it into action. As the first player has already begun to put this plan into action by jumping around and drawing attention from the opposition, the other players need to evaluate the effectiveness of this plan and then either accept it or form an alternative plan. Shared planning requires a complex consideration for both individual and group goals, although as the above example shows, the social goals are ultimately filtered by interpretations of the “team goal” by individual players. Although planning at a shared-level allows for the declaration and careful consideration of every player’s individual goals, the added pressure of a time limit in Game A and an opposing team in Game B can disrupt these negotiations. This can leave players making unilateral decisions that they believe are in the best interests of the team.

Planning Roles Within the Team

As Game B progressed, the pendulum between planning pragmatic roles gear towards either individual success or team success swung back towards prioritizing the individual player. This was likely a conscience of victory for the player’s team at this late stage of the match being seemingly assured:

Yeah okay I'm through them, through big. I'm going the left side, protect my left side.

In this dialogue, the player is still planning the roles of the other players but sought to coordinate them in a manner that positioned himself as the central progantist in the action. This position of the self as the hero through this pragmatic organization reflects both the power dynamics within the group and brings to mind questions player perception of individual identity within the group. This player wanted to be perceived by his peers as the hero, seeking to align perceptions of his individual success with the team achieving their common goal. This careful framing of socio-emotional planning dialogue can help mitigate unwanted responses by other team members and their steer perception of the player as focused on the welfare of the team.

Examples of Players Being Motivated by Socio-emotional Planning

Finally, Grau and Whitebread suggest a third subcategory of planning entitled “socio-emotional planning.” This involves preempting what other people may feel and planning a way to avoid negative or unwanted emotional responses from peers. This is the most interesting category, as there are no examples provided by Grau and Whitebread (2012) in studying collaborative interactions in the primary Science classroom. This is where examining social regulation through the context of the lens of Minecraft becomes particularly interesting. Three instances that could be classified as socio-emotional planning were found in both Game A and Game B, as highlighted in Table 5.
Table 5

Instances of socio-emotional planning observed in Minecraft play

Indicative behaviors from Grau and Whitebread (2012)

Game A: Team-Build

(Gamer Chad 2018)

Game B: Capture-the-Flag

(Bajan Canadian 2014)

None provided as Grau and Whitebread reported they did not observe any instances of socio-emotional planning

OK, I mean it looks really good but I don’t like it. It should be 3D.” (ref here)

“You ever ate butter with a spoon, that’s how it’s gonna be.” (t = 1 m 41 s)

Listen they needed that, they needed that. You don’t mean cuz they were getting really demoralized, so this is good alright” (t = 1 m 22 s)

Unraveling the planning process in any online game requires a measure of subjective interpretation grounded in a clear understanding about the culture within and surrounding the game. To draw a connection between planning for the emotional state of the other players and the associated dialogue requires an understanding of the social norms found within Minecraft communities and an understanding of the design of the respective modes of play. In the Game B Team-Build example, a planning instance can be classified as socio-emotional planning when one player prefaces her critique of her peer’s taste in architecture with the phrase “OK, I mean it looks really good,” preempting his foreseeable displeasure about receiving negative feedback on his plans for a particular component of SpongeBob’s house. By including this phrase, she is acknowledging the emotional connection he may have developed to his work. In an arguably unrefined manner, she is trying to both praise his effort and share a critique about the product of his labors.

Maintaining a Balanced Team Mental State

Reviewing the instances of socio-emotional planning in the game of Capture-The-Flag also requires a deeper understanding of this mode of play. This mode is more intensively competitive by design, with a game being scored in real-time through a combination of enemy “kills” and flag “captures.” A player and a team’s relative success is broadcast to everyone playing or observing the match, with the game providing instantaneous feedback on an individual’s performance for the world to see. This public sharing of an individual’s contribution to the success, or lack of success, in achieving the team goal may foreseeably have a toll on their performance. Just as talk about baseball players who “get into a rut” and are seemingly unable to hit the ball, competitive gamers can falter under the glare of a public audience (Jin 2010). This can occur despite their objectively high level of playing experience and past successes. Following this logic, the other players have a vested interest in maintaining an individual player’s emotional state in this more competitive environment. In Game B, this planning for a “winning” team mindset begins early, with one player predicting that:

You ever ate butter with a spoon, that's how it's gonna be.

This seemingly boastful comment, comparing the perceived “easy” level of competition from the opposing team to a hot spoon easily digging through butter can be interpreted in a number of ways. One interpretation is that the comment was designed to be reassuring, allaying the fears of his teammates and reducing the levels of anxiety about playing on an unknown, randomly generated map. This preempting of a negative emotional state is also evident when considering later dialogue after a significant individual error, which could have had ramifications for achieving the collective goal:

Listen they needed that, they needed that. You don't mean cuz they were getting really demoralized, so this is good alright

These are the affirming words from one player to his teammate after he failed in his designated role of defending his team’s flag. The player was caught unaware and was killed by an enemy player, leaving their flag vulnerable. From this event, the opposing team scored a much needed victory. The affirming player has identified that this player is most likely feeling responsible for this loss and has reminded him and the rest of his team that they still maintain a significant score advantage over the other team. All three examples are interpretations of dialogue through the lens of socio-emotional planning, with other equally valid interpretations of the dialogue being possible. What they serve to do is provoke thought about the value that players place on the emotional state of their peers, and of this may be strategically manipulated through bilateral and whole team communication.

Conclusions: Social Regulation Within Multiplayer Digital Gaming

Educational systems in developed economies are increasingly called to assist in the transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a knowledge-based economy with a priority placed on “soft skills” (Lay and Kamisah 2017) such as the set of effective collaboration skills privileged by both educational theorists and economists (Griffin McGaw and Care 2012). Central to these skills are the processes of social regulation. Grau and Whitebread’s coding scheme can help identifying and classifying “real world” observations of the processes and subprocesses within regulatory planning. As a tool, it can help understand the potential motivations underpinning these processes. The provision of a common vocabulary, alongside the indicative behaviors, allows for a comparison between the frequency and nature of regulatory planning in physical spaces. This is the basis for an improved model that better describes and defines the ways that social regulatory process can occur within simulations and virtual environments such as the Minecraft game. The model will need to consider the complex relationship between the virtual environment design, artifacts, location, and social regulation.

Pertinent questions include:
  1. 1.

    What are the differences between players engaging in online play and local multiplayer, and where players are co-located in a shared physical space?

  2. 2.

    What is the role of game design in promoting social regulation?

  3. 3.

    What is the relationship between people using these processes in a designed virtual environment and people using them in other contexts in the physical world?


Whether it is working together to build SpongeBob’s house, designing a sustainable form of transport, or undertaking a joint experiment in a Science class, when people are working and planning together on a shared task, a refined understanding of these social regulatory processes will assist with their effective collaboration.

A dedicated coding scheme that derives from this model would allow for a nuanced study of the social regulation of cognition, emotion, and behavior in a virtual context. Not only would this be an asset in developing better games by incorporating principles that encourage positive social regulatory processes, an improved understanding of the relationship between virtual world design and its influence upon player interaction could have wider implications for the design of these virtual environments and other simulations.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Learning InterventionMelbourne Graduate School of EducationMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Monash UniversityClaytonAustralia