Minecraft is one of the most popular and influential video games of all time. It has captured the imaginations of kids across the globe. But for many parents, it’s an alien world. We aren’t as clued up as our kids on what the game involves, don’t necessarily know what dangers might come with it and sometimes struggle to know how to harness it as a tool for education and creativity. Because when used properly, it can be just that. So here’s Everything You Need to Know About…Minecraft.
First…what is it?
Minecraft is a 3D Computer game where players can build anything. It’s known as a “sandbox” game because it offers a creative landscape with endless possibilities. There’s no plot or objective – it’s not like you’re trying to save Princess Peach like in Mario, nor are you aiming to defeat a Boss or take care of your own little farm or island. Minecraft is unique in that respect. It’s much more about the creative elements. The players are entirely in control of what they want to do in the world they create.
The entire Minecraft world is made up of 1×1 3D blocks. These blocks make up the ground, can be stacked to make trees and include water blocks that can flow into rivers and oceans. Each block can be broken and moved around to build other structures like castles and houses or other structures. Minecraft is sometimes described as an online Lego or an online playground. And like any playground you learn what to do through exploration and experimentation. The more you play, the more you learn.
Why do kids love it?
Minecraft is particularly popular with kids aged 6-13 and the reason? They can create anything. It’s sort of like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we loved as kids (just us?) but with more tech involved. Kids can create rollercoasters or cities, islands and everything in between. The possibilities are endless – the only limit is your imagination and when you’re aged 6-13, that’s not much of a limit. There’s also a multiplayer option, meaning your kids can play with their mates and they can build together. The option to play together combined with the freedom is what makes the game so appealing for so many.
Is it safe?
As with anything online, there are risks with playing Minecraft. But as with anything online, with a bit of knowledge, these risks can be mitigated. Minecraft has both single player and multiplayer modes. In single player mode Creative mode on the ‘peaceful’ setting, there’s no interaction with other players, and there’s no conflict, so your kids can focus entirely on the creative aspect of the game. But there will, inevitably, come a time when they want to play with others. Minecraft contains little violence – there’s no blood or gore – but players can hit or kill each other or animals in multiplayer mode.
In multiplayer mode, there’s also the chance to encounter bad language, harassment, inappropriate content when your kids interact with other people from around the world. This can mostly be avoided by turning off the chat function (this is a helpful guide on how to do that).
One of the biggest risks when it comes to Minecraft though, is the content about Minecraft consumed outside the game. Lots of kids like to watch videos on YouTube to get help, hints and tips about the game. Some of these tutorials include bad language, inappropriate comments and other stuff we might not want our kids to be hearing or seeing. These kid-friendly channels can be useful to recommend as the go-to place for all their Minecraft related needs.
Is Minecraft used by predators?
The internet is the Wild Wild West and there’s always the chance that people with bad intentions can use the platform, so there’s always a chance that your child might run into one of them, especially if the moderation isn’t up to scratch. It’s always best to play on a well-known and well established server (like these) rather than on a random server. Remember to have open and honest conversations with your kids about online safety. Remind them they can block, mute and report anyone who is behaving inappropriately towards them.
Are there benefits to playing Minecraft?
Yes! Minecraft definitely has more benefits than the telly we were watching in our youth. In fact, some schools have even started integrating it into lessons at school. It’s great for helping kids develop problem solving skills, helps them learn basic computer programming skills and encourages creativity. It develops teamwork skills and encourages collaboration, as well as improving mathematical, spatial and analytical skills.
But like any bit of learning kit, it’s about who is guiding the learning. If we leave our kids to their own devices, they might not get as much out of it as if we help them a little. Commonsense Media recommends asking questions to boost your child’s learning. Questions like “Why did you build that?,” “How did you make that?,” and “How do you feel when you make a cool structure?” will expand your child’s thinking and get you involved in their gameplay too.
How much does it cost?
Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross may have sung that the Best Things in Life Are Free (what a banger) but we don’t think they had kids who wanted to play computer games. You’ve got to buy Minecraft to play and then there can be some additional costs. You can play without any compulsory spend, but you can guarantee you’re going to get asked for things like “texture packs” “skins” “Realms” and, in some cases, online membership. Texture and skin packs change the appearance of Minecraft blocks, Realms is a way for online multiplayer games to take place and with some consoles (such as the Nintendo Switch), you can only play multiplayer games with an online membership.
So what’s the verdict?
Minecraft has the potential to be a force for developing creativity and imagination that we can nurture as parents. Allowing our kids to explore and create in Minecraft but keeping a watchful eye over the way they use the tech will allow them to cultivate loads of really useful skills that will carry them a long way in the tech-driven world we live in. Coupling Minecraft usage with screen-time caps, asking the right questions to help learning and making sure they know how to use the internet safely means we’ll hopefully find the perfect balance between learning and fun.