A parents guide to Minecraft
Back in 2009, a Swedish game designer gave us what can easily be described as a phenomenon. At first glance, it may seem like video games had taken a huge step backwards with Minecraft's quirky pixelated graphics. But the game has sold over 100 million copies and at any one time around 1 million people will be playing this simple, yet hugely popular game. Whether your child is playing or their friends are, you may be curious to know what the fascination is and whether it is educational and safe for your kids.
What is Minecraft?
According to Mojang, the company that develops the game: “Minecraft is a game about placing blocks and going on adventures."
Minecraft is a 'sandbox' style game. Unlike 'linear' games where you start from the beginning and work your way through levels to the end, a sandbox game allows the player to do basically anything they like within the game - build a house, create a farm, go exploring - there is no right or wrong way to play and every Minecraft world is different.
Players can gather resources, craft items, build structures and landscape features, farm or mine for valuable ore. They do this by breaking and placing blocks wherever they want them within their Minecraft world. Blocks may be dirt, wood, sand, iron, coal, even diamond! By crafting items, players can create planks, carpet, beds, windows, ladders and more. As time progresses, players experience day and night. They can speed up the night phase by going to bed (once you've built one, of course!).
How much does it cost?
The game is available on PC, game console or mobile devices. As far as video games go it is reasonably priced at $40 (NZD) for the PC version, around $55 for the console games and less for the pocket version which has less features. Before you buy the full version, you can try a demo for free. Even though Minecraft looks simple, the game itself is huge and testing it out on your home PC before buying is highly recommended.
Once the game is installed there is also a huge amount of free mods and texture packs that can be downloaded to the PC version to add interest. Just be careful where you download them from as some do contain malware.
Creative Mode is where the fun begins. Players can use infinite resources to build and their character can't be hurt or killed off. This mode is perfect for younger kids as there is nothing that will scare them or upset them by destroying the world they have built.
Survival Mode still lets you be creative but it adds interest by requiring players to seek out resources, keep their health in check and find or grow food to eat. The aggressive 'mobs', like spiders, skeletons and zombies will attack you in Survival Mode and your character can die but you quickly respawn. The good thing is they only come out at night so it's a good idea to be tucked up in bed before the sun goes down (a lesson in life too!). If the hostile mobs are annoying the difficulty can be changed to Peaceful to remove them.
The aggressive mobs could barely be classed as scary to look at but they have a habit of popping up and attacking you when you least expect it which can result in a fright, especially if you can't repel their attack. And then there's those Endermen. I love a good horror film but I have to admit these do creep me out! The violence is not graphic - there's no blood or gore. When a mob dies it just falls over and disappears.
Playing with others and safety
The safest way to play Minecraft is in single player mode where your child is playing by themselves, offline. Next is the LAN option which enables you to play with friends in the same place who are sharing an internet connection via ethernet or WiFi.
Multiplayer offers the most options for exploration but also has the most risks. Players can join worlds created by others, play mini-games and talk to others through the chat function. A Google search will enable you to find 'family friendly' servers that they can join where moderation is strictest. It's always a good idea to remind your children about online safety, ie do not talk to people you don't know and never give out personal information. If they are ever in any doubt, encourage them to ask you for guidance. If you want your kids to only play with their own friends online then check out Minecraft Realms.
The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) has a great infographic which covers the basics of keeping kids safe playing Minecraft.
What's the appeal?
In Minecraft, a child can create almost anything that they imagine. The freedom of the game play enables kids to extend their own personal interests and create a world to match their wildest dreams. My son is fascinated by medieval times and has built huge castles with great halls, turrets, hidden passages, stables and more and designed heraldry banners and defensive positions. He seeks out ideas from books, tutorials and videos to build and improve his creations. His most recent creation was an automatic egg collector for his chicken farm! Encourage the kids to show you what they have created – you will be amazed at what they can achieve.
Is it educational?
Minecraft encourages focus, creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, computer literacy and can help build social skills around a common interest. It has been used by teachers in the classroom to help with mathematics, history, engineering, writing and design by providing a familiar resource that kids can easily manipulate to aid in visualisation.
This article was written by Julie Scanlon, Editor of Kidspot New Zealand.