If you are the parent of a child aged 5-17, you have undoubtedly heard of Minecraft. The phrase ‘heard of,’ in most cases being a euphemism for ‘struggled with.’ If left unmonitored, your child would pretty much play this video game non-stop and would use seemingly nonsensical phrases that you may have trouble decrypting.
Tick the box if you have heard the following phrase. You may tick more than one.
☐ “A creeper just blew up my house.”
☐ “The Zombie Pigmen are attacking.”
☐ “Ooohhh, I found diamonds.”
☐ “I went to the Nether and saw fire, lava and Netherbrick.”
☐ “Look at my spawn eggs: pigs, witches, sheep, villagers, zombies. So cool.”
☐ “Yes, (air fist pump) I just spawned a lot of mobs.”
This lingo becomes even more puzzling if your child is playing with a friend or is in multiplayer mode, in which case, most parents just reach for a glass of wine and say like Elsa from the Disney film, Frozen, “Let it go.”
But perhaps you are made of sterner stuff and you have peeked at the game, yet you still can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Let’s face it, the game looks like a fuzzy, pixelated Atari game, where instead of shooting asteroids or caterpillars, you just sort of push blurry Lego blocks around. And that Steve guy, the main Minecraft character, reminds you of the Blockheads from Gumby and Pokey episodes from the 70’s.
Well, nostalgia aside for the good ol’ games (that your mom never yelled at you about), let’s gear up and understand Minecraft once and for all.
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is an open-ended building game, a sort of electronic version of Legos on steroids. The game is never-ending and the combinations of play are endless. Basically, Minecraft is about breaking, placing blocks, building structures and protecting yourself against monsters. It can also be incredibly adventurous or creative, where you can visit lands of flowers or whatever interests you.
And I think that is a perfect summation of the game: it has a little bit of something for everyone.
The game was developed by a Swedish video game programmer and designer, Markus Persson a.k.a. Notch in 2011, who sold all of the assets to Microsoft in 2014 saying, “If I ever accidently make something again that gains traction, I will probably abandon it immediately.” Oh yeah, he’s a billionaire.
How do you play it?
You can play the game on almost any device: gaming console linked to computer or TV, tablets, smartphones, or handheld gaming consoles. You can play in creative mode (you create things and cartoon-like monsters can’t attack you), survival mode (you must survive against monsters and hunger) or adventure mode (you can not break blocks, but you can kill or be killed by monsters).
Why does your child want to play it for hours on end?
Being in a 3D Lego like building environment can be very attractive for young people. My own children love it because they are able to create and destroy and rebuild at will. They are able to create an environment, create a character, choose tools, construct buildings, worlds and hey, the sky is the limit.
How old should my child be before I let her play Minecraft?
Minecraft was NOT created for children. GASP. Who knew? And yet millions of children around the world are hooked on the game.
I would advise waiting until your child is at least 7 or 8 before introducing them to Minecraft. I have seen children as young as 5 playing, however Common Sense Media rates the game for children 8 and older. One challenge you may face is when an older sibling plays Minecraft and you have to refuse your younger child.
What are the benefits – if any – of letting my child play Minecraft?
Minecraft can be a fantastic educational tool and Marianne Malmstrom, an award-winning teacher using Minecraft in the classroom, is proof of that. Other teachers have chimed in and written brilliant pieces about Minecraft in the Classroom. There is even an official Mojang supported website dedicated to Minecraft Education.
But wait, your child isn’t playing in class, he’s playing in his room. There are a few benefits of Minecraft at home: Minecraft encourages creativity, teaches kids to set and complete goals, makes math fun and encourages teamwork when in multiplayer mode. Check out these articles for more benefits; 10 thing parents need to know, or the in-depth Parent’s Guide to Minecraft.
What are the risks of playing Minecraft?
Obsession with playing Minecraft is a huge problem with this never-ending game and one of the most important things parents can do is to set limits. Read this article to understand the difference between Minecraft obsession and addiction.
There is no graphic content in Minecraft, however there are cartoon monsters, which may be scary to younger children. More frightening monsters may enter from multiplayer mode if your child is playing with strangers. Limit this mode and/or allow your child to play in multiplayer mode only with friends that s/he knows.
Check out this MineMum article on 10 problems that parents may have with Minecraft, which takes a look at the not-so-good things about Minecraft and offers suggestions to make it better.
How can I keep my child safe on Minecraft?
Even with a dedicated server, your child will somehow find her way to YouTube where there are tons of Minecraft videos demonstrating how to build better and faster or other never-before-seen playing skills. The videos, usually show someone else playing Minecraft and believe it or not, there are young 20 something’s out there who are millionaires with Minecraft channels. Oh I feel the disbelief. Check out Youtube stars Joseph Garrett a.k.a. Stampylongnose or Daniel Middleton a.k.a DanTDM and then you will understand why your daughter or son is no longer studying for a career as an architect but rather planning on becoming a YouTube sensation.
There are other channels out there some with swear words and violence, but use these guide to find kid-friendly Minecraft channels – and remember to set limits on how long your child can watch the episodes.
With older kids, limit text and chatting within Minecraft and as always keep that multiplayer mode open only to known friends.
How can I set limits on Minecraft?
Understanding the benefits of the game while setting limits on actual playtime is the best way to go.
If your children can follow your rules, then grab a chart and note when and how long they can play Minecraft. For example, after they finish their homework and household chores, they can be rewarded with 30 minutes of play. And when they shut down on the 30 minute mark, remember to reward/compliment them for that good behaviour as well.
If your children are too young to self-regulate their screen time, you may have to step in with parental controls tools that will allow you to set the limits.
I have found with my own children, that if I allow them to finish a task or play until it’s daytime (in the game), then they are less likely to throw a fit if I just willy-nilly try to shut them down.