If you are a parent of a non-Minecraft playing child then you're probably feeling a bit guilty about not making sure your child is prepared for the Tech Age. In this article we'll take a look at the benefits of playing Minecraft and give you some tips on getting your child started with their Minecraft obsession.
So What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a computer game (or simulation) in which children build things from virtual blocks and also destroy them. There are versions of Minecraft available for the PC, tablets, consoles and even the Raspberry Pi. Minecraft supports multiplayer games where kids can interact with each other in a shared Minecraft world.
In Minecraft players build things by places blocks made from different materials. They can also make or 'craft' new objects to get cool stuff. The genre that Minecraft belongs to is called Sandbox games - somewhere to experiment and have fun.
Kids can play in survival mode where they have to try and stay alive, but creative mode where kids can roam around and build stuff is very popular. There's also an upcoming Story Mode.
Why Do Kids Like Minecraft?
OK, so you're still working on getting your child to appreciate Minecraft. But what do millions of kids like about Minecraft? Basically, they love making stuff and showing it to others. It's important to note that girls love Minecraft, it's not just boys that it appeals to.
Because you can build stuff. 4 Year Old
Minecraft isn't a traditional computer game in which you are told which puzzles to solve, it's an open ended adventure where kids have lots of choice over what they do. Kids set challenges for themselves and then solve them, sometimes by collaborating with others.
You can make pretty much anything in creative mode and nothing can kill you. 8 Year Old
A large part of a child's life is constrained by adults. In Minecraft they get to be in control of their environment. They don't have to keep tidying their worlds away at the end of a play session to keep adults happy.
You can build whatever you want. I like creative most because you can't die and you have everything that is in Minecraft. 7 Year Old
Having survival mode and creative mode really gives two quite different experiences and this broadens the appeal.
I don't like it. Another 7 Year Old (we're still working on him ...)
Interestingly, Minecraft wasn't actually designed as a kids game. It was intended for adults. I guess Minecraft is the game kids actually wanted rather than the one adults thought they wanted.
It's Like Lego, but on your computer. 15 Year Old
The social factor is definitely important too. As well as playing collaboratively and showing others what they have made, kids have a shared experience to talk about both online and offline.
That's all pretty good stuff isn't it? Kids get to use their imagination, challenge themselves and develop social skills.
Why Do Parents Like Minecraft?
In Minecraft the child is in charge of what they want to do. They are not guided through levels and challenges as they would be in a typical video game. They are active participants deciding what to do. Kids spend a lot of time in school and at organised activities, it's good for them to have some freedom to decide what to do.
My eight year old has recreated the world from the book 'The Princess and the Goblin' in Exploration (a Minecraft-like app which he currently prefers to Minecraft Pocket Edition.)
My kids will often recreate worlds from books they have read, or had read to them, or movies they have watched.
Minecraft is great for developing spatial awareness. This is a skill I personally lack both in the real world and the virtual world. Maybe I would be better if I'd been able to play Minecraft as a child? Kids have to navigate large worlds and manipulate blocks in 3D space. Useful stuff.
Minecraft doesn't have to be a social game, it can be played solo, but it's often played socially. Minecraft is particularly good for getting families playing together and having a shared experience rather than being isolated via their individual screens. Kids as young as 4 can master the basics which teenagers (and parents) can build more complex worlds. When my kids play Minecraft or another sandbox game they are in and out of each other's worlds, collaborating or just sightseeing, and they love it when their parents play too.
I like it because it's a creative game that appeals to all of my kids from the 4 year old to the 15 year old.
When they are ready, kids can progress into online communities and start to develop their online social skills.
Minecraft is reasonably priced compared to a lot of popular console games which is definitely appreciated by parents. It also doesn't nag kids to buy extra items like many apps and subscription games. Minecraft is a game you buy once (well per platform anyway), there are no ongoing costs (unless you want to host a server which isn't something most players will do.) You don't need to buy bundles of gems, coins, magic beans or other virtual currency.
There is associated merchandise such as books, LEGO sets (yeah Minecraft doesn't actually stop them playing with LEGO, it just influences their play) and toys, these are of course optional and provide a good opportunity to encourage interests away from a computer screen.
Minecraft is cultural capital. Seriously. Minecraft is very popular and many kids spend time discussing it at school. For many kids it plays the role that popular TV programmes did when I was a child. Having a common interest is very useful for making and keeping friends. I can imagine today's kids bonding over remembered Minecraft experiences in their adult lives too.
Minecraft does have some blocky violence but it's very tame compared to many of the games that attract tweens. A healthy interest in Minecraft can help keep older kids away from less suitable games for longer.
And finally, one of our favourite reasons here at Tech Age Kids: Minecraft can also be a platform for developing coding skills. This can start with using redstone in Minecraft, it's like electricity and kids and teens can build circuits to power their Minecraft creations. There's a free version of Minecraft for the Raspberry Pi which support programming using the Python language. There are also environments for creation modifications 'mods' for Minecraft using various programming languages. Extending Minecraft can be a real motivation to learn to code for some kids.
How to Introduce Your Child to Minecraft
So you're convinced that your child should be playing Minecraft? Good decision. The next question is how to get them started.
We started with the Minecraft Pocket Edition on the iPad (US | UK) which was a mistake in retrospect. The Pocket Edition doesn't have all the features or much in the way of help and was tricky for the kids to learn the controls. The app is better used as a mobile alternative for established players.
A Playstation or XBox console version of Minecraft makes a lot of sense for beginners, the physical controllers are a bit more accessible than the keyboard shortcuts needed on the PC and multiple players can play at the same time in a split-screen mode which means siblings (and parents) can play and learn together. The console version has a tutorial mode which is really helpful for getting started. Note though that you'll need the PC version once kids get into coding.
You'll find that online resources, videos and even books are useful for learning about the deeper aspects of Minecraft. Look out for a future post where we'll be recommending resources that are suitable for helping kids get started.