Video games rarely get attention as a “good” or “healthy” activity for children. Many have been criticized for their adult themes, which include violence, drugs, or sex. Video games with positive themes are produced, but rarely make it onto children’s in-demand lists. There is one game, however, which parents should consider looking at differently—Minecraft.
The premise of Minecraft is that you are a player in a world made of simple blocks, which can be made of things like stone, wood, metal, etc. There are mountains, oceans, jungles, and deserts, and players can discover caves, villages, and temples. The blocks are “mined” with tools, like shovels or pickaxes. Then players build castles, tunnels, towers, houses, or pretty much whatever they can imagine. Additionally, they can grow plants and crops, raise sheep, pigs, or chickens, and tame wolves.
That all sounds great…but what is the main objective? There really isn’t one. Or rather, it is whatever you want it to be. The basic goal is to explore, build, and have fun. It is really the same objective of Legos. The only thing that comes close to being a main objective is that you can find a special portal to a world that contains a dragon that you can defeat. Not defeating the dragon will not impact the game, nor will defeating it; this is simply something that you can do.
There are two basic modes in the out-of-the-box version of Minecraft (there are modifications you can download to change the game and Mojang is working on a “storyline” version of the game). The first is survival mode, in which you start with nothing but a map and you must search and mine all of your materials. You also may be attacked by zombies or giant spiders at night, but given that the game is not highly detailed in animation, they are not scary at all. The other mode is called creative mode, where you can fly and spawn blocks at will. This is fun for players who just wants to be creative.
Why Should You Let Your Children Play?
Unlike a lot of other video games on the market, the main goals of the game are creativity, imagination, and innovation. It is like Legos, minus the giant expense. Using elements found in the world, players can “craft” items such as boats, minecarts, railways, and even electrical circuits (referred to in the game as “redstone”).
Creativity. Minecraft is built on pure creativity. The world is an open sandbox for players to build whatever they can dream up. Check out this video by WatchMojo for some crazy ideas:
Spacial reasoning. Just like in real-life engineering, spacial reasoning is key to completing your creations. For example, if you are building a multi-level structure, you need to plan out where the stairs will go, as they take up space. Leave too little room and you won’t be able to get upstairs.
Reward for effort. If you are playing in “survival mode” you must find, mine, and possibly craft all the materials you use in building. You have to cut down trees, dig up stone, and bake clay into bricks in order to build what you want. Over time, the more you work, the more you are rewarded for your work.
Cooperation. Minecraft can be played with multiple people. When they are all in the same world, they need to work together to build their creations. Oftentimes this involves dividing up work tasks and sharing tools and materials. This is great for parents who are tired of their kids fighting over games best suited for one player.
What Concerns Might Parents Have?
Some parents have expressed certain concerns about Minecraft. Here’s what you need to know:
Violence. Minecraft is rated E for Everyone. The only warning that comes with that rating is “Fantasy Violence.” You can craft basic weapons, such as a sword or bow and arrow. However, the use of such weapons isn’t overly violent. When you hit enemies (such as zombies), they simply flash red and bounce back. When they are defeated, they fall down and disappear. Thus, the violence level in Minecraft is mildly cartoonish, at worst.
Adult content. One of my wife’s coworkers once expressed concern about “sex” in the Minecraft game her children were playing. I can see how this might be misconstrued. You can send animals, such as cows, into “love mode.” This is actually more innocent than it sounds. If you give animals their favorite food, they enter “love mode” and you will see hearts float above them. If you put two into “love mode” they will look at each other and a baby will magically appear. That’s it.
Terror. Minecraft shouldn’t be too scary for most children. The world can be set to have a daytime and a nighttime, with the later being a bit dark (the sun isn’t out). You can set a difficulty level that lets enemies such as zombies and skeletons spawn at night or in caves. If you don’t want those, you can set the game’s difficulty to “peaceful.” Players can also create a portal to the “netherworld,” and this might be a bit scary for really young children. This world is filled with lava and darker looking fortresses and the music is also a bit unusual. However, the “terror” here is very mild.
Screen time. The game is a bit addicting. Like any other activity involving screen time, it is best to take breaks every few hours. While I am an advocate of allowing kids to play Minecraft, it should be balanced out with other interests, especially outdoor activities.
Online interactions. Minecraft can be played online, and like any other online game, this does leave you open to interactions with strangers on the Internet. This setting can easily be turned off if there are any concerns.
How to Get Minecraft
Minecraft is sold a little differently than most games parents are used to buying. You can purchase a physical copy of the game (see Amazon for options), but most copies are bought digitally and are downloaded. It is available for most major platforms, including PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, Android, and iOS. Expect to pay $20 for each version (mobile versions are around $7). Once you have the game, you will constantly get all the upgrades. New features and items are always being released, but you will get them for free. The PC version has the most options, while the mobile versions have the fewest.
Minecraft is a great game for children to play. Since it supports multiple players, all your children can participate at once. You might even want to jump in on the creative fun yourself. For more information you can visit Minecraft’s website and forum here.