I’m always on the lookout for apps and games that might be dangerous for my kids to use, but I’m happy to say that today I’m writing about one that my 13-year-old daughter loves…and I have to admit, I think it’s pretty cool, too. It’s hugely popular and called Minecraft.
So what is Minecraft? According to the game’s creators:
Minecraft is a game about breaking and placing blocks. At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew, players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things.
It can also be about adventuring with friends or watching the sun rise over a blocky ocean. It’s pretty. Brave players battle terrible things in The Nether, which is more scary than pretty. You can also visit a land of mushrooms if it sounds more like your cup of tea.
In a nutshell, it’s a clever game for building imaginative things and battling monsters (if that’s your thing).
Minecraft is available on PC, Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Playstation 3. The Pocket Edition is available for iOS and Android, and is available to download from iTunes or Google Play for $6.99. The version my daughter uses is the Pocket Edition for iOS, so that’s my frame of reference for this article. At the moment, Minecraft Pocket Edition does not have all the features of the PC and Xbox versions.
Minecraft is an open-ended game where there is no score and, in theory, the fun and creativity can go on with it forever.
When you first look at Minecraft, you might be surprised by how rudimentary it looks. It’s not made up of high resolution graphics, but everything just looks like rough, blocky pixels. It has sort of a rustic charm to it that is very appealing to users.
Minecraft has a couple of different modes to choose from. In creative mode, you have all the materials you could want to build your masterful creations readily available to you. Materials such as wood, wool, clay bricks, string, sticks, bedrock, lava, fire, cobblestone, diamond blocks, emeralds, gold — the list goes on. Monsters are not available in this mode unless you “spawn” them. There are also animals in the game — cats, sheep, cows, pigs, etc. — that can be kept as pets or used for food. The possibilities for creativity are truly endless.
In survival mode, players must collect and craft resources, build structures, battle monsters, manage hunger, and explore the land in an effort to survive. In survival mode players start with nothing and seek out the basic materials to craft the things they need to survive (structures, weapons, food). When night falls in survival mode, players must retreat to their creations to hide from the monsters that come out in the darkness, or prepare for battle. There are zombies, spiders, skeletons, creepers and more, and players must fight them off using the swords, arrows and pickaxes they crafted or take shelter in a protected place until daybreak.
Here are a sampling of some of the monsters you’ll find lurking throughout the Pocket Edition of Minecraft. The PC and Xbox versions of Minecraft offer the opportunity to create a portal to a “hellish” place called “The Nether” where you’ll encounter a wider array of creepy critters:
My daughter tends to use the game in creative mode and spends hours building intricate mazes and elaborate fantasy houses with huge swimming pools, fire pits and sprawling gardens. She gathers materials/ingredients to bake cakes in furnaces and keeps large numbers of animals as pets or farm animals as sources of food. She keeps cows and tells me that if you “tap” on them with an empty bucket, you are rewarded with a full bucket of milk! She enjoys putting things in her houses in places they don’t belong, just because it’s possible and fun! She loves to offer “tours” of her creations. Here’s a snapshot of the backyard of her latest mansion:
Take a look at the link below to see some impressive examples of what can be created with Minecraft. Take a tour and you’ll see great examples of the materials, critters and creatures your kids may encounter in the game. These “worlds” were most likely created in the PC or Xbox version of the game, since there seem to be more things included here than are available currently in the Pocket Edition:
Minecraft in the classroom
Teachers are beginning to recognize and appreciate the popularity and educational opportunities available through Minecraft. Teachers are bringing it to the classroom for children to play in multi-player mode and using it in collaborative lessons to teach teamwork, problem solving, creative thinking…even geometry.
There is a version of Minecraft called MinecraftEDU specifically designed for use in the classroom. Here’s a description from their website:
MinecraftEdu is a school-ready remix of the original smash hit game Minecraft, played by over 30 million people worldwide. Created by teachers for classroom use and officially supported by Mojang, the company behind Minecraft, MinecraftEdu contains a set of powerful yet simple tools to fine-tune the Minecraft experience for learning. Teachers in over 40 countries use MinecraftEdu in every subject area from STEM to Language, to History, to Art.
Without a doubt my daughter would be over the moon if her teachers told her they were going to use Minecraft in class. What a great way to inject some fun into learning!
What Parents Should Know about Minecraft:
There is a multi-player mode available in Minecraft. Users can invite friends to participate by connecting to a multi-player server. My daughter says she hasn’t had much luck using her Pocket Edition of Minecraft in multi-player mode. She has tried with a friend and found it only works if they are sitting closely together. So, she generally plays Minecraft by herself — and this suits me just fine. I really don’t care for the games that open her up to playing with other people (unless they are close friends, of course).
There is no blood or gore in this game, however, there is some degree of mild violence since in survival mode, players are battling and “killing” monsters (meaning you tap them until they disappear). Animals are also “butchered” to make food. And, “butchering” in this case, means tapping them until a pig turns into a ham, for example.
Parents should be aware that there is a very active online community for Minecraft and your children may be tempted to seek these out and spend time on them. Most are non-moderated environments where there is no telling if they will encounter profane messages, etc. In fact, while doing some research on Minecraft, I came across YouTube videos of users demonstrating how Minecraft works, and for some reason some were filled with foul language. So just another reminder that we need to be paying attention to where our children go and hang out online.
The Bottom Line
I have learned that many parents have a love-hate relationship with Minecraft. They love that it is creative, but hate that they sometimes have a hard time restricting kids’ time on it.
So the “love” part for me about Minecraft is that my daughter truly enjoys expressing her creativity through building her masterpieces. She’s very creative by nature…always making things around the house out of pretty much anything she can find, so this game is right up her alley. She lights up when she excitedly offers to show me something she has made. I also LOVE that she prefers to use this app over anything else on her device, which means she’s not on other social media apps posting things that might get her into trouble.
The “hate” part is that it can be highly addictive and I sometimes find myself threatening to take her device away if she doesn’t put it down and finish her homework. No matter what the app is, there’s always the challenge for parents of setting reasonable time limits.
So you might rue the day you approved the downloading of this game, or you might find yourself grateful your child spends more time building creative things than posting pictures on Instagram or sending SnapChat messages that will make you cringe and worry.
Have anything to share about your experience with Minecraft? Please leave a comment.