A Parent’s Guide to Minecraft
By now you’ve heard of it and if you have kids over the age of 6, you could quite possibly be living it: MINECRAFT! It’s everywhere and all of the kids are talking about it. It’s by far one of the hottest games right now, available on all platforms from tablets, to the Wii, Playstation, Xbox and on your PC. By February 2014, Minecraft had been downloaded over 35 million times total: that’s a lot of blocks! If you are new to this world, you may be wondering “what is this game??“, “is it ok for my child to play?” or “I don’t get it!!” We have been there and are here to send a little rescue boat made of cubes to help steer you to shore and explain this wild world that your children are OBSESSED with.
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a simple game by nature but can be as creative and complicated as your child makes it. At first glance, it visually harkens back to video games that we once played as kids: simple designs, blocky people, plants and animals- but as you delve deeper into the game, your kids will become entranced with its endless architectural limits and survival capabilities. It’s essentially a game about breaking and placing blocks. At first, people will built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters (read more about this below), but as the game grows, your kids can work together to create wonderful, imaginative things. It is, what’s called an “open world sandbox game” which has no specific goals for a player to accomplish, so this allows players a large amount of freedom in choosing how to play the game.
How do you play?
Now, if you want a lengthy explanation on how to play Minecraft, just ask any kid that plays and they are sure to have a 20 minute explanation for you, but for busy parents, we have highlighted some key points on how you play the game:
- When you begin and “create a new world,” there are different options of types of play: Creative and Survival. Creative play gives the player all of the materials available to play and build and there are NO “monsters” that come out at night. This is a type of world that is good for younger kids that just like the building aspect of Minecraft and not the survival part. Survival can be set to easy or hard. When you begin a survival world, you start off with nothing in your inventory and the player is responsible for foreging and gathering materials to build with, but if you set the difficulty to hard, a new layer develops: the monsters!
- The essential theme of Minecraft is building and creating. No matter what type of game you are playing, your child will want to build and create houses and structures, but when you play on a hard survival level, you have to build them or else you are unprotected from the bad guys that come out at night.
- Who are these “monsters?” Creepers, Zombies, Skeletons and Spiders are the most popular, but have no fear moms and dads- this is not a violent game. There is no blood, gore or violence. When Steve, the main character, kills a monster he just taps them a few times with his weapon of choice and they disappear, leaving behind more useful tools for your child to build and create with. The essence of the survival mode is just that- your child needs to think about what kind of armor and structures they need to protect themselves from the creatures of the night and strategically design their house to have what they need to not only survive, but thrive.
- There are many, many, many materials your child can have to build with. They can chop down trees to gather different varieties of wood and then they can mine, hence the name of the game. As your child mines (digs in the ground!) they can gather different metals, jewels and minerals- all of varying strengths of uses. Part of the fun is figuring out which materials build and protect the best.
- There are not only natural materials available for the players to find and use, but there are animals! Kids can “train” the animals to follow them around and be their pets and also use the animals for a food source. Again, no blood or gore, but it does teach them an important part of life, that we are all a part of a food chain and it is imperative not to abuse this.
- Like stated above, the game can get as adventurous and creative as your child imagines. They can build simple houses or huge castles that have working lights and draw bridges- it’s all up to them.
- If your child is playing on tablet, they can connect with other children on the same wifi network so they can engage in team play. This is especially fun for siblings or friends who want to go to one another’s house and play together! On PC, they can connect to other players worldwide on the same server- ONLY if you elect for that. Most kids don’t need to be chatting with other people across the country, but know that it is an option if you choose that.
What age is this for?
Minecraft can really be suitable for kids aged 4 or 5 and up, especially on Creative Mode. Depending on your child’s personality, you will want to use your best judgment on whether you think they are ready for Survial mode or not. Keep in mind that there is no blood or gore, but those night time monsters can be a little scary for younger players.
Most parents struggle with allowing kids to play video games: Are they damaging? Do they send a good message? Are they being overstimulated? While each family needs to find the right balance for them in terms of rules for playing and time limits, you’ll be happy to know that playing Minecraft actually has some benefits for kids! Since Minecraft is an open-ended game, kids are only bound by the limits of their own imagination on what they can build and create. While some kids like to recreate famous landmarks or structures, others may want to express their creativity differently by building simple structures or fun places for their players to explore. Besides the creative benefits for kids, they need to apply “real-life” strategies to keep their players from harm. When they start a new world in Survival Mode, they are thrust into an empty world that may be a forest, desert or snow biome. They immediately need to evaluate their surroundings to see what natural materials are around them and how they can use them to build structures and weapons. Minecraft also offers a unique take on teamwork and team building when kids play together. They can share their materials, work together to build houses and structures and create games to play together within the game! Playing Minecraft, it turns out, can teach kids creative thinking, geometry and even a bit of geology and physics and research shows they can learn experimentation, teamwork and problem solving skills, as well. Overall, kids can strategize, plan and connect with one another, learning how to set goals and work together to complete a task, which is something all kids can benefit from!
Minecraft Tips for Parents
While Minecraft is at the top of most older kids’ LOVE list, at the end of the day it is still a video game and with all video games, parents need to set limits and expectations when it comes to playing them. Here are some tips for parents who have little Minecraft lovers at home:
- As with all electronics, limits should be set and enforced. Each family should evaluate their circumstances and kids’ personalities to find the right amount of playing time for them, as well as what times during the day are appropriate to play. Many families stick to the hour a day rule, but maybe a little longer on a weekend or if their homework is complete. Decide if this is something that is allowed on school days or not and be sure your kids are aware of the rules.
- Depending on your child’s age, you may want to start off on playing Creative Mode first. If your child wants to play Survival, be sure they are ready for this and won’t be crawling into your bed that night with nightmares of Creepers. If that’s the case, you may want to wait until they are older for that part. Remember, if they want the feel of survival but aren’t ready for the monsters part, you can set the difficulty to “peaceful” so they will have to build and start from scratch, but don’t have the monsters to deal with either.
- Keep in mind that if your child is playing Minecraft on the PC or on an Xbox and you have an Xbox Live card, know that it is an option to allow them to connect to play with individuals from all over the world on a multiplayer server. That can be a scary thing and if you feel that your child is ready for that, be sure to set expectations on who and what they can chat about and be sure they are familiar with internet safety. Also know that you can turn this option off, which is probably a good idea for younger kids. On multiplayer servers, other individuals can wear inappropriate skins or engage in behaviors that you don’t find suitable, so keep that in mind if your child asks to join one. If they are playing Minecraft on their tablet, they can only connect with friends if they are visiting and can sign into the same wifi connection.
- Use Minecraft to help teach your kids important lessons about teamwork and creative building. If they are playing with friends at home, they need to apply their real life problem solving and cooperating skills in oder to make their world the best it can be.
- Besides the game itself, know that there is an entire world of Minecraft parody song and YouTube videos (check out one example here) that they may begin to request to watch. Many of the individuals making these videos on how to play or series on adventures they are creating, are harmless and fun for them to watch, but the internet is still the internet and be sure you have set firm rules on what they can and cannot watch and time limits for doing such. One simple way to help set these limits is to subscribe to a few particular “approved” player channels that they can watch. Kids can learn a lot from these videos, but need to be approached with caution, as with all things that involve kids and the internet. Check out this article to learn more about kids and the internet and be sure to talk with your kids about your rules and expectations too.
Our kids are growing up in a different world than we did. Technology is everywhere and should be a welcomed part in a family. Minecraft is such an extremely popular game and is a fun one for kids to play, and with some simple limits and expectations, your kids can play, enjoy and build safely with their friends and on their own.
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