A Parent's Guide to Minecraft: 5 Reasons to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Cubes
There were zombies to the left of me, creepers to the right. I was cowering in a deep, square hole in the darkness while skeletons rained arrows over my head. What I really needed at that moment was a 10-year-old with some serious sword skills. And all I had was a handful of sticks.
I was, of course, a noob about to die inside Minecraft. And not for the first time, either.
Calling Minecraft a game doesn’t do it justice; it’s more like a movement. Available on nearly every device where games can be played, from computers and consoles to smartphones, Minecraft boasts more than 100 million registered players, many of them barely out of kindergarten. Is this due to its stunning 3D graphics, sophisticated plot, and adrenaline-pumping gameplay? No, it is not.
A creeper inside Minecraft. Keep your distance; they tend to explode. (Kobodstro/DeviantArt)
It’s what’s known as a “sandbox” game, meaning that there is no end to it and no overarching goal. You’re largely responsible for bending your game world to your will. In fact, that’s the point of the game.
Minecraft worlds are made up of chunky graphics reminiscent of the earliest video games. A new, untamed world may already be populated with geometrically challenged farm animals and several varieties of monster. You survive by transforming the abundant blocky resources into tools, which you use to gather more resources and make cool stuff.
You can play Minecraft by yourself, with a handful of friends, or connect online with total strangers.
But what’s most remarkable about Minecraft is how utterly consuming it is. When kids aren’t playing it, they’re watching videos of other people playing it, or discussing it online with other avid Minecrafters. That’s one reason why, when you search for Minecraft, you’ll quickly encounter a lot of posts on parenting forums titled “Help, Minecraft has eaten my child’s brain. How do I get it back?”
Obsession isn’t the only concern. Some parents worry about the effect that battling flesh-eating monsters will have on young kids’ psyches; others fret about the effect Internet trolls can have on tweens and teens using the multiplayer version.
I’m happy to say parents have little to worry about — or at least there’s nothing they can’t handle. Here are five reasons why:
1. You can play along. When your kids are little it’s always a good idea (and usually a lot of fun) to play games along with them. That’s especially true of Minecraft. The easiest way to get started is to download the more limited pocket edition for Android and iOS, which allows you and your child to play along together using the same app on separate mobile devices.
But be aware that mastering Minecraft isn’t a 15-minute affair, notes Tanner Higgin, senior manager of education content for Common Sense Media. Once you create a world, you are totally on your own; there are no instructions and no clues what to do next.
When playing the standard game on the full computer edition of Minecraft, “the early stages of Minecraft are brutish and short,” he says. “One of the things people love about it is how mysterious and dangerous it feels early on, as well as confusing.”