A Parents Guide to Minecraft

I heard other friends of mine mention Minecraft from time to time, no one could really tell me what it was or what kids did within the game. So, as with every other technology, I told my son that I couldn't let him play it until I had tried it myself.
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"Daddy can we download Minecraft?" asked my son one afternoon.

I heard other friends of mine mention it from time to time, no one could really tell me what it was or what kids did within the game. So, as with every other technology, I told my son that I couldn't let him play it until I had tried it myself.

First, let me be clear, this is not an advertisement of the product, it is simply a parent's frustrated need to understand what their children were so excited to play.

What is Minecraft?

The first thing I wanted to do was find out what the program was and how children interacted with it.

According to the Swedish software company Mojang that develops the game, 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.

Being a network administrator myself and amateur developer, I was a little surprised that the very popular game was completely independent (not financed by any large corporations).

The game is essentially a "sandbox" game. Which means that players are given a virtual construct, basically a hollow virtual world with which they can build things.

The game is available on PC, Mac, XBox and iOS (iPad, iPhone, etc.)

In a nutshell, the players use blocks of materials; wood, stone, bedrock, iron ore, sand, etc. to build things. The entire virtual world or "Overworld" is essentially 862 by 862 blocks on the Xbox 360 and Desktop Editions, and 256 by 256 blocks on the Pocket Edition. Once you reach the end of the Overworld, there is basically an invisible wall that you can't interact beyond.

Now there is also an "alternate universe" called The Nether, but we'll get more into that later.

There are three modes in Minecraft; Creative, Survival and Adventure.

Creative mode:
Players have all available resources instantly and don't need to work for anything. They can build structures, villages, mountains, people... basically whatever they want in their little virtual world.

Survival mode:
Players must earn their resources. For example, if they want wood, they must cut down a tree in the game. If they want iron, they must mine iron ore and turn it into iron in their furnace. In this mode there are also creatures (slime, Enderman, etc.) that can injure or kill the player's character. Don't worry, you won't see blood, broken bones or anything of the sort. And if the player dies, they just re-spawn (come back to life) somewhere safe in the game.

Adventure mode:
Very similar to survival mode, adventure mode has all the characteristics of survival mode, but the players can create maps that limit the survival mode. The player must accomplish certain tasks before they can even reach their resources.

Game Content

Those of you with kids who play Minecraft will hear their children talk about such things as "Zombies," "Creeper," "Witches," "Villagers," "Skeletons," "Iron Golems," and of course the scary "Enderman."

I'm not going to go into details on all the content as I've found there is far too much to talk about here in a single article. You can find out all about the creatures and objects in the game here on the Minecraft wiki (just search at the top for the thing your child mentions that you've never heard of).

As I mentioned before, there is alternate universe in Minecraft called "The Nether," described as a "hell-like world." This alternate sandbox can only be accessed using a "Nether portal." The interesting part about the Nether is that travel on it is on a 8:1 ratio of the normal world. So traveling across the Nether and back to the normal world allows someone to get from one place to another much quicker in the normal world, assuming you can make the Nether portals.

If a player dies in the Nether however, they respawn in the Overworld and lose everything that they had in inventory as it's left in the Nether.

Game impact on your child

Now comes the complicated part and most likely the reason you've stumbled upon this article if you were searching for "parents" or "parenting" and "Minecraft."

If you're a parent of a child that plays Minecraft, you have undoubtedly become concerned about how much time your child spends playing the game. Perhaps even to the point that you want to ban the game from your child all together. Before you make that drastic decision though, let me tell you a bit of my perspective.

Minecraft, like YouTube, Wikipedia and so many other computer resources available to children, can be obsessive. However, I can tell you first hand that Minecraft is a creative program. If properly harnessed, the game allows your child to express their creativity in a 3D environment. Children can create massive buildings, elaborate villages and cities, train systems, or even other creative objects and projects.

I have seen my son build ships, towers, automated wave designs using mining cars, volcanoes and much more.

The real trick in parenting Minecraft (and in my opinion almost any other game or computer element) is to control how they use it, what they do with it and how much time they spend working in it.

If you follow these tips, it will help tremendously in your understanding and their enjoyment:
  • Search YouTube for videos on things to build.
  • Do not let your children search YouTube on their own, there are a lot of people doing walk-throughs out there that swear a lot.
  • Never use any electronic device as a babysitter (unattended).
  • If children are playing the pocket edition (PE edition) on iPad, iPhone or another mobile device, make sure they sit up straight. It can drastically affect their posture being slouched over the game.
  • Encourage your children to show you their creations.
  • Limit their play to at most 30 minutes a day, perhaps two hours on weekends.
  • Do not allow your children to play online with others they don't know (on servers) -- if you really want to let your children play with their friends online, then host your own server. It's not hard, just Google it. Then you will have control over who is playing with them.

As always, feel free to comment below and I'll do my best to help point you in the right direction if you have any questions.

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