What is Minecraft? Is Minecraft okay for my child to play? What is the difference between “playing” and “creating”? These are just a few of the questions we get asked at Sunshine Coast CoderDojo every year.
Helping educate parents, helping them understand their child’s interests, is something that we feel very passionate about as most of us mentors at Dojo are gamers ourselves. We understand that not everybody can be a part of that world and with the constant barrage of negativity in the media towards gaming and “screen time”, it can be a difficult world to navigate. Now that we have so many ninjas modding minecraft at dojo, we felt it was time to go over what Minecraft is.
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a sandbox game, which means that there is no traditional structure, rules or directions for the player to follow, rather the entire game is built around the limitations of the player's imagination. Many people compare Minecraft to virtual lego, due to it’s 8-bit style and crafting nature, but this is a little too simplistic. You aren’t given your lego blocks so to speak in Minecraft, you need to mine and create them, which requires exploring through the world and learning about what materials you need. Once you have materials you craft tools from those materials and with those tools mine more resources to use the tools you’ve created to create MORE things.
You start the game by learning things as simple as how to craft a bed out of wood and sheep's wool, how to build basic shelter out of dirt to protect yourself from the monsters that come out in the night and how to use wood to create tools like a wooden shovel and pickaxe. From there, quite literally the world is your oyster. The player uses wooden tools to mine more ore and materials to create better tools to mine better ore and materials which means you can also build better things. This is the lego aspect, the creating blocks to build “things”. What takes it up a step in Minecraft -which is why it isn’t simply a lego simulator- is the introduction of physics, elemental science, electricity and mechanics. The game is built around the limitations of the player's creativity and skills (this article is a good introduction to Minecraft).
While some players dive into the creative aspects of the game, building the most amazing structures and worlds you wouldn’t think possible in an 8-bit game (creative builds, plus some more and keep in mind all of these amazing structures were literally built block by block) some players have gone down the engineering route and built working hard drives, computers and other amazing engineering masterpieces in the game (hard-drives, working computer, amazing builds).
Is Minecraft safe? Is my child learning anything?
You cannot paint all video games with the same brush. Content is key.
Chances are if you have googled Minecraft you have seen a bucket load of websites talking about Minecraft addiction, negative screen time and the harmful effects of video games and the constant “tell your children to go outside a climb a tree, not stare at a screen rotting brain cells”. Unfortunately this is an incredibly simplistic portrayal of the game and the nature in which children live and exist in society today. A study from 2014 found that over 80% of Australian children between the ages of 6 and 10 are playing video games, an even higher percentage for teens and a similar percentage of adult parents. Yes being active is incredibly important, but when it comes down to it, not every kid is going to want to go outside and climb a tree. There are more studies that show that making your child feel ashamed for being who they are is incredibly damaging, than there are studies that say video games rot braincells. I'll talk more about video games and kids health (the pros and cons) in another article but I had to make that point, particularly regarding a game like Minecraft.
At Sunshine Coast CoderDojo we are very serious about allowing our ninjas to be the kids they are in a fun, safe and informal environment which includes not making them feel ashamed for their interests (whether it is intentional or not, no shaming here on either end of the conversation).
The confusion lies in content. Going back to those statistics I mentioned earlier, gaming is becoming a solid part of our culture but not every game is the same. You cannot paint all video games with the same brush. Content is key. Spending hours playing minecraft has a VERY different cognitive affect to your childs brain than playing violent games all the time does. All video games help children build skills like problem solving, strategic thinking, hand eye coordination, teamwork and more (which I will go into more depth in an another article) but not all video games do this the same way. Minecraft is so ridiculously popular for a reason. Governments around the world are using it for creative community based city planning activities, schools are using it for maths, science and ICT thanks to MinecraftEDU.
I will only briefly talk about the addiction aspect as I'd like to go into that in further detail in another article. When you google Minecraft one of the highest searches is "Minecraft Addiction". As annoying as it will be to read as it is for me to type, much like anything in life, it's all about moderation. As a kid I not only played a lot of video games but I was addicted to playing music. I was so obsessed with playing music that I used to play guitar or cello (whatever I was teaching myself at the time) until my fingers bled and I played trombone until I split my lip or got a nose bleed from the pressure of playing too long. When it comes down to it, we as humans can get addicted to almost anything and it is important that children can learn when enough is enough. I am not a parent and I will never tell any parent how to parent, though I have seen the effects it has on our ninjas when they feel like something they love so much, is something bad. If your child is begging you to get minecraft and you're concerned about their safety online (if they are playing multiplayer online, that is a choice you can make together), whether they are playing or learning or the dreaded "negative screen time" the media has been shouting at you to avoid. All I can say is find out from your child why they want to play so badly
(This article has information for parents about staying safe in Minecraft).
Ultimately. The decision is up to you.
At Sunshine Coast CoderDojo we never want you to feel like we are lecturing you or telling you how to parent. Our goal is, and always will be, to create and sustain a safe, fun and informal environment for children who like tech to be themselves. At Dojo we do not play video games, we are a place to build, code and create things. Sometimes that just happens to be building, creating and coding things for video games (Minecraft Modding).
Resources for your perusal
- Should kids be playing video games? A look at the latest research [article with sources]
- Mindcraft helping students learn [article]
- What is Minecraft, written by a Mother for parents [blog post]
- 7 reasons why your kids should play video games [article]
- 8 reasons video games can imrpove your child [article]
- KidsHealth, such a thing as good gaming? [Article reviewed by a Medical Doctor]
- What is Minecraft? Info for parents [article]
- 5 things Minecraft teaches kids plus 1 bad thing [article]
- Disruptions: Minecraft, an obsession and an educational tool [NYT blog post]
- Does your youngster’s liking of violent video games worry you? Don’t be concerned! [article with sources]
- Minecraft, Autism And Education: Thinking Inside The Box [Article from accredited source]
- 7 reasons kids with autism love Minecraft [article]
- Minecraft Effects on kids: The Pros and Cons [article]
- 8 ways Minecraft works on your brain [article]
- Minecraft helps kids with Autism build richer lives [article]