Ask kids to explain what makes the video game “Minecraft” cool and fun, and you get answers all over the board.
Do you like wandering through a forest admiring the scenery? You can do that. Want to build a battleship? You can do that. Think taming and training dogs sounds fun? You can do that, too.
Watch out for suicidal green zombie monsters that try to blow themselves up on you. Go digging on a quest to find super-rare diamonds. Mind your step through that portal. Build a tower stretching hundreds of virtual feet into the sky or dig a hole miles deep. Fight your way to the big bad Ender Dragon, but only if you want to.
(Parents, don’t bother trying to adjust the TV or computer screen. Yes, the game graphics are super blocky and pixelated. They’re supposed to be like that. It’s throwback to old-school graphics for kids who are too young to have ever played throwback Nintendo.)
Blow up that building you don’t like. Chop wood, lay bricks, mine ore. Don your armor and grab your sword and watch out for spiders. Play with friends online. Play by yourself.
Minecraft is about building, fighting, mining, crafting, collecting, exploring, farming, animal raising, planning, designing, creating, collaborating … The question soon becomes, what can’t you do in Minecraft?
And there’s not really a story. And there aren’t any stated objectives. And there aren’t any guidelines about how to play.
The game is just the raw material. The players build it into whatever they want it to be.
“I honestly don’t think there is a point. It’s just a fun game,” Stephen Smith, 10, of Avilla, said matter-of-factly, the way only a kid can.
What Minecraft actually is is an open-world sandbox game, officially released in 2011 and now available on multiple devices including computers and laptops, video game consoles, tablets and even smartphones.
Open-world means just that, it’s a widespread landscape that is open to explore however you want. The term sandbox hearkens back to the physical wooden box filled with sand of days past, a place where kids could go to imagine, build, sculpt, destroy and restart over and over.
Minecraft is novel in the aspect that, unlike most video games, there isn’t a set of objectives to accomplish. Players set their own goals, whether that’s building a massive castle to live in, fending off monsters or running in one direction just to see where you’ll end up.
And it’s not just kids, either. Search YouTube or Google and you’ll find videos from adults, too, showing off incredibly massive and complex builds that take days to construct.
“I like how it is so open-world and you can do almost anything,” Smith said, although admits he has a terrible time trying to hunt for diamonds to make better weapons and armor … or craft a jukebox.
He tried out a tutorial one time. He mined some iron and some gold, killed some mobs (Translation: monsters) and died a few times. Immediately, he was “so into it.”
He’s built a battleship that shoots fire charges and arrows. He climbs on top of trees and builds houses on top of them. He once built an underground house and installed a portal in it, because every house needs a portal.
“I don’t know why most kids like it. But the reason I like it, I love to let my imagination loose,” 7-year-old Molly Reasner of Auburn said.
You can find her tending her “sheep god” or building houses, farms or wedding arches.
Wait, what’s a sheep god? Her dad, Adam Reasner, asked in the background of the phone interview. It’s the rarest type of sheep — duh. He admitted later that he doesn’t understand what his daughter sees in the game.
“Minecraft is cool to kids, because most of the time kids are so amazed because of everything you can do. They love it because it’s so much fun and they could do anything they can ever imagine. They can farm, they can explore, in some versions you can talk. So it’s really, really fun,” said 8-year-old Sylvia Easler, Reasner’s friend and neighbor who taught her how to play.
She built Rapunzel’s tower. It was really tall — not as tall as she wanted, though, she said. She didn’t like the finished build because it was kind of plain and her green vines turned brown and gross.
She’s battled the Ender Dragon once, with help from her brother because she’s said she’s no good at archery. He’s 10, and better than her at the game. She’s no “expert,” she claimed, although she plays just about every day.
Even though kids are plopping themselves down just about daily with Minecraft, often for hours, adults aren’t necessarily trying to shoo kids out of the game and into the real world. Kids don’t realize it, but they’re probably practicing important thinking skills while playing.
“It’s amazing to see the planning. They plan, ‘Let’s build this house. Let’s put this protection fence around this house.’ They’re working together, planning ahead on what needs to happen, sometimes there are monsters that attack them and they’re having to protect themselves,” Butler Public Library children’s librarian Teri McKown said.
During the monthly Saturday Minecraft Mania at the library, kids sit down in the same room, fire up the game and go at it, McKown said. In a few short moments, they’re discussing what they want to do, how they’ll go about it and cooperating to make it happen, she said. That’s a skill — collaboration — that schools are frequently utilizing technology to try to teach.
It’s not uncommon nowadays to find libraries hosting Minecraft gatherings. Kids are already playing it, so adults just help funnel them together where they can work together.
“With Minecraft, kind of the hope or the idea behind it is (encouraging) that creativity again,” Noble County Public Library children’s librarian Derrick Leatherman said. “Just kind of along the lines of everything else we’re doing, there are all kinds of things inside of Minecraft. There have been people who have built working computers inside the game.”
Smith’s mom, Avilla Elementary teacher Jo Smith, is looking into whether Minecraft is something that could work in the classroom. It’s not something ready to roll out, but she’s inspired by watching her son navigate and interact with the blocky world. Whether it’s the planning he does to design a building, or thinking about what resources he’ll need to craft a new pickaxe or how to face and overcome pixelated perils, he’s getting more than entertainment out of it, she said.
“I see the appeal. It’s interesting because it’s very simplistic,” Jo Smith said. “It’s different than other games that are on the market. You really can see a lot of creativity.”
Speak the language
Kids and slang go together like PB and J. If your kids sound like they’re speaking a different language when they’re playing Minecraft, it’s probably just some slang. Try to impress your youngsters by dropping some Minecraft lingo:
Build: A building project. “That build took me like infinity hours!”
Butter: Gold ingots. They’re yellow and rectangular, like the stuff you spread on bread.
Creeper: Green, zombie-like suicide bombers. They do a lot of damage when they self-destruct.
Griefer: Bad people who swoop in and destroy your build. Kind of like the wildlings from Game of Thrones.
Mob: Short for “mobile.” It’s a creature. Could be harmless, like a pig. Could be deadly, like a Creeper.
Mod: Short for “modification.” Downloadable files that alter some aspect of the gameplay.
Skin: A texture file that changes how something looks. Think of it like clothes for people, or paint jobs for cars.
Spleef: A competitive sport. Players gather on an elevated platform over a pit, then slowly destroy the floor, causing people to fall. Last one above wins. Thrill-seekers can play over lava.
Vanilla: A game without any mods. Pure. Plain. Untouched. No sprinkles needed.
Hostile mobs: Bad dudes. They will chase you and attack you.