If your children are always jabbering on about creepers, spiders, spawning and mining for redstone, chances are good that they’re among the more than 100 million registered users of Minecraft, a player-directed computer game in which you build a world out of pixel-like cubes.
Minecraft brings you into an open-ended world of adventure and creation, in which every day lasts 20 minutes. You mine, forage or hunt for resources such as wood, iron, gold, and seeds, which you keep in your inventory and use to create buildings, make vehicles or other objects, grow crops and clothe or feed your game character. You can play in five modes: creative, survival, hardcore, adventure and spectator.
Kids are drawn to Minecraft because of the power they possess to shape this universe, and to interact with friends and strangers through online servers and modifications to the game — called “mods” — that they can download. Since an early version of the game was released in 2009, Minecraft has sold about 54 million copies across all platforms and launched an entire industry of third-party servers that allow multiplayer games, fan sites and YouTube channels. Microsoft purchased the Danish company that developed Minecraft, Mojang, for $2.5 billion in 2014.
“My daughter has devoted all her screen time to Minecraft,” says Rebecca Blouin, 42, mom of Gretchen, 11. “She stopped watching television three years ago.”
Gretchen and her brother Thomas, 8, can spend hours creating their own worlds, visiting servers and watching YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft. Blouin prefers the creativity that the game unlocks to more passive video games or television, and loves that Gretchen has started talking about a career as a graphic designer and wants to learn computer programming.
Experts and parents of other Minecraft -obsessed kids agree that the game can be used to inspire, educate and build skills that can help children in school and their future professions. The logical next steps might be to explore software development, engineering, architecture, interior design, video editing, graphic design or even entrepreneurship. But the repeated process of gathering resources, planning a new creation and executing the project can apply to almost every career field.
“Minecraft is a very different game than almost everything else out there,” says Joel Levin, the co-founder of TeacherGaming, a gaming company partially founded by teachers whose officially supported MinecraftEdu is designed for classroom use. “When kids are playing Minecraft, they’re confronted with an almost endless number of challenges and goals, and most of it is self-directed.”
Cynthia Liu, Los Angeles-based founder of K-12 News Network, does her best to channel her 11-year old son’s interest into creative directions, playing alongside him and asking questions to understand what he’s doing. His interest in third-party servers, which make money from players visiting their worlds, led him to write a 30-page business plan for his own server, part of a fourth-grade school project. He also wrote and published an e-book to explain Minecraft basics to kids and their parents.
It’s not advisable that you let your kids play Minecraft unsupervised and consider it educational. They may join a violent-themed server and spend their time trying to “kill” total strangers — many of them adults. In most of these player-versus-player worlds, a live chat overlays the screen and is often laced with profanity as well as racist and sexist comments.
As with many dangers to our kids, the best defense includes open lines of communication supported by regular spot checks. Discuss appropriate and safe online behavior with your children as well as the difference between passive and active play.
Monitoring your children’s Minecraft usage will also give you an opening to encourage them to develop 21st century skills like coding, video editing and design — or even to find ways to be a creator rather than just a consumer in the Minecraft realm.
So if you have a child who adores Minecraft, it’s OK to encourage and embrace their interest. It just might pay dividends later in the real world.