ct-clean-minecraft-aj-jpg-20150518In a video that has been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube, a gamer known as Coestar uses a virtual pickax to expand a tree farm in his “Minecraft” world.

Coestar narrates his “Minecraft” adventures for fans who watch him play for entertainment or to pick up tips, sprinkling in some language that might not be suitable for his younger followers.

And that’s enough for seventh-graders Mitchell Brown and Scotty Vrablik to reject that video from their own fledgling “Minecraft” website.

Coestar and other gamers — some of whom have millions of followers — have posted countless online videos of the wildly popular game, which allows players to build and explore digital landscapes.

But Mitchell and Scotty’s website, cleanminecraftvideos.com, posts only those videos they think are appropriate for kids. The students at Quest Academy in Palatine don’t allow profanity in the gaming videos they post or in the chat section of a small, multiplayer game they run. They’ve turned off game modes involving battles, so the Lego-style characters don’t engage in violence.

It’s the kind of “clean” version of the game Ben Hebebrand, head of Quest Academy, said would be useful in classrooms, where a growing number of teachers have embraced “Minecraft” as an educational tool.

Tens of millions around the world play the video game — Microsoft purchased its Swedish publisher Mojang for $2.5 billion last year — and “Minecraft” offers several modes, some involving violent battles. In some multiplayer versions, users join a world and play or interact with hundreds, thousands or tens-of-thousands of other gamers.
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“Minecraft” is “a totally, open-ended sandbox,” which makes it easy to customize for use in the classroom, said Joel Levin, co-founder of TeacherGaming. His company created MinecraftEdu, a modified version of the game for classroom use.

“Minecraft” not only engages students, he said, but encourages skills such as resilience, problem-solving and thinking outside the box.

“In some ways, the academics are catching up with what gamers have known for years,” he said. “That these are evocative experiences that challenge the mind.”

Though the Quest students’ site is not the first moderated version of “Minecraft” Levin has seen, he praised them for taking initiative to make their virtual world a safer and better place.

Mitchell, 12, came up with the idea after overhearing the salty language in a “Minecraft” video playing in his little brother’s room about two years ago.

Since then, he and 13-year-old Scotty, with the help of tech teachers at school, have expanded their website and created an Android app, both of which now require subscriptions.

Between baseball, swimming and Boy Scouts, the boys watch every “Minecraft” video that appears on their website to decide whether it’s appropriate. They came up with hundreds of words to filter out of their “Minecraft” server — profanity but also words like “idiot” — and noncompliant gamers are kicked out if they use any of them. After three uses of banned words, the gamer is permanently removed.

The game itself allows them to limit the use of inappropriate language, the boys said, but it doesn’t meet their stringent standards.

Given the popularity of “Minecraft” among young kids, “profanity is really not acceptable,” Scotty said.

That was a sentiment shared by an Australian gamer known as Fox Blockhead, who reached out to Scotty and Mitchell to ask them to post his “Minecraft” videos on their website.

Fox Blockhead, whose real name is Justin Gilfillan, said in an email that, as a teacher and a father, he wanted to create G-rated videos appropriate for children.

Appearing on Clean Minecraft Videos provided independent verification to his followers that his videos are appropriate, he said. He enjoyed seeing the project two seventh-graders created, and he thought it would be cool to be listed on a website that included famous gamers, such as Coestar, he said.

Hebebrand said the “Minecraft” website earned the boys distinction in their character education program at school. He plans to share the kid-friendly website with parents and officials at other schools, he said.

Officials at Mojang and Microsoft declined to comment on the Quest students’ endeavor.

The game is already in classes at Quest, where a fifth-grade teacher uses “Minecraft” to have students design dragon worlds based on fantasy literature, Hebebrand said.

Levin, who said his “Minecraft-Edu” is being used in thousands of schools in dozens of countries, sees no limit to game’s potential classroom applications. History teachers could use the game to simulate historical events, while math teachers could teach lessons on volume and area, he said.

Locally, a Wheeling High School senior created a modified version of the game to help others learn about nanotechnology. And Scotty’s mom, Lisa Vrablik, said her children have used “Minecraft” to complete projects for French class and lessons on Greek architecture.

Though she admits she sometimes questioned the amount of time the boys have spent gaming, she is proud of their project.

“They really kind of branched out, learned when to ask for help,” she said.

About 100 users worldwide have subscribed to their website and app since Mitchell and Scotty began requiring payment. Their multiplayer server only allows 16 players at a time, but they hope to expand.

Mitchell said making money is half the motivation, but the other half is providing a service. He would like to see the website and game used in schools and libraries.

And Scotty, who said he once thought the idea was “really out there,” is committed to expanding the initiative, hoping their idea will really take off.

Kids create ‘clean’ website for ‘Minecraft’ gamers