“Minecraft.” You may have heard of it. With 60 million copies sold across all platforms, your child has likely played the video game or will hear about it as soon as he or she makes it to school age.
The game, now owned by Microsoft, is one of the most addictive games ever created, but is it good for young children? And what do you need to know about it as your kid becomes obsessed?
Follow along on a guide to this popular game for parents and other adults who want to know more about the Creepers, YouTube videos and torches that fill their kids’ time.
The object of “Minecraft” is simple: create, explore, and above all, survive. Players wander through a virtually unlimited world that consists of cubes you can break apart or combine together, similar to Lego.
In survival mode, players must locate and manipulate simple materials such as wood, stone, soil and water. A typical approach is for a player to find a tree and break it apart into pieces of wood that can be used. Eventually, players need to build a shelter for the night to protect them from monsters that come out when it’s dark.
Even at its most simple stage, players quickly have plenty of choices. Create torches first? Build a house? Or fashion a pickax to mine ore? Don’t delay too long, though, because it sure helps to find a cave or build a house to protect yourself from monsters in the game.
“It’s very much like Lego, because there are so many ways to play the game,” said Ben Bajarin, a principal executive with San Jose-based Creative Strategies. “It is a very productive and educational game. It is similar to a digital version of Lego for a new generation of players.”
“If you can think of what you want to build, with enough dedication and time, you can build it,” said Jeff Haynes, a senior games editor with Common Sense Media.
The basic game is available on a variety of platforms, including personal computers, video game consoles such as the Xbox or PlayStation, and Android, Apple and Windows smartphones. To avoid spending too much on this hobby, attempt to buy the game for only one platform, but many parents end up purchasing “Minecraft” several times — the console game that is easier to play with two players in the same room and costs $20 to $30; the mobile game to keep them busy while on the go, which costs about $7; and the PC version that is the most capable for modifications and online use and costs about $27.
Simple modifications such as enhanced skins are usually free, though some cost $1 or more.
Once your child begins to play “Minecraft,” they may become obsessed, spending an exorbitant amount of time playing the video game or begging for help on more advanced tasks.
“Parents might be a bit concerned about the amount of time their kids are putting into ‘Minecraft,’ “ said Jeff Haynes, senior games editor with Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that provides advocacy and education for families about technology.
Instead of fighting this, it is possible to channel that energy into more productive avenues.
“’Minecraft’ has incredible learning value,” said Tanner Higgin, a senior manager of education content with Common Sense Media.
“Teachers have set up controls so that a lot of the elements of the game are learning tools. Chemistry, social, studies, physics, history and other subjects are being taught this way,” she pointed out, with tutorials for these types of activities available online.
People can play either self-contained games in which they are the only players, or they can engage in multiplayer games online. One possible concern with online games are risks from strangers, especially since “Minecraft” is popular for all ages, not just children.
“Like any online community, there is trolling, there is flaming, and there are bad apples,” Higgin said. “As with any activity, parents should look for moderation. But older kids do benefit because when people cooperate with each other, they can build extraordinary things they couldn’t create on their own.”
Aside from the actual game, many children flock to YouTube to learn how to accomplish specific tasks in the game, or to check out worlds others have built. While the gameplay exhibited in these videos is just as kid-friendly as the game, beware of bad language coming from the video creators or music and other entertainment they may be listening to while creating the video.
To be safe, you can find a specific “Minecraft” video creator who is kid-friendly and limit viewing to them — one of the most popular with younger children is Stampylonghead, who has many videos with more than a million views.
Just about the only practical limits to “Minecraft” are the imagination, creativity and persistence of players.
Independent tinkerers and gaming enthusiasts have wielded their creativity to fashion an array of worlds that go well beyond the basic environments through which people can wander and attempt to survive, as well as fresh codes that can introduce new characters and twists to the game.
More than a few of the independently created worlds available to visit and even help to build are straight out of the realm of popular television shows and real life, such as a “Game of Thrones” world and even a rebuilt Disneyland, while software patches can introduce new animals or other in-game treats.
“I like to go to the ‘Game of Thrones’ world,” said Tanner Higgin of Common Sense Media. “I love that server and it’s great to see how far they’ve gotten with that world.”
These “Minecraft” servers and modifications –”mods” in fans’ parlance — are for mainstream enthusiasts, and not merely a digital 1 percent of game creators, experts say.
“The consumer essentially has access to the same tools that game developers have,” said Jeff Haynes of Common Sense Media.
However, these advanced scenarios are likely going to mean parents getting more involved, especially for younger children — visiting public servers increases the chance of a child running into a bad apple, and downloaded mods can be bundled with, or actually be, dangerous and spammy software. And if your child wants to create his own “Minecraft” world for others to visit, you’ll need an advanced setup.
“You will need a certain type of server with plenty of capacity and speed, and you need a certain level of broadband,” said Ben Bajarin, principal executive with San Jose-based Creative Strategies, a tech market research firm.
Getting more involved can be beneficial, though, offering a bonding experience and teaching your child more about computers. Bajarin said he often plays “Minecraft” with his two daughters.
“It’s not mind-numbing, let’s dumb ourselves down with mindless entertainment,” he said. “It’s quite productive.”