If you are a parent, and your kid is old enough to sit in front of a computer or pronounce the words “video game”, then you have probably heard of Minecraft. Maybe you’ve even seen enough in your daily life to know a bit about the game itself – you’ve passed the Minecraft merchandise aisle in Target, and had to pull your kid away from the rows and rows of weird, blocky figures, stuffed animals, and swords that look like they are from some 1980’s video game. Maybe your kid actually plays Minecraft. You might walk behind them as they sit, transfixed, running around in some blocky virtual world, building things and hiding from creepers and skeletons.
“I don’t get it.” is the common response from the uninitiated.
“I thought today’s video games had realistic graphics” is another thing I hear quite a bit.
So what is Minecraft, and why is it such a big deal?
Minecraft is a game that can be played on a variety of platforms, including most video game consoles (Wii, Playstation 4, Xbox), computers (Mac and Windows), and even mobile devices like iPhone, iPad, and Windows Tablets. So far this year, about 53,000 copies of the game have been sold every day. Since its birth in 2009, over 110 million copies of Minecraft have been sold, in countries all over the globe.
Minecraft is a game that is simple on the surface, but has layers of depth and complexity that allow it to be interesting and fun for a very, very long time. It combines action, strategy and problem solving with a wonderful open-ended creativity that allows players to play the game in the way that suits them the best. Within Minecraft, there are different game modes that allow for different types of game play:
Survival Mode – In this mode, players must start with nothing, and face a hostile environment by gathering resources, crafting tools, and building structures to survive. They must find food to eat, avoid or fight monsters that come out at night, and solve deeper and more complex problems to progress into more difficult parts of the game.
Creative Mode – In creative mode there are no monsters, and players start out the game with an unlimited supply of every resource and building material. Players can’t get hungry or hurt, and they can fly around the world instead of walking. There is no objective in this mode, except the creation of whatever the imagination produces. Imagine having an empty world and an unlimited supply of Lego bricks. And then imagine that some of those bricks have fantastic magical or interactive properties. If your mind can conjure that image, you might begin to see the appeal of creative mode.
In addition to the two modes of play mentioned above, Minecraft has the ability to connect players online (and through local networks, as in the same house) to play together in the same world. Cooperative (or competitive) online play isn’t unique to Minecraft, but it does present a unique appeal to players, and the addition of other “real” players adds a fun dimension to the game whether you are trying to stay alive in survival mode or building together in creative mode.
One of the things that makes Minecraft a powerful tool for education, learning, and just for fun is its support for something called “Mods”, which is short for “modifications”. Minecraft was built to be altered at the program level, meaning someone who is willing to learn a little bit about programming can change aspects of the game. It could be something as small as granting the ability for players to jump 10 times the height that they normally can, or it can be as extreme as the creation of a whole new game within the Minecraft world. There are almost no limits to the things that can be done to Minecraft, and “Modders” all over the world have created and shared thousands of really great ideas.
- Minecraft has plenty of depth and variety. You will get lots of gameplay for your dollar with this one.
- Minecraft offers a variety of different activity types, many of which encourage creative thinking and problem solving.
- Minecraft Mods are a great way to introduce and talk with kids about programming a computer, or learning to code.
- The social aspects of the game are particularly strong, with fantastic online communities around building, survival, and modding as well. The ability to play online with friends is a huge plus as well.
- While you can “die” in the game, and there is “killing” in the game as a possibility, the game can be successfully played without either and the presentation of these things is not particularly disturbing. The fighting element reminds me a little bit of having a battle with Nerf swords.
- Any time a social aspect is introduced as part of a game, it brings with it one of my biggest concerns as a parent: Other people. I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure you know who your kids are interacting with online, and monitoring the content of those discussions. Any computing done in our house that includes any social contact (so virtually everything) is done in a public place. Of course, Minecraft can be played solo as well, if that is your comfort level.
Minecraft is something worth looking into. Chances are good that your kid is either into it, or wants to get into it.
If you don’t have a copy we recommend that you get one, right away. On most platforms, you can buy it online from whatever app store, online game store or whatever serves that particular platform with software, or clicking the appropriate link below. On Windows and Mac platforms (this would be our recommendation, because it is the most full-featured and most moddable platform), you can purchase the game by going to the Amazon link below, or visiting www.minecraft.net.
We don’t just think you should buy Minecraft and then give it to your kids, though. We think this is a great opportunity to do something with your kids that they will really enjoy and benefit from. To that end, we will be posting a series called “Minecraft Adventures”, which will contain a set of activities and challenges designed to help you get started in the basics of the game. As we post these adventures, we will include links to them below:
Links to Minecraft Adventures (coming soon)
If you have the ability and the computers, you might even consider buying multiple copies of the software, so you and your kids can play together online, using the “Open to Lan” feature or using “Minecraft Realms” (a topic we will revisit later).
Regardless of your own comfort zone, the HTP recommendation on this one is that it’s a great game, with lots of learning potential for kids, and lots of fun opportunities to play together. Minecraft is definitely something parents should be involved in.