Let’s get this out of the way from the start.
We are not encouraging kids to play Minecraft or to spend copious amounts of time on electronic devices and screens. Nonetheless, we think that the reality is that many parents will be faced with children asking to play Minecraft at some point in time or another.
This guide provides practical answers to 10 questions parents often have about Minecraft. In this way, we hope they are better able to make informed decisions and even engage with children about this hit indie game.
While not written by professional gamers, nor even advanced players of the game, it written from the perspective of a parent whose kids have played Minecraft (and even took to playing it to “research” what it is all about). So here goes…
1. What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a computer game where players take on a first-person perspective to interact with the world around them. Resources (such as stone, iron and wood) can be gathered and combined together to create items such as torches and pickaxes.
The world of Minecraft is made up of blocks and even characters have a blockish look. Players start off as Steve, an intrepid explorer with a brave new world to explore.
Minecraft is available on PC, Xbox 360 and mobile devices (PE or Pocket Edition). The PC version has the fullest set of features while the PE version is a stripped down version of the game.
2. What is the objective in Minecraft?
Minecraft has no set objectives or ending. Unlike other games that may have a fixed storyline or conclusion, Minecraft is an open-ended game. Minecraft has a day-night time cycle that goes on indefinitely and it is up to the player to decide what he or she wishes to do or accomplish while playing the game.
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At the basic level, the gameplay can consist of objectives as simple as building a house and, once the basics have been mastered, quickly move on to creating fun projects such as rollercoasters (yes, folks have used mine carts and railway track building blocks to design their own amusement parks).
If you can imagine it, you can build it
On the Xbox 360 and PC, advanced players can use blocks such as Red Stones to power machines, create Enchanting Tables to craft magical items and even go on quests to destroy “Bosses” such as the Enderdragon.
As a game, Minecraft continues to evolve and there are always updates to the game that introduces new features and functionalities. There are also “Mods” that can be installed to change the look and gameplay of the game.
3. What is “Creative” versus “Survival” Mode?
Creative and Survival are Minecraft’s two gameplay modes.
In Creative Mode, players “spawn” (the gamer term for “come alive”) with a full pallet of materials and tools available. They do not have to go about working to accumulate them. Players can focus on being “creative” and constructing anything they like. They can move three dimensionally (i.e. fly) in order to come up with amazing structures and do not have to worry about things such as their health, food or being attacked by hostile creatures. Players cannot die in Creative Mode.
In Survival Mode, players start with nothing in their inventory. Instead, they have to go about collecting resources from scratch. This means chopping down trees to get wood, digging the ground to get dirt blocks and mining for resources such as coal. They need to find food for sustenance and, if the Difficulty Setting is on, they have to contend with monsters, also known as “hostile mobs”. It is possible to be killed in Survival Mode and the player will have to rely on their wits to stay alive.
4. What is a typical day in Minecraft like?
In Survival Mode, a player has plenty to do. The first priority is usually to find some shelter. This could be done by constructing a structure from scratch which entails gathering resources such as dirt or stone, or in the case of the PC or Xbox versions, looking for buildings to commandeer in a pre-existing village.
Food is also a concern. This is obtained by killing animals such as cows or chickens for meat or alternatively, by planting crops or gathering apples from trees. Basic materials can then be combined together to create more advanced items. This is done at the Crafting Table, Stonecutter or Furnace. For example, combining a wooden stick with coal creates a torch.
There also different “biomes” to explore. These are “pseudo-climates/terrains” found on a Mindcraft map. In a single map, there can be a forest biome, a snow biome, a sand biome and more. Different biomes contain different resources.
At night, hostile mobs appear and the player has to fend them off. Alternatively, if the player is feeling safe in their house, they can head to bed for the evening till the next morning.
In the Creative Mode, the cycle of day and night carries on but players do not need to worry about any of the above. They can carry on building to their hearts’ content.
A Minecraft sunrise marks the start of a new day
5. What are mobs and all this talk about Zombies and Endermen?
Hostile Mobs feature in Survival Mode with the Difficulty Setting on. These creatures usually spawn in dark places and go about attacking the player. These Hostile Mobs include “common” creatures such as spiders, skeletons and zombies to “never-heard-before” ghasts, endermen and creepers. The player needs to fend off these monsters by killing them with weapons such as swords, axes, bow and arrows (all which need to be crafted).
If your child is very young, it may be best to stick to Creative Mode where they will not encounter any of these hostile mobs.
It is important to monitor your child while they play Minecraft to see if they are affected by these monsters and to help them draw the distinction between the make-believe world of Minecraft and reality.
Watch out for the Creeper
6. Is Minecraft addictive?
Yes. Due to the never-ending nature of the game, children (and adults too) can easily lose track of time and become totally engrossed in the objectives they are trying to achieve, whether it be finding diamonds buried deep underground or slaying the Enderdragon.
Parents should closely monitor the amount of time children spend playing Minecraft. As is the case with everything else, moderation is key. Lay down ground rules from the start on how much time can be spent playing and even what game modes (Survival or Creative) the child can play. Setting expectations upfront go a long way toward to managing their attitude toward playing Minecraft.
7. What is Multiplayer Mode?
One of Minecraft’s strong points is its ability to accommodate many different players together in a single Minecraft virtual world.
Even in the PE version, multiple players can enter into a same game through a shared Wi-Fi network. One player hosts the game and the others join in. Once in a Minecraft world together, they can interact with each other. This can mean exploring biomes together or working collectively to achieve goals. As in the real world, teaming up with others can make a huge difference.
On the flipside, when things go bad, players can end up fighting with each other and destroying each other’s projects. Even though the world of Minecraft is virtual, resulting squabbles can definitely be real.
Just as parents need to teach children how to interact in the real world, parents may need to intervene to teach children how to interact in a virtual world as well. Yes, part of the fun of being in a virtual world is being able to setup a block of TNT block to demolish a house but, when the behaviour becomes vindictive and ill-willed, it is time for parents to step in.
8. What is the difference between local and global Multiplayer games?
There are two types of Multiplayer modes, local and global.
Local games are those hosted at “nearby” machines. For example, on several iPads on a home Wi-Fi network or several players on a single Xbox machine.
Global games make use of servers located elsewhere. Players can play with people from all over the world. For children, this is something parents should be wary of as you never know who is the person behind the “Steve” at the other end.
Multiplayer Minecraft game on Xbox 360
9. Why are the kids watching YouTube videos about Minecraft?
The Internet provides a great resource for everything nowadays. Minecraft is no exception. There are now YouTube personalities that provide Minecraft videos on everything from the basics of how to use a Crafting Table to advanced moves such as how to construct an Nether Portal to enter the Nether (a different dimension which exists in Minecraft Xbox and PC versions). There are also videos where players show off some of the fantastical buildings and projects that have been constructed in Minecraft and even music videos centred around Minecraft.
A word of caution for parents. There is no classification system for these online videos. Some of the videos may contain foul language. We would personally recommend treating videos found online as PG.
10. Can Minecraft be educational or useful?
The gameplay of Minecraft itself introduces a number of concepts to players.
For example, to craft items, raw materials such as wood are needed. This wood then needs to be processed into planks before they can be used as an input to craft tools, doors and other wood-based items. In the game, animals are hunted for meat and wool has to be obtained from sheep. There are also fixed ratios of resources needed to craft items, for example, to make a bed, 3 planks and 3 wool are needed. This exposes kids to real-world concepts.
There are online resources that suggest ways to use Minecraft as a teaching tool. Visit http://minecraftedu.com for some ideas.
If your child is playing Minecraft, one of the best ways to get involved is to enter into a Multiplayer world with them. Kids get a kick out of seeing their parents in a virtual world with them. Parents can even embark on joint projects together with their children. By being involved, parents can understand what their children are doing in Minecraft and keep their guided along. Also, as with all things, setting boundaries for children and moderation is best