If you have a child (boy or girl) who is over age five, it's pretty likely that they have played Minecraft.
Do creepers, mining, building houses, endermen, squids and zombies sound familiar? No? If you still aren't sure what this new phenomenon is, then take a peek at your child's screen (if you can do so without getting dizzy). I can guarantee you that they know about this new game- a game that can occupy their entire day, if you let them!
There are certainly a lot of video games that I will not allow the boys to play; games with blood, violence, guns or inappropriate language, like most parents. This being said, I have to admit that I like Minecraft. Minecraft is a gaming fantasy world in which you create your own environment- build a house, garden, a hotel, create your own person and even find food- it can be very basic or intricate and detailed. At times, it can be a "survival" game where your goal is to find resources, build shelter and stay alive when you are attacked at night. It can also simply be a "creative" game (better for younger ages) where you are given resources and freedom to build as you choose, without fear of an attack (this is my favourite)***. Your kids already know how to download it and may even do this without your permission- so do keep in mind that there are different versions of the game available on many platforms. There is a iPad version, Xbox live version, iPod version as well as a desktop version (those are all used in my house). Many of them are free, but for some, there are costs starting at $6.99 (save your allowance, kids).
One of my favourite features is that you can play with others. I know there are some online versions in which you can play with your friends, but we stick to the "our house only" version of shared play. You can set up a "server" where multiple players can go into the same habitat and interact with each other, help each other build or even save each other! It is really cool to see my boys help each other build their own homes and find resources together. My guys ask me to play with them all the time (they call it "quality time" with mom) and while I love to stay involved and participate in the activities that they like, this game is totally not for me. Looking at the screen and trying to navigate across the terrain gives me a headache and makes me dizzy (not to mention that I might need some reading glasses to see the screen pretty soon)! I can't figure out how to make a house but I can break them really easily and I get totally lost, often. The best part of playing together is when one of my kids will come into my area, rescue me and take me back to my house.
Does it matter if I like to play the game myself? No! It's about my kids and they are obsessed with this game. They can sit for an hour (or more) and work on a creating a house with simple blocks, then run to show me their masterpiece, beaming with pride. My oldest even made me a fabulous house (close to his) where I had an underground spa and a wine cellar! Sweet!!! I love that the skills that they are using require strategy, design (architecture), resourcefulness and creativity. I appreciate the fact that the boys can connect their devices and they can actually play together- the oldest helping out the youngest. I think this is the most social a video game can get and they actually REALLY get along when they are playing.
In my opinion, this game is safe and appropriate for age 5 and up (my boys are 5 and 9). My only caution to moms is to limit the time spent on this game. Not only can the small details be hard on young eyes, it also can be a world that is all consuming and addicting...not to mention that kids need to be active every day. Another downside? Kids can lose track of time (literally hours) and I warn you - don't bother calling them for dinner- they are literally IN ANOTHER WORLD.
Keeping in mind that my boys love this game and that I need to limit their screen time, we have created two fun activities to bring Minecraft to life;
1. Making Minecraft houses out of Rice Krispie treat squares- Make a tray and cut into equal squares. Using toothpicks, ask your child to make a Minecraft creation.
2. Use LEGO or other blocks, to create the houses and characters and create an offline game!
My best advice is that if your child loves a game, any game, as much as my kids love Minecraft- it is worth learning more about it. With the online gaming component of this game, it is also important to be aware of their level of play and know who they are playing with. Engaging with our kids is not only about the interests we chose to talk about, but the topics they feel passionately about too. Take some time to watch your child play, ask questions and get to know what your son or daughter loves the most about the game? How did they feel when a wall broke or they couldn't find a resource? Why did they chose a particular design? I promise that you will not only get to see those faces beaming with pride, you will also get to know something new about your kids!
*** After I wrote this initial blog post, I asked Ty even more questions and learned that there is even another mode called "Hard core" in which you only have half a life with which to play the game.
Want to learn about more games that involve developing skills? Read this post.