A Parent's Guide to Minecraft
Or why the heck are my kids playing with Lego blocks on the screen?
Old is New Again?So, Moms and Dads...Some of you parents may be gamers yourselves, like me. You might be old-schoolers or you are actually keeping up with the current generation. Some of you may check out these kind of sites to find out what games the kids are wanting or some maybe trying to figure out what the kids are already playing. One of the most popular of these trending games is Minecraft. This still growing sensation from Mojang is available on the PC, X-Box 360 and now even mobile app versions for Android and iPhone. Upon first glance, you might have thought someone had dug out the old Atari or Intellivision console or... are those Lego blocks?I can say to you, take heart.Minecraft is new, but it touches on some old school joy and you should have no worries if this game is being played in your house or someone is wanting it for their birthday. You may have to set some time limits though. This game can burn a lot of game hours.It's an indy game success story created by a company that welcomes players to tear it apart and try to make it better.Why Is It All So Blocky?The 8-bit look of Minecraft is deceptive. It appears to be a simple game of building blocks, but in reality there is more beneath that grainy surface than dark caverns and the flaming Netherworld.Sitting down for the first time, it might be best though to try out some basic building. You gather materials from chopping down trees or digging tunnels or by harvesting nearby animals. These materials then become your building blocks which you can lay out anyway you wish. And these same materials can be used to craft useful tools.Some elements of gravity and physics don't apply in Minecraft, so don't be alarmed if some things seem askew.What You Need To KnowTo be able to speak to your child about Minecraft, you at least need to know a few things.First, the game was created by a guy everyone knows as Notch. This is Notch (a.k.a. Markus Persson). He is the creator of Minecraft and founder of Mojang, the company that developed Minecraft. Trust me, your kids have heard of him. Why? Because he actually plays his own game on occasion (at least that's the rumor my kids tell me) and has a very open sense of humor about his product.Then, you may wonder why the kids talk about butter so much. But, it's not butter... butter. In Minecraft, bars of gold which make weapons, armor and other useful things, are called Butter. Don't ask me why. They just are. Roll with it.Also, the game can be played in one of two modes: Survival Mode is just that. You have to gather materials to build and eat to stay alive. Things in the game can hurt or kill you, especially at night. And there is actually an end goal to achieve. Creative Mode allows the player free reign of their realm and all the materials they need to build with. And baddies can't hurt you. Mods are any downloaded add-on that changes or adds new elements to the game.So, What the Heck is Going On?Most games, you can look at the screen and know pretty fast what the deal is. Batman's swinging across Gotham to get the Joker. The little Italian guy on the kart is trying to win a race. The Asian girl with the funny haircut is beating up a blonde guy with a funny haircut. Cut and dry. Looking over his shoulder, I had been watching my son put together a multi-story house block by block. He added furniture, secret doors, a ladder leading into the mines below, etc. Then, he began to mix items he'd collected. I asked him, what are you making? "There are a lot of things in Minecraft you can build. You can make a diamond sword. I used to always use it, but then I found out that butter (gold) swords are easier to craft and they last quite a bit of time." So, not only can you build things, you can make your own tools. Is that a blocky cow? "There are animals in Minecraft too such as pigs, cows, sheep, chickens, squids, wolves, and ocelots. You can tame the ocelots and wolfs. For ocelots you use raw fish, and for the wolves you use bones which you get from skeletons when you kill them. Then, you can make the wolfs fight for you, but the ocelots just run away." Darkness came and some green guys showed up. What are those things? Are they attacking you? "During the night there are hostile mobs (mobs meaning bad guys) such as Endermen, Zombies, Spiders, Creepers and Skeletons." Okay, is that a Paintball gun? "There is also mods. Mods will give you all kinds of awesome stuff. There is a mod for almost everything." And he wasn't kidding. I looked online for Mods. These are additions, alterations and various items that can be downloaded and added to the game. This is a major reason it's so popular. The players can make their own mods and offer them to everyone else. My sons have designed numerous skins (new looks for their avatars) on their own already.A lot going on, I know. And that's why I will tell you not to be concerned if your child plays this game. Yes, there are some weapons. Yes, they can kill animals for food or kill a bad guy. But, the primary thing going on here is IMAGINATION.And by that, I mean players creating an entire world of things. Houses with automatic doors and secret hatches, switches that work levers and turn on devices, objects and food crafted from raw materials, etc. The possibilities seem only limited by the player's ideas. Mods can have add-ons for new items or customization of existing ones to create even more outlandish objects and structures.Via the internet or X-Box Live, players can share the worlds they created with others and allow them to wander about their 3-d creations and even try things out, etc.The BasicsIn Minecraft, you play Steve. He's a blocky dude that occupies a whole blocky world.Steve's world can be a dangerous place, especially at night. That's when the baddies come out. But, he also can encounter them at anytime underground. Animals roam the land, some friendly. Some can be tamed or even ridden. Neighboring villagers keep to themselves but are willing to make trades.To survive, you must build yourself a shelter and begin to gather food. Everything around you can become a resource. Hacking at trees gets you wood, digging up the ground gets you stone, etc. Gathering plants or killing animals will give you food and other resources. You can then use those resources to make building materials. With time and some effort, you can also craft objects by combining resources in a furnace or at a craft table. There are lot of recipes for making weapons, armor, food, etc. Check out this handy Crafting Guide.Lights... Camera... To get an idea of what is possible in Minecraft, you can peruse hundreds of videos that include helpful ideas. Captain Sparklez is currently one of the most popular creators, but there are nearly endless themes and parodies as well as suggestions and survival guides.For that matter, the Mindcrack Network has several contributors posting game news, regular podcasts and even interviews with notable creators. One network member Building with BDoubleO has over 600,000 subscribers for hundreds of episodes, including the amazing Inspiration series with Keralis that shows some astouding creations.Another popular video maker is Skydoesminecraft but be warned that his audio tracks often include inappropriate language.Geek Tested, Parent ApprovedWith the addition of mobile versions, mods coming out daily and a widening base of players, Minecraft is becoming a monolith. But, this is game that you Moms and Dads can take heart that their kids are not just mindlessly button mashing or brutally committing acts of first-person shooter violence.There's a bit of a learning curve, but it's not hard to get the basics. If you've ever sat and put together a puzzle, built a model or built buildings out of blocks with a child then you understand that's not just playtime. That's the time when you really connect.*All answers in italics are my son's own words. Thank you, Evan.
Published Oct. 27th 2017