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Many kids will be getting Minecraft for Christmas. The media, as ever has begun to both praise it as the 21st Century Lego and the next day call it addictive.

So what can you do to make Minecraft a positive experience this Christmas?

Set expectations for play – Minecraft has no end. It’s fast-fail-succeed feedback loops engage kids for hours as they literally dig-away at rendering their imagination through Mincrafts deceptively simple aesthetic world. Kids are not good at managing time. Make sure you set time expectations (not limits). Make even more sure you arrive at the appointed end time and genuinely ask about what they did. Avoid yelling at them to get off at some random time. One great way to do this is to ask them to make a map/build for a family Minecraft play-session. The host literally hosts the game. Next time, hold it somewhere else.

Enable Minecraft Family Jams – its easy to boot up a LAN session with 3 or 4 kids. Make an effort to have organised ‘Mine Jams’ between your family members. It’s great for kids to play with family members of all ages. Set some expectation and goal so your family can have a lot of fun making something together. Just like scrap-booking or playing in the pool, family game play has many benefits – well beyond the activity at the centre.

Get a family-slot server – a small 6-10 slot server is inexpensive. The cost is shared between the family. It’s also likely that 2/3 will play at a time. It’s fun to return to the world and see what has changed or been added since you were there last time. This avoids the issues of being in someone else’s kingdom, and has the benefit of being able to ‘own’ what they make. On a large server, the server owner owns everything and its hard to keep or export things you make.

Many parents of kids playing Minecraft have little experience of using multiplayer servers – the other players you meet are unknown entities. I think it takes time and experience as a parent to risk-assess this, but is increasingly a parenting-skill needed. Getting together and buying a multi-slot for a year is a great way for the whole family to feel-out the world of multiplayer gaming. Later you will know more about, and have more reasonable expectations of larger servers and their admins – and be able to make stronger judgements on what a “good” server is for your kid. Remember all kids are different.

Furthermore, all families are different, yet often share common understandings and cultural-codes. There is also some deeper trust between members than of people outside it, family-play allows some shared de-coding and contextual reflection. Families do this all the time, it’s part of raising kids. However, sharing cynical anecdotes and negative stories of your kid’s game habits over cheese and wine can easily become more positive at low cost.

Family play narrows the generation gap and allows some degree of inter-generational creativity. While older members might not be as fast or as skilful in building, they have seen and done more in the world, so bring deeper narratives. Kids often as “what shall I build?”, a great reply is “do you think we can build a Roman fort?”

This isn’t so different from kids bringing the DS to the family BBQ … All you need to do is plan and organise it a little. Over Christmas, you’d be amazed at how many kids in your near-family play Minecraft … Just ask around … And get Minecraft Jamming.

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