Why won’t she get off Minecraft?

I spoke to a journalist yesterday at the Sunday Telegraph about Minecraft. Apparently they are wring an article. Almost immediately, I learned they had a son aged seven who was ‘addicted’ to it, refusing to get off when told, which led to family rows.

Sound familiar? It’s something I hear a lot. I’ve thought about writing an entire book on the topic of getting kids off computers and video games, as there seems so much panic over it. I’m not sure what (if anything) will get written into the article, so I thought I’d outline my view here.

Is Minecraft addictive?

Firstly, kids are not addicted to Minecraft. Addiction is a word that is used in a variety of ways, but usually it refers to a compulsive drive to take some substance or engage in some activity that is not good for us. Video games are games of skill like chess or soccer. Success depends on perseverance, intelligence, practice, and learning, not chance. Saying Minecraft is addictive is similar to trying to argue millions of people addicted to soccer and therefore soccer creates the violence and racism on the terraces and so on.

People play games because they are challenging, fun and provide social interaction with other gamers – just like soccer. You might argue soccer is physical and outside. Yes, but in soccer, you don’t have to calculate the dimensions of a pitch or design the worlds most amazing stadium, so please – games are not purely Kinesthetic learning (also known as tactile learning). This is just one learning style in which learning takes place by the student carrying out a physical activity. I might also argue the brain loves a good work out, and few parents worry about chess. There are many learning styles. Humans don’t use or exclude any particular one by choice.

Non-gamers are bombarded by messages from the larger media-culture. Newspapers, radio and print generally assert gaming is a sign of laziness, is “addictive” and leads to many bad-effects. Non-gamers become concerned about video gaming as a result.

Why does mass-media say games are addictive?

The simple answer is that mass-media needs people to spend millions of hours watching television ads, reading  ads in newspapers and so on. This is why we have televisions, magazines and newspapers – they are technological devices to sell us advertising.  But we are not watching and reading like we used to. The death of traditional media (in terms of advertising) is well reported – as is the rise of Internet advertising. The problem here is that games like Minecraft clearly consume millions of hours – which blocks out their advertising opportunity. Worse, they know that ‘we’ don’t need traditional media anymore – we are the news, we are anonymous, we can’t be profiled or sold as we won’s sit on the couch like zombies. We’d rather play with zombies.

When Minecraft is the house-game for kids – then these media messages will focus parents on getting the house back to reading and watching their messages –  to support advertising revenue streams. So parents hear constantly that games are harmful, that gamers are all potential crazed gunmen, isolated shut ins and so on. You don’t want that for your kid do you?

Parents need to play with their kids if they want to understand games (and their kid)

I asked the reporter – “Do you have a Minecraft account and play with your child?”.

The answer was no as it almost always is. I followed up by asking “when  you go for coffee with your partner, have you given your child a smartphone to occupy them why you talk?”. She responded “Yes! – my husband does that!”

I pointed out the contradiction – games are good when adults are talking, but bad when the child doesn’t want to talk but play. How is a child supposed to work out this rule when it is presented as a contradiction, not a constant. For the players, Minecraft is a constant, so are your game-friends you play with. They understand you and they want to play with you. They know you might quit at any moment – to get ‘logged’ to do some chore or sit quietly while mum and dad have a chat.

Minecraft is not about occupying or filling in time – it’s about meaningful work. I hate to break it to parents, but to a kid, building in Minecraft is meaningful. Perhaps parents are just not used to this. The problem with Minecraft is not the game, nor video games in general. The central social problem is understanding our own (adults) behaviors around them. If parent’s don’t play with their kids, it is unlikely they will gain any understanding of games and their kids who are growing up with them. This is just like the same as noticing they like soccer so finding them a soccer club or kicking a ball around with them. Knock, knock, knock – Penny – your kid likes video games and can probably bend it like Beckham if you bothered to stop yelling long enough to actually understand.

Do scholars believe games are addictive?

Let me say this, as someone who works at a University. Little is agreed upon. The purpose of research is to move understanding forward and to find gaps in ‘the knowledge’ of everything. This means that when you hear or read an academic talk about something, they will invariably do a bit of fence sitting when asked yes/no questions. There is no ‘yes’ games are addictive verdict so far – and to be frank, there is no agreement on what we mean by video-game. I argue that Twitter is a video-game, it has the same basic qualities of games. This is usually met with raised eyebrows and seen as an attempt to avoid the question. But in all seriousness – there are plenty of people who sat zombified on their couch for years watching Doctor Phil and now they play Angry Birds at the same time.

This has nothing to do with Minecraft “addiction” anymore than Doctor Phil is the cause of Angry Bird addiction.

Mike Langlois, who maintains an excellent blog “gamer-therapist” said

“The stereotype presents the gamer as apathetic and avoidant of any work or investment. One thing we know about stereotypes is that they can be internalized and lead to self-fulfilling negativism, and I’ve come to hear gamers refer to themselves as lazy slackers.”

To counteract the stereotype, Langlois points out that video gaming is hard fun, not easy fun. Hard fun is a term that has appeared more than a few times towards education and technology.

“This hard fun would not be possible if gamers were truly lazy or apathetic. And the level of detail that many gamers pay attention to is staggering

To your brain, Mincraft is a form of going outside.

Our bodies are just a way to move our sub-conscious around. We spend most of our lives in our own sub-conscious because our brain likes to do stuff. The brain is in charge, not the body, and the brain is just as interested in solving problems in Minecraft as it is getting hands to move lego-bricks around a table. It soon works out the two-things are related. I can only imagine what would happen if Lego included redstone and pistons in a box. That would be awesome. But as awesome as Mincraft Lego was, it the brain wasn’t fooled.

Sydney is a city where children are often not allowed to play freely outdoors. Certainly where I live, busy roads, the occasional ‘collar bomber’ and so on means kids are more or less constantly directed by adults. Minecraft for some kids is the only realm where they are allowed to roam free and explore. At the same time, most of the parents I know of Minecraft kids understand that like anything kids need a balance in their life, and are not able to manage time as well as adults (some adults).

Parents need to learn not to use Minecraft as stick or candy-cane.

It’s a BAD idea to offer Minecraft time as a reward for ‘good’ behaviour – and a BAD idea to use the removal of it for ‘not good’ behaviour. This is a loop of doom – all it does is break down the trust between kid and parent – which in most cases parents have no idea how to repair. Minecraft is not like a DVD which parents used to use as a techno-babysitter. DVDs are passive loops, the brain likes watching them as they are predictable and expected. Much of the time kids are not actively watching them – they are just zombie-fied on the couch.

Minecraft is not a babysitter

Amazingly, Minecraft is given to ‘occupy’ kids – in fact computers generally are used to keep kids busy. The problem is that Minecraft is not telling your kid a story – it’s not Willy Wonka you are sitting them in front of – it’s Anonymous – and Anonymous will teach them many things. I like the Anon analogy as Minecraft has some great people and projects for kids on the web, and also it has people whom I would not want my kids to go near – not because they are weirdos – but because the time I allow my kids to game – I want to make sure it’s productive and educationally beneficial. I don’t leave that to chance, I make the effort to find out – in just the same way I find out about local sports clubs, guitar tutors or books. Games are not external to parent-domain anymore — after all — you bought the game.

Minecraft is not just a game – its a sub-culture that spills out into YouTube, music, forums, blogs and art.

Of all the games available right now, Minecraft has qualities which allow kids to explore and imagine on an epic scale. Most significantly, there are few rules to learn – reasonable proficiency is achieved in hours. Not because the game is ‘easy’, but because the mechanics are such that a player is engaged in very very fast cause/effect feedback loops. Most of the time, when you die, it’s funny, even ironic – a result of you not thinking hard enough – not random chance.

Is Minecraft educational?

I give a flat yes to this, and in my view Minecraft (used in a game-sensible-model) is as educational as any other technology we’ve added to classrooms – if not more. It can be used to unlock things in kid’s minds that lead to deep learning that isn’t about to achieved with an IWB or Wiki. If we are going to debate this, then also debate whether school – as it is commonly provided – always educational too. Many think not, including numerous scholars such as Henry Jenkins, John Seeley Brown and Sir Ken Robinson. Can I show teachers and parents it is – yes. I can and I do.

Technology at school (which has avoided using games like Minecraft) has not improved outcomes with technology (yet). School leaders in my experience have almost no knowledge or understanding of the power of games – and for no more reason that that – have failed to make any serious effort to fund them, or back teachers who do. Technology has not had any real impact youth unemployment and disenchantment.

If school prepares you for life – what kind of life?

The Hunger Games or the games industry? – One reason kids around the world are learning to code is that they can get access to hero-code poets like @Notch. These people blog, tweet and do accessible random stuff. They are more real than the teacher in many ways. Minecraft is a visual programming language. It blows my mind that in Australia, the dominant programming language taught (cough) at age 16-18 is Visual Basic 6. Learning to use Unity, Unreal, Cry-engine … not going to happen. So why teachers and parent winge when kids start to learn to code in Minecraft is brain-missing. Yes mum, your six year old is engaged in computational thinking and is writing code with those blocks. Playing to learn is well researched in education as a damn good idea.

Computer and video games in Australia is one of the biggest growing sectors of employment. Over $1billion dollars of employment. If school kids are not learning about games at school – where do all the people who work in this industry learn? Where to parents learn.

Minecraft is perhaps the start of a kids interest in their future job – the fact it looks like cubes ignores the cognitive development that is happening with that technology – which in my experience as a parent of kids of a similar age – does not happen at their school.

Minecraft might just be the game that stops your child becoming illiterate – not addicted to something that will make them lazy or ignorant.

Getting parents to understand games

The problem is not school or Minecraft. It’s a social-problem where there are almost no places for parents to go – with kids to learn about games and how to use games in the home to assist the overall development of the child. There is some research on Minecraft, but most parents doing read academic stuff – and there are a few books emerging, but again, they tend not to be bought by parents.

This is why I have tried to create events where kids and parents can come together to talk about games, play games and un-pack what is happening. That is very very hard – as school systems don’t work weekends and venues are expensive … but each time we do – parents discover a side of their child that society has been previously hiding. Amazingly, these things are well attended and have a very positive effect on parents, as we unpack and explain what is happening ‘live’ as their kids hang out and play.

Minecraft is good … you just have to understand how good. I’ll be running one at Macquarie University in the summer holidays – it will be free, so come along if you’re a parent and learn how to put games in kids lives in a positive way. I’ll also be running Minecraft for schools workshop in the next few months with Dr. Bron Stuckey. Addictive learning – yes please. Controlling kids? No.

78 thoughts on “Why won’t she get off Minecraft?

  1. Never fear there are a group of educators leading the way using Minecraft in education!
    I’m a teacher in an international school in Singapore and we are using Minecraft in Creative mode in a unit of work called “How We Organize Ourselves”. Grade 3 students plan for two weeks on pencil and paper the layout of a functioning community and the systems in place to make it run smoothly. They create teams who are in charge of certain aspects and then they get to create their community in Minecraft.
    We’re in the middle of it now and it’s going well. I can’t even fathom how much we have transformed the student’s learning by doing this. We will be presenting our reflections in a number of ways after our unit is over.
    Keep the faith, we are spreading the word of gaming in education (just ask my Grade 5 students in my Portal 2 lunch club!


    • Yeah, sitting in front of a computer screen completely zoned out like a God damned zombie vs physical activity in an organic setting interacting with other human beings that you can touch, smell and experience. What a brilliant analogy…not.

    • I disagree with u as I can say with confidence that mine raft just like any other video game can be addictive and I personally suffer because my son is addicted to it. You argue that it is just like soccer or any other game however I have never heard of any child playing soccer for hours and hours non stop, where many children that I know and my son in particular will play min craft until someone tries to stop him and this can be 8-10 hours even more. When he plays he forgets about time he forgets about food or drink he does not even want to go to the toilet until he cant hold it any more. He started lying and cheating. He downloaded the game on his phone so when his computer time ends he plays in his phone. He pretends to go to sleep and takes the phone with him. Knowing this I go and check on him a little after he goes to bad and take the phone away putting it on charge so he has a phone in the morning but often find him getting it and playing again. All he thinks is mine craft. All he is interested is mine craft. All he wants is to play min craft. He now hate me because I am trying to stop this. I am setting limit So please do not say that it is not an addiction because it is and it ruins children’s life and mine to my son now hates me because of that stupid game because I don’t let him to play it If this is not an addiction than I don’t know what is.

      • It seems that the only parents who are happy with minecraft are the ones who actually waste hours everyday playing it themselves. The withdrawals and tantrums when children are asked to get off minecraft are beyond anything I have ever experienced with any of my three children, who have also played playstation games in the past to excess, but never had the withdrawals or tantrums that minecraft causes. I am starting to wonder if something subliminal has been written into the programming of this game? Scary thought.

      • Interesting when you say too excess, as it’s hard to see that line, as all our circumstances are different. Do you think that experience might have help form habitual habits now?. I wonder how it would transmit a subliminal message, given no two worlds are the same and the player has total control over the textures. Interesting … more to think about.

      • The game is not addictive, it would be very hard to prove it has causality to create psychological or physiologic dependence. However, the environment in which it is played might be such that habitual use of this single-game might present very negatively as you say.

        The causes of addiction vary considerably. They are generally caused by a combination of physical, mental, circumstantial and emotional factors, and perhaps some professional intervention might be of use in your circumstance – any parent concern is valid here, so please don’t think I am dismissing your view as wrong.

        As a game, Minecraft is game which presents a number of well studied characteristics, Like all games, it is systematic in it’s requirement for players to we work harder to solve problems which are entirely avoidable from the first hour to the last. Unlike a games such as tic-tac-toe, Minecraft doesn’t stop providing challenges which some people find attractive enough to devote time to. For others, Minecraft is irritating and pointless and they will not find the kind of challenge that they consider worth their time. Not all kids you give Minecraft to, would spend hundred of hours playing it, so as a game it doesn’t have some mind-altering power and unlike drugs or alcohol.

        It is a game which never appears to end and allows progressive success, with vast amounts of control over the ‘world’ all be it a computational representation of a world. The emotional reaction to this varies person to person and for many, the emotional reaction to ‘being good at, being in control of’ is a powerful reason to keep playing. The lack of ‘score’ assists this, as being ‘good’ at Minecraft is not limited to any level, score of set of achievements – in the mind of the player what they make is entirely important to them. Habitual use of anything is never a good thing in any form (perhaps not air, food and water). But being good at something does take hours of practice – and most sports start will recount in their memoirs the thousands of hours they dedicated together with ‘things’ in life that they missed out of, or think they did to achieve that. They are the lucky ones, there are millions of sports people who pour that kind of time into it and don’t succeed. Bu unlike Sport, video-games are far more systematic in the way they hand out success for effort.

        With a habit you are in control of your choices, with an addiction you are not in control of your choices.

        Phones can be locked to prevent installation. Modems can be password protected to prevent access. Yes getting him off it will not involve smiles, but I can’t see the games itself as addictive, but as you describe, the access to it seems to be highly problematic.

        I’m not a Doctor, but I am a parent of gaming kids. My advice would be, from experience, don’t just unplug your kid, teach him how to unplug himself, and encourage him when he does.

      • Your eldest is five….five year olds are easier to manage, bribe, whatever… teenagers are not. They are usually taller, stronger and at an age where they are breaking free of parents ‘rules’ trying to find their own way in the world. My son will tell you himself he is addicted to minecraft and that he feels guilty every time he plays it now but cannot stop. He knows it has destroyed his relationship with me his mother in the past 18 months but still he cannot stop. He accidentally chipped a bone on my leg when he threw a chair in anger (when his grandmother was begging him to get off) After which he stopped playing for 10 days but still went back on.
        You are naive if you cannot see the addictiveness of this game. Have more of a look around on the internet, mothers groups perhaps. I read of one mother of an 11 year old that didn’t realise how addicted her son was until she told him he was not to play minecraft anymore as he was neglecting everything else in his life. He threw himself on the floor, lashed out and screamed etc.. she was totally shaken as she had never seen this behaviour in her son before. She had to call her husband from work to help settle him down which took two him two hours. This game is highly additive, children and adults are unable to control their urge to go on and stay on it.

      • My eldest is not 5, but 12 and over the course of a few years, I’ve seen dozens of teens use Minecraft in ways that have improved their social and academic skills, I’ve experienced parents re-connecting with their teens. My experience of players extends well beyond my own children. On that basis, I do not believe the game can be described as ‘addictive’, which is why I have said that addiction is complex and has many factors that impacts a persons motivation and habitual use of one thing or another. I don’t doubt your recount of the events, or suggest they are not alarming … but it does make me wonder how quickly this happened – and how many hours the child was allowed to play before this point was reached?

      • @ Marine–your story is MY story!! I want to love it because I think it teaches fun, good, healthy things but the absolutely insane “withdrawals” tantrums I get when my 11 and 12 year old boys’ time is up on the clock is just not worth it anymore. My 11 year old, when asked to get off after 1 1/2 hrs on last night screamed and had a meltdown as he very often does when he has to stop playing–only last night, he started banging his head against the wall and said “when you do this it makes me want to kill myself!”… My heart sank and I was crying hysterically as I pulled the plugs to the computer and took their phones away too. This game–which some children may be able to handle–has torn our family apart over the last 6 months that theyve been playing! They only help out around the house in order to earn game time, we don’t talk as much, my boys are constantly fighting each other–in real life–and as soon as they’re off the computer, they’re on their phones playing it. So….my only solution to this after last nights events, is to ban this game from my home. Good luck to you.

  2. Very useful blogpost. Thank you Dean, as I have already had the boss at my school comment that Minecraft is “too engaging” and I am gathering evidence that it is in fact “wonderfully engaging” and invaluable for schools. I would very much like to go to your workshop in the holidays. I know there is one at Erina High on Thursday, but I can’t make it :(

    • We’ll do more. There’s no counter to the media’s facile opinion, other than to present what has been show to be useful in educational research. Sadly too many are addicted to MS Office, but that isn’t sensational. How these people get ‘sales’ and ‘user’ stats off game companies notorious for not given them out amazes me.

      What is proven is that imagination and play is a primary mechanism for learning, especially in children – and that children are not encouraged to be experts in anything, but compliant in what adults want (legacy of mass education).

      But newspapers don’t read any of this of course, so for me, showing people, letting them choose is important. Then to also step back and allow each teacher to do their thing – and not create a regime where there is ‘one’ best example, or one person running things – that perpetrates the old-regimes of IT-lock-down. Ideally, let the kids run all of it – that’s what I’ve learned. No adult should think they are the ‘leader’ and in classrooms, even some time given to games like this has a positive impact on power-gender roles – I’m my view.

  3. Every mammal teaches it’s young it’s place in life through play. Or perhaps better put all young mammals (and not a few other types) learn their place in life through play. Yet humans almost seem to have the idea that you can only learn through hard work.

    Why don’t more people realise that it’s the enjoyable aspect of games that makes them easy to learn from… you almost learn without realising…

    It’s almost like we adults say “Because I have to work hard and have no fun to buy you your education. You have to work hard and have no fun while learning…”

  4. Spot on! When I was younger (much younger) Lego was my freedom to explore, imagine and create. I mean I was encouraged to do so by my parents, whom played sometimes. I think in turn it has contributed towards what I do today for a job (I’m a 29 year old Web Developer/Designer playing Minecraft :D ). I think Minecraft or similar games would do the same, for instance my younger cousins are already talking about making modifications to Minecraft with the potential of being a programmer or artist later on. My uncle (their dad) even plays with them sometimes just to understand his kids better. Something to bear in mind…

  5. As a parent I enjoy playing it with my kids – I see the huge potential for learning in it. I would love to see a modification that included a word processor that expanded on the book in Minecraft – or an ingame textbook that used redstone as a teaching tool for logic and problem solving. I would pay for this.. It can be tough to get a child off of a project they are very interested in. Legos hurt when you step on them barefoot

  6. When you don’t care enough to spell check the first paragraph of your article, I don’t care enough to read it. Nice email address, I’ll look for you on the field.

      • I liked the article, but honestly the spelling and grammatical errors throughout were very distracting, and in some cases I wasn’t able to figure out what you meant even after multiple re-readings. This page really would benefit significantly from proofreading–not just because it would convince readers like John that you consider your words to be important, but because it would help readers like me focus on (and understand) what you’re saying.

    • This is extremely ignorant, he wrote a fantastic piece that everyone with, or who eventually wants, kids should read. He not only makes great points on why so many kids don’t have any interest in school but also tries to explain to parents that video games aren’t some form of meaningless toy, that they are actually mentally engaging. If I didn’t have parents that played video games with me and actually encouraged me to learn all I could about them, I would never have chosen or known about how great and freeing this career actually is.

    • Amen on the spell check thing!
      Also, there is NO WAY for a parent to PLAY minecraft WITH your child short of purchasing the game twice, creating your own minecraft server, and having two computers to play at the same time. Minecraft just isn’t set up for this.

      • You can play Minetest should investing $20 or so in a parent licence is too steep an investment. You can then play ad-hock, so you don’t need a server, and clearly you need more than one computer. However, playing with children can also mean playing with them in the same way they play lego. You don’t have to have all you own bricks and table. You can share the experience. Thanks for the comments on spelling though.

  7. Let me first say that I am a lifetime gamer (minecraft alpha user) with four children, the oldest is 6 and who has played and enjoys playing minecraft with me as a family activity.

    I also agree that minecraft can be used as a wonderful and engaging learning tool. I think the stigma of video games is often based on a lack of understanding. I also think that many gamers view video games through rose colored glasses. They can be harmful when abused and when they are used without restriction. What parent would let their child choose what to watch, or choose what to eat? We make decisions for them because they are not yet equipped to make every decision for themselves. A child is not capable of regulating their time in a healthy, balanced way. Show me a child that can and I will show you a very rare and mature child, certainly not common.

    “Addiction [..] refers to a compulsive drive to take some substance or engage in some activity that is not good for us.”

    I think it is a stretch to assume that any activity that can become addictive must be negative. Any activity, even good activities, when used as a source of value and satisfaction can lead to addictive behavior. If a child needs minecraft or video games as a source of their own self-value or worth then you have put video games into a role that can be destructive. Any sort of activity should be enjoyed, but not depended upon for quality in one’s life.

    I WOULD in fact argue that millions of people are addicted to their soccer teams. I would not argue that it makes them violent, but it does create an unhealthy balance of obsession over something not meant to be so valuable.

    Children are not capable of successfully self-governing their time in such a way as to lead a healthy balanced lifestyle. My child understand that getting to play minecraft is a gift, or a privilege, not a right. She understands that she must hold to it loosely so that she can enjoy it when it is appropriate to play but let go when it’s not. I’m no perfect parent but I desire to protect my children from becoming obsessed with any one thing.

    Lastly, as someone who played videogames all his life, and who’s friends played videogames all their lives – I think it is just about the most ridiculous thing in the wold to say that in-game “hard work” translates to “real life” hart work. A buddy of mine would spend a hundred hours constructing a virtual world, but he constantly cuts corners and slacks off at his job. There’s a reason that the world as a whole views gamers as lazy or unproductive, I believe it is because many gamers find satisfaction in the virtual world that they cannot seem to find in the real world. They will put effort towards getting satisfaction, if they don’t find value in effort in the real world they will stop giving it. This just points back to my argument that virtually anything can become addictive and their must be balance in all aspects of our lives.

    • I think this is an excellent reply to the above article. I believe the fundamental error in the reasoning of the main article is that it places too much trust in the child to be balanced. Gaming, by its very nature, creates a mental and chemical stimulus in the brain, particularly in males, that mimics addiction. A study was done that shows the same area of the brain active and responding to gaming as it does for someone with chemical addictions. This is no small study. The point is that children, by and large, unless they are “rare” as Michael Thomas said, do not have the built-in ability to be balanced. Character is not something children are born with, but learn in the healthy environment of the family. Minecraft IS addictive — let us not play semantics here. My son has been incapable of completing math assignments, but somehow able to find the time to play Minecraft. He recently admitted himself that it is an obsession. So the latter was taken away as a privilege. Indeed, gaming is a privilege, not a human right. As such, parents have the obligation to ensure that their children learn moderation in all that they do. We have found in our home that by disallowing gaming for the most part, our children have developed musical, sports, and literary skills they otherwise would not have had they exchanged those endeavours for playing on the computer. No, children will not die if they don’t play Minecraft; but they will suffer later in life if they do not learn to moderate themselves, and that’s what parents can and must do, especially when it comes to video games.

      • Thanks for the reply. However, there is no evidence to show Minecraft is addictive. It is true that children and adolescents are still developing skills to manage their time and allocate to ‘priorities’. These are not the same as adults, it does not mean they are not valid. My children play games: they also surf, skate, play guitar, tennis, swim, do little As, netball, basketball, soccer and ride bikes. They also have level 90s in Warcraft a ton of online friends and technological skills well about their teachers – the oldest in 9. I say without gaming they’d be more ignorant computer users and far less able to function in our culture.

    • Regarding your last paragraph, dskmagg isn’t claiming that gaming is hard work and that it translate to hard work in real life. He’s saying that it’s hard work in the sense that it’s not a passive activity. Even at the simplest levels, a game requires active input from the user and for the brain to be engaged in order to succeed in the activity you find fulfilling. It’s “hard work” in the same way that reading, or playing with lego or a board game or a sport is hard work. It requires you to be active on an either physical or mental level (or both) beyond simply processing visual and audio stimulus.

      Sure, any behaviour taken to an obsessive extreme can be destructive but, as a whole, this is an assumption that is generally easily leapt to in he case of video games. If, in the example of a child who didn’t want to disengage with their Minecraft activities, you were to transpose the game with a book, you wouldn’t immediately assume that the child was “addicted” to reading and that reading for excessive periods was a harmful and destructive activity. In both situations, the problem isn’t in the activity perse, but could point to the child having trouble regulating their social interactions or having trouble with social interactions themselves.

      Simply blaming the game as the root of the problem is short sighted and ultimately unhelpful.

  8. Wow!
    Couldn’t have said it better, thank you!

    “Amazingly, Minecraft is given to ‘occupy’ kids – in fact computers generally are used to keep kids busy.”

    I often get ask how come I get along so well with my six years old son. For me it is not about keeping him busy but what could we do TOGETHER that would be fun. Could be drawing, building things, video games, watching a movie, shopping, going to the park… Its about doing something together. What I personally would do is simply NOT important. Not while I am with him anyway.

    “Minecraft is not just a game – its a sub-culture that spills out into YouTube, music, forums, blogs and art.”

    I’ve been a gamer since the mid/late 1970s, MINECRAFT is a phenomenon. A game that goes beyond everything established before itself. Its art at its finest.

    We play MINECRAFT a lot and together. We have one survival game with about 60 hours in it, two creative game with about 20 hours and a multiplayers game we play with friends that has about 105 hours so far.

    We play together, share ideas (even sometimes talking about it in the car or while doing the groceries). He comes up with amazing suggestions. And looking at him while he talks to me about it, I can see that there is a lot going on in his mind. It stimulates him to think, act and create.

    “What is proven is that imagination and play is a primary mechanism for learning, especially in children – and that children are not encouraged to be experts in anything, but compliant in what adults want (legacy of mass education).”

    Been saying this for YEARS!

  9. Elementary music teacher here, using Dance Central as a way to learn how to move body with music. Games are relevant to the students and they understand how they work. It keeps them engaged in the activity and can be used to teach different cognitive, social, and physical concepts.

  10. Brilliant blog post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    Weirdly enough, In my statistics class last week, at uni, we had to use data from a survey in which they compared the literacy level with children who engaged in electronic games and those who did not. Suffice to say, the results surprised me. They suggested that children who did play electronic games had a higher literacy level than those who didn’t.

    As an avid gamer myself I do feel the need to consistently play Minecraft. Slowly am I working out a timetable so I can fit in an hour or so around my studying and university work. Never have I owned a game with this much adventure and stimulation. Never have I owned a game that entices me back so often. I even go to bed imagining and planning ways in which to build buildings.

    Unfortunately, though completely unnecessarily, I feel Minecraft has been tarred with the same brush as games such as the Grand theft auto series or the Call of Duty series that purposely provoke the idea of violence, admittedly the latter is about war.

    As you have previously mentioned, Minecraft is more than a game.

    May I add a small suggestion, there seems to be a spelling error at the beginning of this post; wring?

  11. As well as the learning/applying the game mechanics, there’s huge potential and impetus to learn the supporting environment. Running a Minecraft server exposes kids to Linux, Java, networking, scripting, backups, security etc. Kids can modify their characters, the world’s appearance (textures), and the fundamental rules behind the game itself. When learning feels like play, everyone wins.

  12. My father once explained to me how steering in a car works, between going forward and reverse. I told him I had already learned such things from video games. He replied, “this isn’t a video game.” It was one my earliest facepalms.

  13. Pingback: Недельное чтиво: дети любят Minecraft, а геймдизайнеры коридоры | Sergey Galyonkin

  14. My son sent me this article and I read it and respect the statements and though I may not agree with all of them I do get it. My argument is with balance. There is no balance unless I instill it. I also have an unusual double dilemma, I have a “Double ESE” kid… A teenager who has Autism and is Gifted. So who wants to touch this one? With him in his computer and only “talking” with other players, how do I give him the balance of “real life” where he does ultimately live, without removing the game from him and then getting the “you don’t understand” “it’s what we do” “it’s how I socialize”. I need him to learn about balance and the real world too… that means turning off the game.

    • Thanks Anny, I agree, balance is key and I think we’re all struggling with developing effective time management skills. I’m not saying that in-game is optimal, just that kids, because of their age of development find the game compelling. I have no issue with turning the game off. I have 3 kids, they all game and in no too dis-similar position. I also think a balance of experiences – not just Minecraft, not just the same peer group is important too.

      I’ve seen and heard stories of kids running school Minecraft servers, or running local events too. That seems to have an effect of taking able kids into a new role, where they are leading and doing things ‘for’ others and not directly playing as they might alone.

  15. Nice summation of my feelings on the matter, put far more eloquently that I could have ever hoped to. I have two young daughters, just about to turn 5 and 4 respectively, and they are avid fans of minecraft, having often watched me play. I have it set up on our home network, and they play together, building homes, schools and other things as their imaginations see fit. There is occasional trouble as they break each others creations, but listening to them roleplay together in game is super, and watching how they build is fascinating.

    I help out at the local Coderdojo (http://www.coderdojo.com) and when we give the kids a break often more than half of these kids learning to code fire up minecraft to play for a few minutes. I also know one of the dojos is doing classes on modding minecraft.

  16. While soccer and real life can be addictive as well, you can learn more in them than in minecraft.
    I played minecraft and I am addicted to everything that isn’t work.
    So, not video games are evil, but most of humanity is too weak to stop playing their games when they should. Particularly video games have too little social control to not go over the top and fail at important work.
    The same thing with books and all type of media, but games are much more addictive.
    To summarize, in a perfect world we could all “play” as much as we want, without dying of hunger.
    But thats not going to happpen, and therefore many mental issues are dangerous.Such like gaming too much or having too little real-life social skills and contacts.

    • I agree, too much of anything can be bad. It’s what has been called ‘positive deviation’ – when people experience many things, all quite different they not only expand their mind, but the things that they like the most are changed and improved. You might think of how an artist works, I think it’s a similar thing. Bringing what you see and feel in the real world into Mincraft is very similar process. Thanks for your comment.

  17. Thank you so much for this! My 8 y.o. loves Minecraft and I was a bit concerned about how much time she had been spending on it. I was secretly hoping it would lead to a career in architecture.

    • I suggest if you bring up the topic and play with them – that will only become more likely. Playing with your kids is so important.

  18. Great Post – I play Minecraft with my 5 year old nearly everyday (I professionally use minecraft and other creative games in education and creative art workshops)… we also go walking and have making time – sometimes we also play other games like Farming Simulator and other ‘creative’ games. Minecraft has been a rich source of inspiration for story telling, making (we made Creeper Potato print Christmas cards this year) and role play(we dress up!) and its great and yes I sometime have to help him manage his time with Minecraft …and also with fossil digs he started in the garden and now its freezing cold and I think he should come in for dinner….and so it goes. Thanks for the post.

  19. Really cool to hear about all the creative ways people are using Minecraft – especially in education! We think the possibilities are endless for using Minecraft to illustrate concepts in new ways using multiple types of intelligence.

  20. Pingback: Creative Ways People Are Using Minecraft In Education | M1N3 Magazine

  21. Oh my goodness, I was SO excited to read this article. As a mother of two boys, aged 11 and 7 when the Minecraft mania hit our house, I didn’t know what to do. My husband encouraged me to watch and see what they were doing. To my amazement, they were able to build incredible structures and even the intricate “redstone” (fully functioning electrical circuits) operations. After just being a side line viewer, I myself got an account and now the entire family plays together! As parents we are encouraging them to learn about real life structures. We have reconstructed Machu Picchu, (after watching a documentry of the worlds oldest “Minecrafters”) and even the sandstone Jordan Temple. Of course with the evolution of the game, we eventually have moved into playing multiplayer online games, where as parents we are now trying to teach them internet safety and privacy. Like the opening video on the Minecraft Website decribes this is the largest sandbox we could ever play in. The creaters of this amazing game have incorperated SO many real world facts, that the game can be enjoyed by almost ANY player style.

    The hardest part for me… is getting my fellow parents to understand.

  22. My younger twin brothers were introduced to Minecraft by a friend and have been playing it constantly since. My parents didn’t have any bad feelings about it at first but now Minecraft to them is the devil. I try not to get caught up in anti-minecraft fever and try to look at the situation objectively by comparing their game to my games. However, I can’t help but feel like they are a bit obsessed and that this is a good reason for my parents to not like the game. They’ll play it for hours at a time and get extremely aggravated if someone else (me, for example) wants to use the (only) computer. They don’t even play the game the way I assume the creators intended; that is, they play it on peaceful. There’s no challenge and they put no artistic effort into it. They just build machines they read about on the wiki to gather resources so that they can use those resources to gather more resources to no forseeable end.
    In terms of positive aspects of minecraft, the game does encourage them to communicate with their friends and to learn programming for the purpose of creating their own mods. I figure from their obsession with material gain in the game that they may make good businessmen.
    However, in terms of negative aspects, they are, as I said, obsessed with it. They yell at you if you try to get them off the computer after 3 or more hours of nonstop “play.” They failed several classes at school because they refused to do their homework or co-operate in class. On top of all of this, they aren’t even playing the game in an enjoyable way. They play it on peaceful, again as I’ve said, and it has degenerated itself into an endless Skinner’s box, and though I try to tell my brothers that, they ignore me.
    Yes, your blog is very well put and I agree mostly, but the players have to be mature enough to extract the useful knowledge from a game for themselves. In my brothers’ case, they are immature, one more than the other, both mentally and physically, for people their age.
    Just out if curiosity as to their relative development, I’d like someone to guess their ages based on my description of them.

  23. Pingback: Video games: Good or Bad for Kids? « weeboot

  24. My son over the past year had issues with playing minecraft excessively. When I banned him from the computer, he looked pitiful. He would not go outside to play with his friends. Rather he would stare at the wall looking pitiful. For all intents and purposes it looked like clinical depression.
    In the end I placed him on a mat which emits a pulsed magnetic field (PEMF). After 8 minutes he immediately came out to argue and pick on his siblings. Not that he was any happier, but he was definitely much more animated. He even went outside to play with his friends. PEMF is definitely an interesting treatment option.

  25. Thank you. Even if i show my mom, she womt give a hoot, but it is VERY true in many ways. Parents just dont understand minecraft, that it helps the creative process of your mind. I agree with EVERY PARAGRAPH OF THIS. ;)

  26. when your child is only worried about a game and no longer goes outside and has a horrible attitude unless he is online then something is wrong
    pretending to go outside and going outside are two different things
    the fact that our world is all about games and computers is awesome but to say that things are good for our children when they take them away from their family because all they are worried about is game when you have to fight to get them to sign up for outdoor sports they loved 2 months ago u might need to take the game away

    • I don’t have an answer. There are so many variables. I did read recently that kids who start organised sports too young (whatever that is) often stop liking them ‘early’. It was looking at age-participation in sports.

      I think all family concerns are valid J, and clearly the rapid growth of games in society is clashing with what we mean by family time and so on. I have no issue with taking games away – as I would if they started drinking red Cola over water. Thanks for your comments … and hope that you make some progress with it.

  27. I don’t know what the clinical definition of ‘addiction’ is, and it doesn’t really matter. What I’m concerned about is behavior.

    I think Minecraft is an amazingly wonderful video game. I’m impressed with the open-endedness, the creativity involved in playing, the way it gives virtual introductions to real world interests (circuitry, cinematography, architecture, computer skills, etc.), the social interactions it makes possible, and more. It has the potential to be a very positive thing in a kid’s (or adult’s) life.

    What confounds me, and other parents, is how it becomes an obsession for our children. My son is 14 and plays with a small group of 13-, 14-, and 15-year olds, and he runs a server. All of these kids (or at least the ones whose parents I know) have, at various times, skimped on homework, lied about whether or not they had been using the computer, avoided other positive activities or have dropped other interests in order to engage in Minecraft-related activities, become surly when asked to take even short breaks to attend to responsibilities, been ‘caught’ playing in the middle of the night (3 or 4 a.m.), become anxious about ‘having enough free-time’, have become restless or overly frustrated when they had difficulty solving a Minecraft ‘problem’, become indignant when they judge school/family/social activities take ‘too much’ time.

    I also don’t like using video games as a carrot and stick. But I really don’t know what to do. I’m pro-Minecraft, but I want my son to realize that Minecraft activities are to be slotted into free time, which means the time left after school, family and other responsibilities have been fulfilled, and that free time is balanced between Minecraft and some other interests.

  28. Pingback: Unschooly Learny Type Stuff | Unbounded Ocean

  29. Well done. This article has been put together very well and highlights the fundamental aspects of addiction that every parent should know and understand. I wish many more parents could read this and understood how creative games like minecraft can offer another way
    of learning. Best of luck with the projects.

    Kacper Batty

  30. I am a parent with two children, 10 and 12.

    I have had a fair bit to do with Minecraft and I understand the game. I have helped my son set up a server, installed hacks and looked over their worlds most days. I also see how it is woven into their social fabric (as were jacks, yoyo’s, Gameboys and so forth when I was younger). I understand and see the value in it from a creative point of view.

    But I also see the downside that comes from an unhealthy obsession with the game: Minecraft is all they think about and this leads to 91) conflict between the siblings, (2) a risk of losing touch with the real world, (3) push back on chores and other responsibilities, (4) lying and deception to get more screen time (hiding ipads in beds) (5) inadequate physical activity and (6) poor sleeping patterns. Not to mention stress for us as parents.

    You may argue the technical definition, but this is addictive behavior in my book.

    I recently uninstalled Minecraft from all devices, after months of trying to negotiate a balance. Their response for a few days was like withdrawal – ranting, crying, screaming, threatening to harm themselves, overdramatising. We have discussed this with them and they even acknowledge that things had reached an unhealthy stage.

    I feel that I need to be parent first, friend second in this case. I don’t regret the decision and I believe that the kids will cope with this action. They have not been ostracized at school, and their patterns of behavior have already returned to something more normal.

    If that places me on the wrong side of this debate, so be it.

    • I don’t think there is a black and white position. Each person has their own experiences in parenting. The fact you’ve been though the loop and made a choice is what is most important. Certainly kids are not at all experts in regulating themselves inside the modern “I want, I click, I get” culture. Thanks for the reply, much appreciated.

  31. Finally Shane has put some balance into this pro minecraft debate. I have a son 15 years of age who has spent 6-12 hours per day on minecraft since April 2012. I have read all of the above responses and can see that minecraft does have redeeming qualities, however it is addictive. By June 2012 I had forbidden my son to use the computer as he had stopped doing any schooling and was loathe to get off the game at night. Along with my parents we watched my son suffer from withdrawals similar to substance abuse. We could not leave the house unless we took him with us for fear he would get back on minecraft. He was verbally abusive, confused, physically violent. This was not normal for my son, he is extremely loving child, caring and helpful. My parents left (they had been staying in the house) and I returned to work and my son slowly began to get back on minecraft. I was unable to stop him. I moved the computer into the lounge area so I would at least know when he was on it and so he could still be part of family activities. By October I had had enough again and packed up the house, put the furniture in storage and took him, his sister, the dog and grandma on an extended camping trip into the outback of Australia. Extreme measures I know, but I read somewhere that if you can’t change the behaviour, change the environment. Made sense to me. Once again my son during the entire trip was moody, angry, violent and very verbally abusive, even to his grandmother. He spoiled the whole trip for us with his attitude.
    Now here we are May 2013, moved into new area, new home and my son is back playing minecraft 8-12 hours a day on a new laptop that his father gave him for christmas. Yes I know what some of you may be thinking ‘Take the computer off him”… yep tried that, I have physical scars on my body from doing that. My cousin is having the same problem with her son. She took the computer to work with her because he refused to go to school. He broke the window, punched a hole in the wall and sent a photo to her phone with the message “bring the computer back now or the rest of the walls will look like this when you get home from work” He was 12 years old at the time and normally a placid, lovable child. Yes folks, minecraft is addictive and is not good for family harmony. It is so challenging to deal with as a parent. My son realises the hold minecraft has over his thoughts, his time but does not have the skills to regulate his use of the game. I don’t know what to do next.
    I can’t see how sitting staring at a screen all day whether it television, smart phone, ipods or computers is healthy for anyone, regardless of what they are doing.

    • There is a much bigger problem here than Minecraft. It’s clear that the game is being scapegoated. If it wasn’t Minecraft it would be something else your son would be attaching to.

      Being a parent of 3 children myself I know all too well the difficulties that brings. My eldest two (4 and 5) love to play Minecraft, there have been days when they’ve played it 6-8 hours, although these have been few and far between. I play it with them sometimes. And when they do play it they play together, coordinating, building, roleplaying. In mostly harmony, there is sometimes friction, but no more than if they were playing with dolls or lego, or something else.

      However, they know when I say no, that’s it; they’ll sometimes kick up a fuss, but within a few minutes they’ll be playing something else. And it’s been like this since day one.

      Letting your son play for 12 hours per day every day sounds more like the problem than a game which millions play, and has been recognised as having learning benefit, and has a large install base in schools. Every child is different, and if your son has difficulty when it’s time to switch of the game then that the problem, not the specific game. If it wasn’t minecraft, it would be something else.

Comments are closed.