Minecaft, Jeb and Jack’s mum

It has been said, more than a few times Minecraft is addicting kids. What this addiction is ( spending time being creative and learning how to use the Internet to reach ambitious computing goals) is less clear.

This post is for a kid called Jack, who replied to a previous post, saying how he didn’t think he could talk to his mum about Minecraft. So here’s some stuff that looks at why that might be, and what to do about it.

According to ‘gratification theory‘, kids and adults are drawn to media to meet their psychological needs (information, entertainment, social interaction, mastery, control and so on). As games are absorbing, they can act to reduce children’s anxiety and worry too. It sone reason I think teachers should think long and hard before rolling into kid-game-worlds with their subject mastery agenda. Yet it seems they are keen on gamifying their classrooms … regardless of whether this is a good thing or bad – it’s popular.

Some kids might be rich, they might have everything – but still feel alone. Minecraft might help them with that feeling. This is one of numerous plausible situations where a kid might find Minecraft a place to go to sooth unpleasant thoughts and feelings which are not being met by other games or other media such as Facebook or YouTube.

For each kid I’ve seen play or met during playing Minecraft – they are often interested in two things – self expression and social interaction. This is something they feel they are getting -regardless of parental belief of this. To the kid, this is real and concrete as that is how kids brains work.

Several studies have shown that kids watch television and play video games for entertainment, to spend time with family and when they are bored. Minecraft does this, but it also provides self expression and social interaction (beyond the family hierarchies)

More interestingly, kids choose games which suit their mood, where as adults tend to use media (television, video, the Internet) to improve their mood. For parents – young children are experimenting with social interaction, building knowledge and skills where as teens are using it to relax and escape. If she’s in the mood to be creative, she’s in the mood to play Minecraft. This doesn’t mean she’s in the mood to play Dishonoured, or that Dishonored would change her mood. Theres no association between wanting to play Minecraft and wanting to play an R-Rated game, but this doesn’t stop the media inferring it.

Minecraft is perhaps a new (and therefore more noticeable) media. But it’s still a media. Calling it ‘addictive’ serves to simplify games in the mind of adults lacking schemas and knowledge of games. The media is not particularly moral, ethical or interested in child development and is never un-biased or transparent.

For most adults, learning about Minecraft is hard (too hard). It doesn’t have an easily accessed ‘story’. Adults learn though stories not facts. For example, many people know about the story of Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates. They don’t know too many facts.

They probably know about the Facebook guy or the two guys that made Google, yet probably don’t know who Jens Bergensten is. But chances are, their kids know who Jeb is – and of course Notch. In case you didn’t know, Jeb is the lead developer for Minecraft, not Notch.

If you like, Jeb is one of the most important people in the game world – and from all accounts, a very nice guy – someone who I don’t think for a second would be anything less than an amazing influence on my own kids – should they ever meet him. To my kids, Jeb seems real. He’s not like Apple or some game studio – he’s a person, who appears on videos and is talked about all the time. If you like, Jeb is that neighbourhood kid that parents hear about, but don’t know. There is the story of Minecraft, the story of Notch and the ballard of Jeb. See below for a quick intro to what I mean.

So if games are inherently bad or even if good games go bad, then you’d think that those who make them are bad or go bad too. They are presented by the media at least as a type of  anti-culture, like Nirvana or Slayer. Making millions by addicting kids to games. However we still have cigarettes and numerous things we know kill people. For example, if two countries want to war – why to they need guns? Why not just go and do some hand to hand? Well because people like to win – and tools help them win. In the media war on gaming, presenting them as the greedy bad-guy harming innocents in an excellent story.

But that isn’t the story I see, what Minecraft says to kids (to me is) – anyone can have a regular job, and still be in the running to do something they really love one day – and right now you can start making unique things from your imagination.

It might not be a cure for cancer, feed the world or regain flagging western interest in religion, but to many kids, Minecraft at least improves their spatial cognition, co-ordination and fine motor skills and is a social-network in it’s own right. It is far less toxic than Facebook (peer-pressure to create rather than be a target/entertainer) – and leads to the all important positive self-identity and agency all kids benefit from – if parents use it for a media-healthy diet.

Minecraft is not linked to poor general health. You won’t get fat, sick or become stupid playing Minecraft. All kids are notoriously poor at managing time. This is why parenting experts have argued for routines for decades. Negative things such as sleep deficit,  less time undertaking heathy activities, mental health, education problems and so on, cannot be attributed to Minecraft any more than they can be attributed to television viewing – and numerous large studies have shown no association between screen-time and physical activities.

Kids are complicated, unique and individual. There is no A-typical gamer. Kids, like adults can make unhealthy lifestyle choices – when they lack information and experience. They can easily suffer from fear, anxiety and phobias, yet studies have shown there is no constant link between screen time and these things.

In short you can’t blame Jeb for the epidemic in childhood obesity (in fact he’s kind of skinny, but we can’t suggest he’s anorxic’s pin-up) ,. We can’t see Minecraft as the problem for monumentally un-imaginative classrooms, poor school funding, prejudice against people of colour, gender or ability either. But the media can, and does many of these – maybe not the Jeb bit.

Society can do that perfectly well without video games. It might do better with them. As young kids are concrete thinkers, the violence and monsters in Minecraft  (or other games) has far less impact than seeing repeated natural disasters on TV or annual ‘biggest loser’ – which form concrete associations about the world and them. They know they are unlikely to meet a creeper, but the world does tend to kill people with trees and fat people are probably going to die sooner rather than later.

If you are a parent, then take some time to sit down and watch the Minecraft Story. It’s a great documentary. It’s just $8 or if that is too much you can also get it from the Pirate Bay for free (on purpose). You’ll begin to see what kids see in it – the other alternative is to watch Dr.Phil and others recycle fear and moral panic about games … something it seems parents are doing. It’s not a game, its a story which you can be part of. For most parents I’ve shown it to, the people at Mojang are exactly the kind of people many parents hope their kids will associate with – or be like. (I do a parent thing where we watch the film and un-pack it, it’s kind of fun).

And finally, the topic of agression. I accept only this (so far) … because this is what the research says about media violence, and games are a part of that medi – yet have unique properties. This means in all the research, games are the least studied, the least known. In over 30 years of research, there is evidence that media contributes as much as any other studied contributor to community violence. There is  a disproportionate amount of media coverage about violence in ‘game media’ compared with other (television, radio, Internet, film and so on) which has a disproportionate impact on public views. This has been found in hundreds of studies over decades.

In short – in all the various forms of media, games are singled out more often and therefore seen as worse yet wholly unsupported in scholarly research which doesn’t see more games or more game-time as contributing to kids and [insert concern] as being a inevitable convergence. In education, there is a similar problem – that eventually subject-mastery and technology will converge. It’s a convenient idea at best to push an agenda, but unproven no matter how much people will it to be true.

Parents don’t have the kind of ‘knowledge structures’ needed to make sense of video games, especially Minecraft. It’s what they call – you are what you eat. If all you eat is an unhealthy diet of media-hate and opinion, then when she’s busy on Minecraft, all you see is negative.

If Minecraft has raised concerns, then this isn’t a bad thing. It’s like finding out eating Burgers and 10 liters of Coke a day is bad for you. It’s an opportunity to think  about media more broadly – for yourself. It’s something worth doing, so you are more likely to do it. Thinking for yourself is fast becoming a lost-art in a culture addicted to media-feeds on Facebook, Twitter and so on. Surely not! I am so not addicted to social-media. Sure you are … you just don’t have a hand-controller.

  • Talk to kids about what they have seen online (in games, on TV as well)
  • Find out about the factors than enhance negative impacts of media (everyone has a screen in their pocket, the Internet is un-regulated, the media has a commercial agenda, pain and suffering gets human attention – so sells ad-space and so on).
  • There is no evidence that cartoon violence or fantasy (Harry Potter, Bugs Bunny, Minecraft) is harmless yet media constantly uses violence as a way to condition children that it can be used in lieu of being correct, to get your own way and as a punishment for non-compliance with the norm-behaviours. This is often exaggerated in television and film as fantasy telling a morality tale (See any Disney film ever).

We know being a good role model with your own media use and encouraging alternates – walking the dog, riding a bike, painting, reading and so on have positive impacts on kids. However, if a parent comes home, eats and settles down to an evening of television most days – this is un-heathy for the child. If the parents reads or listens to music and never turns on the TV, this too is un-healthy. If they carry a smart phone – and use it to socialise virtually and exclude the child (under 13s are usually banned) this in un-healthy for the child. If they watched Die Hard and said to their kids “its not appropriate, you can’t watch it”, this is unhealthy.

So before bagging Minecraft – take a look at the totality of media use in the house. Then try watching The MInecraft Story with your kids … you never know, it might be the first step in connecting the kids world and talking about it.

I hope Jack’s mum reads this … he feels like he can’t talk to you … and he wants to.

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5 thoughts on “Minecaft, Jeb and Jack’s mum

  1. I think I would say to Jack’s mum, “please play the game with Jack”. I can’t tell you how many times a preteen/teen has said to me, when they find out that I’m an adult playing a game, “I wish my Mom played with me.” Minecraft is being taught in schools around the world now, at all age levels. These are curriculum based gaming sessions that teach Math, Physics, Engineering, spatial skills, creativity, social behaviors like sharing and cooperating for a common goal. I haven’t heard much talk about Minecraft being addictive. I’m on gaming social sites all the time and it doesn’t seem to be a top subject. Families playing online games together is a lot of fun. Grandparents play with their grandchildren in different states. They can chat and it doesn’t cost anything. Families get together at holidays and plan how to level up or build something. Gaming can be done to the extreme of blood and guts graphics, cute little fairies and elves, or a game like Minecraft that a player actually uses brain power to play. There are even websites that are filled with games that teach Math and Science. Make a deal with Jack: 1 hour on the site that has Math or Science in its website title and then he can play 1 hour of Minecraft (that also teaches Math or Science). And, I agree, if you have the time, watch the movie about Minecraft. It is a remarkable story and a remarkable game. I would be happy that my child wanted to play Minecraft. I think that says a lot about Jack’s intelligence and potential future. Get him involved in doing tutorials and a Blog and you’ve got a young man who will be able to write on his college application what he’s done, starting at “x” age. Jack’s smart enough to have picked a game that doesn’t try to nickel and dime you to death and creates peer pressure by making those who have money stand out from those who don’t. Seems like Jack is a pretty smart kid.

    • Thank you very much for your extensive reply. I can’t agree more, Minecraft over downloaded content, Skylander type upsell – every time. I’m so pleased you raised peer-pressure in this way, gives me something to go and thing more about.

  2. My daughter, just turned 12, played the demo all last summer on a PC. I was initially dubious, but i was grateful that she seemed passionate about something for once. In a world of paid-for gratification, nothing had seemed to inspire her. The XBOX with the Kinect option is a brilliant piece of kit, but it all comes at a price, including membership to the worldwide network.

    For Christmas, she got an iPad and she bought me a 2nd XBOX controller. She had progressed to playing with her school buddies online, using Skype simultaneously with Minecraft. They played this way over Christmas vacation, when one of her buddies was in Thailand. To me, this is as startling as coming across a vast underground grotto lit by lava. And one highly unanticipated consequence is that TV time has dropped to virtually zero.

    She and I now play in our own world. We used the XBOX tutorial world to teach me the rudiments, and then we multiplied our house address by our telephone number and used that as the seed!

    To most kids, a younger brother is an unpleasant and obnoxious detriment. Yet my daughter and her buddy’s younger sibling play together in their own world, and that seems to be some massive sort of social upheaval.

    We try to define objectives and timespans at the beginning of the day, to avoid making obligations seem to stretch across the entire day. Free time is defined and encouraged. If she wants to play Minecraft, it’s her time to choose.

    • Thanks for the reply – positive stories are so important. Kids squabble in the car, so with do in games. Mine fight over who is the ‘first controller’ on the Wii. Most of the time they never actually resolve it to play the game. I can recommend http://www.gamerdna.com/quizzes/bartle-test-of-gamer-psychology – A guy called Bartle came up with player-types, and certainly when kids (especially siblings) play, there is conflict. However, to me – just knowing this is important for kids who play on other online spaces (inc Facebook and so on). It’s a great chance to teach kids about it – and I’m not saying this is easy, parenting isn’t. To me, if you are going to let your kids play online, then you also need to help them play well. Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. As an adult who has just started playing with Minecraft, this is a thoughtful article that any adult who is concerned about their child playing Minecraft should read. Having young kids (not old enough to play YET), I haven’t had much time for games in recent years. Having always preferred ‘resource gathering’ games over hack and slash, my favourite game was Rome Total War. Since starting Minecraft a few days ago, I haven’t thought so hard in a long time. I kept asking myself…’How do I…’. Then trying, experimenting, creating! What I have found addictive about the game is the outlet for creativity! For making virtually what I am unable to do physically. How can this be a bad thing?

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