A parent’s guide to Minecraft

Okay, so it seems like everyone has been playing Minecraft for years, digging, building and living in a digital world. Everyone that is except me (or more precisely my 7-year-old son). After an extended period of persuasion, I gave in and agreed we could join the 91 million monthly players who have been enjoying the game since it launched in 2009.

But with internet safety issues, I feel more than a little wary of letting a kid play online without really understanding what it’s all about. With that in mind, I went back to school and headed to Power Up Tech Academy for their “Introduction to Minecraft” class to learn a little more about the game, how to play and most importantly for me, how to stay safe when playing online.

What are the basics?

You can play on a whole host of platforms, but you can’t transfer your game between them, so figure out what you’ll play most on. The platforms available are desktop, tablet, games console, iPad or iPhone. Buy the version that works best for you. Most versions will be touchscreen or controller-based which can be easier for younger kids to control. PC or Mac requires mouse and keyboard controls, which is a great skill to develop and helps those fine motor skills reach maturity.

How do you interact with other people?

Once you venture onto a server you’ll start encountering other people. So now’s the time to have “the talk” about staying safe online. There’s general safety in numbers, so if you’re playing on a public server, head for one of the busier ones.

What’s the difference between creative and survival mode?

Creative mode is all about building and the wonderful things you can create. Think of it like digital Lego—all the creativity, but with none of the “I can’t find the thing-a-mi-jiggy-doo-dah” as your kiddo tips out a box of 3,562 pieces onto the floor in search of something virtually invisible to the naked eye.

Survival mode is exactly as it sounds—finding and using the resources you need to survive while keeping a close eye on your health and hunger bars. When you land in your world for the first time you need to find a way to make your tools so you can start mining for resources. Want to eat? You need to bop a cow on the head to get food and leather for your resource inventory. You’ll also start to encounter a few monsters and engage in a battle or two, which can be a bit overwhelming for younger players.

What are some top tips for staying safe online when playing games?

  1. Talk to your children so they understand the risks of the internet, including cyberbullying, not revealing personal information and stumbling across inappropriate material.
  2. Explain ‘in-app purchases’ and check your parental controls—that way you’ll avoid a nasty credit card bill!
  3. Spend some time watching your child playing the game. You’ll quickly get a sense of how they are playing.

Overall, Minecraft is a “sandbox” game, meaning that it’s unstructured. You make decisions on what you want to do and can choose to work with friends or alone to build your world. Minecraft parties are a great way to bring a group of enthusiasts together in a safe environment to take on build challenges, teaching teamwork, problem-solving and the chance to interact in a safe space.

Is playing a game better than passively consuming whatever YouTube throws up next (although there’s plenty of Minecraft to be found there, too)? Probably, yes: there’s little point in trying to keep back the neverending flood of new ways of interacting with technology, so if you can’t beat them, then join them!

Plus, I have the ultimate bargaining tool: my son is doing everything he can to earn his screen time and have the chance to play, which means a tidy bedroom, laundry in the hamper and homework done on time every evening!

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