Is Minecraft Bad for My Child?
by Albert Thrower, MSW, LMSW
If you’re the parent of a child old enough to operate a smartphone or computer, you have probably heard of Minecraft. It’s the third-best-selling video game of all time, and it has become a popular pastime for millions of kids. As a family therapist, I have met more than a few parents who wonder if Minecraft is a waste of their child’s time. If you are wondering the same thing, I will tell you what I tell them: You know all those important life skills you’re always trying to figure out how to teach your kid? Well, Minecraft is teaching quite a few of them for you. For instance:
- Creativity. Minecraft isn’t like other games that tell a player how to play or hold their hand through a linear experience. It presents a world with complex rules and a large set of tools one can use to manipulate that world. Your child is learning the rules, mastering the tools, and using them to build whatever their imagination can dream up.
- Planning and Patience. Gathering resources and building structures in Minecraft is time consuming work. Your child is learning to plan complex projects and make incremental progress towards long term goals. There is no instant gratification in Minecraft.
- Resource Management. “Crafting” items using gathered resources is a major part of Minecraft, and those resources can take a lot of work to gather. Your child is performing a cost-benefit analysis every time they make a choice about whether to spend those resources on an item now or to save them for a better item down the road.
- Organization. Your child has likely developed an organizational scheme for the hundreds of resources and items they have collected and made in the game. Without organization, it would be nigh on impossible for your child to keep track of it all and find what they need at any given moment.
- Social problem solving. If your child is playing multiplayer Minecraft with friends, they are learning how to work with others towards a common goal.
- Research skills. Want to know how to craft a bookshelf or operate a minecart with an on/off switch? The answers aren’t in the game. To figure out how to do most things in Minecraft, your child is having to perform honest-to-goodness research. There are Wiki pages, published guidebooks, internet forums, YouTube videos, and more. Your child is learning important lessons about evaluating the reliability of sources by comparing information gathered from each.
- Computer programming skills. Minecraft has an element called redstone that can be manipulated to operate in the same way as a real life simple circuit. These circuits can be combined into arrays to accomplish all kinds of tasks. Your kid can even combine these circuits (using the same principles that apply in the real world) to build a working computer within the world of Minecraft, with its own virtual memory and capable of performing simple functions.
So parents, please believe me that Minecraft is nothing to be afraid of. It’s like Lego for the new generation, except it’s more complex, less expensive, and less painful to step on. Some caveats apply, of course. Video games can be addictive, and if your child is neglecting important areas of their life because of too much time with the game, that’s a problem. As with anything, set clear boundaries to limit the time they play. In the meantime, ask them to show you around their Minecraft world—you might be impressed by what your child has learned to do.