Dan Florell, Ph.D. and Praveena Salins, M.D.

Dan Florell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi www.mindpsi.net. Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates www.madisonpeds.com.

The 9-year-old boy came up to his parents and breathlessly asked, “Can I get Minecraft? Everybody at my school is playing it and it is so awesome!”

The boy's parents looked at each other with some bewilderment. Neither had a clue what Minecraft was, much less whether their son should be allowed to play it. They did know that many boys are attracted to games with a lot of violence and gore. They definitely did not want their son exposed to that type of content.

Fortunately, Minecraft is one of those games that parents can let their children play and not be worried about them being exposed to violent or graphic content. The violence in Minecraft is very mild, and it can even be turned off.

Minecraft is considered a sandbox-style game. This means players have the option of modifying the game’s world and exploring it without restrictions. The game starts with a player in a meadow. The player can gather various basic materials and use those to create more advanced objects such as a pickax, which can be used to mine more materials. From these basic building blocks, players can create very elaborate worlds.

Minecraft has no background story and no instructions on how to play. This could be frustrating for younger children but it does allow children to learn through exploration and experimentation. These are useful skills for children to develop as there are many situations in life where there are no set instructions on how to proceed. If children get frustrated, there are user guides online including numerous YouTube videos.

There are two ways to play Minecraft. The survival mode requires players to collect resources, fight various monsters, and explore the world while staying alive. The survival mode will likely frustrate children early on. It is better for them to play the creative mode at first which offers unlimited resources and no monsters. Children can then build anything their hearts desire.

Minecraft will remind many parents of a Lego set online. Minecraft is a purposefully primitive looking game. The graphics are simple and blocky. While it initially looks like an online version of Legos, the resources are quite diverse and children can even build with blocks of water and fire. This allows children to be very creative and let their imaginations run wild.

There are two versions of Minecraft. There is one for PC computers and a pocket edition for smart phones and tablets. The PC version allows for more collaboration with others online. However, that does open up some Internet safety issues as Minecraft servers are unregulated and do allow for open text chatting. This means children could be exposed to offensive content. The good news is that there are options to shut off online playing.

If the unregulated Minecraft servers continue to be a concern for parents, then the pocket edition might be a better option as children can collaborate only over local wi-fi. This means that children would only be able to converse with others who are using the same wi-fi connection.

Minecraft is a very popular computer program that encourages creativity, exploration and experimentation in a safe environment. It is an appropriate game for children. Parents do need to monitor how much their children play Minecraft and ensure it is played with moderation. Download the program and see what your children can create.

Dan Florell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).

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