What is Minecraft – and what do you need to know?
Minecraft remains one of the world’s most popular games, with over 140 million monthly users in 2021.
So how does Minecraft work, and how safe is it for children? Here's everything you need to know.
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a virtual ‘sandbox’ game. Players build their own virtual worlds and experiences using building blocks or resources. You have to work your way up through basic resources to more complex ones, but you can eventually build your world in whatever way you want.
Although the price range varies slightly depending on the platform you’re using, Minecraft is never going to cost you over £25 and this higher price includes all mods (community made developments to a game) and skins (aesthetic additions to a character). You can play on a computer, smartphone, tablet, XBox, Nintendo Switch or Playstation.
Users can play in a single-player mode or multiplayer mode. In the multiplayer mode, players work together to create their Minecraft world.
Why is it so popular?
Minecraft is a very free-form game. It doesn’t come with a set of instructions, or a stated objective – players can build and explore however they want. It’s often compared to virtual Lego.
This means that Minecraft fans have a lot of flexibility in terms of how they play. Users can recreate an existing fantasy world or build a new one from scratch, they can fight villains and seek adventure and they can play alone or with friends.
It can also be played at any level. In a lot of popular games, you need a certain amount of skill to move on to the next challenge. This can be frustrating for young children who don’t always have the abilities or unrestricted time required to make real progress in a game. In Minecraft, children can create their own adventures at any level of play.
What do parents need to be aware of?
Different versions of Minecraft have different age restrictions, as some mods may contain more violence than others. It's also worth keeping in mind that Minecraft has an in-game chat feature. The age ratings vary from 7+ to 13+.
The standard version of Minecraft’s terms and conditions specify that under-13s need parental permission to play. In the UK, if children under the age of 13 play Minecraft without permission, it is a violation of the site’s terms and conditions – but it is not illegal.
Despite the age restriction, Minecraft is very popular with primary school children. There’s nothing about the game itself that’s inappropriate for kids.
There are two different chat functions in Minecraft; Realms and server chats. Realm chat is hosted by the game developers, Mojang and moderated by them. Server chat is set up by individual players. Usually players will invite friends to join their Minecraft server and use the chat, but some players offer an open invitation which allows anyone to join.
Remind children of the risks involved with talking to people they don't know online.
Keep in mind that players may also be chatting via Discord or another chat forum with different safety settings. Remind children not to move onto other platforms to talk with people.
Chat features on sites allow children to talk to people with similar gaming interests. However, there is no way of verifying who these people might be. Recommend that young children don't talk with other players through in-game chat unless they know them.
It's also important that children don't give away any personal information about themselves, or move their conversations into other online areas that could be private.
Minecraft YouTube videos
Lots of Minecraft users watch fan-created YouTube videos to improve their skills and learn new techniques.
Plenty of these are age-appropriate. Minecraft does not have any particularly graphic content, but some of the videos contain monsters, trolls, spiders and zombies, which some children may find scary. Some of the videos include commentary with profanity or sexual references, and some discuss or even encourage bullying. Check these videos to see if you think they are suitable.
You can try searching for ‘profanity free Minecraft servers’. Even then it might be worth checking the videos before young children watch them.
You can also turn on YouTube’s Safety Mode to block age-inappropriate content.
Currently, Minecraft does not have an immediate 'report' function, so your child should be careful when joining a server. If your child is gaming with a mature age group, they might hear offensive language or rude comments. However, Minecraft do reserve the right to remove any player if they break the terms and conditions.
You can report individual players by going to Minecraft’s help desk and submitting a complaint. This might be something that an adult should do rather than a child, as it is a little complicated.
With some plugins (add-on software that extends or customises the game), you can report users who break the rules of the server to a moderator who can ban anyone being offensive or disruptive.
Minecraft: the Parent Zone view
Minecraft is a really fun and creative game, with endless opportunities to build complex world.
Having a clear reporting function would be very beneficial, and the in-game chat does pose some risks. But overall, Minecraft is a highly engaging game for children of all ages.