If you're brand new to playing Minecraft, here's a guide to walk you through the steps to get started so you can be up and running as quickly as possible.
Decide which version to get
Minecraft comes in three different editions for different platforms - computer, mobile devices, and consoles (Playstation and Xbox). The console and computer editions are most closely related, with pocket edition contained a few less features and smaller worlds. Mods are only available for the computer edition, so if you or your kids want to get into the world of modding then that's the version you'll need.
Minecraft - Computer Edition
1. Sign up for a Mojang account
The first thing you need to do is register for a free account with Mojang (the makers of Minecraft). You'll create a Minecraft user name later on when you buy the game, but for now all you need is an email address.
2. Validate your account
Mojang will send you an email with a verification link. Click on the link to validate your account.
3. Set up your account and buy Minecraft
Now you can choose the user name that you use to log in with and display to other players in multiplayer games. Think carefully, because once you sign up you can't change the name (although the ability to do this is coming in a future update). The user name must be unique - a message will appear if someone else already has the name you want. Enter your payment details and click Purchase.
4. Download and install the Minecraft Launcher
Once you've bought the game, head to the download page and select the link for the platform on which you're running. Download the Launcher and double-click it to install.
5. Download and install Java (if you don't already have it)
Minecraft requires Java to be installed in order to run. You can download it for free from the official site at java.com.
6. Launch Minecraft
The first time that you run Minecraft you need to be connected to the internet, so that it can automatically download the latest game files for you (after that you'll have the option to play offline if you wish). Log in with the account details that you just set up. If you have any issues with the download or running of the game, check the Mojang troubleshooting page.
7. Learn how to play
Once you have the game up and running, you can start figuring out how it all works. You can learn a lot from just wandering around and seeing what happens, but there are some great introductory tutorials that can be a big help in the beginning.
8. Customize your skin
Everybody starts off the game with the same default look (called the skin), but you can modify that to make your own unique character. The skin is a really simple image file, and you can either edit it yourself or download one that somebody else has made. There's an article called How To Change Your Skin that will help you.
9. Find your game files
The last step in getting started is to learn where to find all your game files, like the worlds that you'ved saved. This will come in handy down the track if you want to do more customizations or backup everything regularly (which I highly recommend). The files are in different places depending one what kind of operating system you're running:
C:\Documents and Settings\user name\Application Data\
Minecraft - Console Edition (Xbox 360 & PS3)
Setting up Minecraft on a gaming console is a lot more straightforward. Just head to the Xbox Live Marketplace or Playstation Store and purchase it there, or through your game console like you would with any other game. There are also player skins and texture packs that you can purchase or download for free.
Minecraft - Pocket Edition (mobile devices)
Again, setting up the Pocket Edition is really easy. Buy it from either the App Store (for iOS), Google Play (for Android) or Amazon (Kindle Fire) and set it up like any other app. Simple! Note that you can't customize the player's skin in Pocket Edition.
So there you go, it's not too tricky to get started with Minecraft. After you've got things up and running, you might want to check out some other places on the site like the Minecraft Item Guide and the Minecraft Glossary. And you're definitely going to need the How To section, there's loads of useful stuff in there!