If your kids are into Minecraft then you’re probably very familiar with the phrase “Just a minute”.
Moving away from the game onto something else can be really tough, even more so than with other video games. So here are some ideas about why that might be, and how you can help to make it easier for them.
Why is it hard to transition?
There are aspects to Minecraft that make it a difficult game to stop playing. This is especially true for kids - it's common for parents to have to pry them away from the screen to eat dinner or get to bed, and is one of the reasons that families can struggle with the game. So it's important to understand why it's different to other video games, so you can find more effective ways to help kids move away from the game when their playing time is over.
There are no clear stopping points
Transitioning from playing Minecraft is not like switching off a DVD when it’s over. In Minecraft there is no ‘over’ - there are no levels, goals or defined end points and you’re always in the middle of doing something. Being interrupted before you finish a task is incredibly frustrating for anyone, so it’s easy to understand why kids can get cranky when their playing time is up.
There's always something happening
Likewise, there’s no single goal or project going on at one time. You might be mining for ore to make a new tool... so you can expand your farm and keep some chickens to get the eggs that you need to make the cake that will stop you from starving to death. Tasks blend seamlessly from one to the other without a definite ending point, or the sense of satisfaction that comes from completion. So it always feels like there’s more to do.
Longer playing times are rewarded
One of the best aspects of the game is that you’re continually being presented with challenges, but the longer you play the more you’re able to do... and the more challenges are created as a result. The stakes are also higher the longer you play because you have more stuff to lose. So the more that kids play, the more invested they become in staying in the game.
Transitions can feel unexpected
Playing in Minecraft is a completely immersive experience and it’s very easy to lose track of time while you’re in this alternate world - it happens to every player but is especially true for younger kids or those who find it hard to internalize the passing of time. So while they might hear you say that they have ten more minutes to play, that time passes in an instant and it can feel like their turn is abruptly over without warning.
The fear of missing out
The other thing about time is that it progresses inside the world of Minecraft - the sun rises and sets, crops grow, the weather changes. When you leave a single player game the march of time pauses until you come back, but this isn’t true for multiplayer servers. Sometimes this will be a big concern for your kids - maybe they’ve been waiting for morning to come so they can continue exploring away from the threat of the monsters that come out at night. Or maybe they’re just worried about the players who’ll find (and steal or destroy) their hard-earned stuff while they’re gone from the game. This can make it hard to walk away when their playing time is over.
How can you make transitions easier?
Everyone knows how frustrating it feels to be interrupted in the middle of something really engaging. Some kids handle that feeling of frustration better than others, and Minecraft is clearly an incredibly absorbing game to play. So it's not surprising that kids can play it for hours on end and yet still be grumpy when their turn is over. Here's how to help make that transition easier for everyone.
Understand the game
The more you know about Minecraft and what it feels like to play, the easier it will be for you to find ways to help your kids transition without the tears and tantrums. For example, playing in creative mode won’t present the same transition issues as playing in survival mode, and playing on multiplayer servers come with their own set of transition challenges that you don’t find with the single player option.
It will also help if you understand what’s involved when your kids say “I just need to smelt my iron” or “I can’t stop now, someone will grief my new house!” So ask your kids to explain what they're doing when they play (the glossary might help too).
Identify the end
Minecraft is a game that has no end, so finding logical places to stop isn’t easy - you can’t say “when this level is over” or “after you reach 1000 points”. One of the frustrating things about setting a time limit for turns is that your kids will almost certainly be in the middle of something important when that timer goes off. And as I mentioned before, it can feel like external time goes by very quickly when you’re playing.
It’s helpful to have a visual indicator of the passing time (like a timer), but if you have the flexibility it might be better to use something inside the game to signal when the turn is over - e.g. “you need to stop when the sun goes down” or “when you’ve mined x amount of coal”. The game itself has its own transition signals - music plays at different parts of the Minecraft day, so you could use “the next time the music starts playing” as a transition cue. These internal things are easier to track and take note of when you’re in the game than keeping your eye on an external timer.
Help them plan
One of the things that can be frustrating about having to stop playing Minecraft is that you're always in the middle of a project. This can be particularly hard for kids who haven't yet developed the planning skills to map out what they want to do, including all the little tasks that will be involved and the order in which they'll need to do them.
Teaching them how to plan and keep track of what they want to do will give them somewhere to put all those thoughts outside of the game. Setting aside ten minutes when their turn is done to talk through what they want to work on can help them feel more confident about leaving the game, and to pick it up where they left off next time.
Keep the game going
Get the kids interested in things outside the computer that build upon what they’ve learned in Minecraft. Build sandcastles, go geocaching, visit an actual mine or cave, sketch out the things that they found or want to build, make toys or maybe some DIY spawn eggs.
Talk about what they’ve been doing and which parts they like the most. What’s been their hardest challenge so far? How did they solve it? Get them to show you by drawing or writing about it, or draw a map together of what they discovered. There are loads of ways to extend their experience of the game so they don’t have to feel like it’s over once the computer has been shut off.
The bottom line
If your kids are having trouble switching off when their Minecraft turn is over, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's the wrong game for them to play - you might just need to add extra structure and cues to the transition, or even extend their experience outside of the game a little.