Minecraft mods can be a lot of fun, but there are some important safety issues that parents need to consider before doing that first install.
Why are there safety concerns?
There are three main risks with downloading and installing mods:
- They can infect your computer with a virus or malware
- The site you get them from can infect your computer with a virus or malware
- They can stuff up your Minecraft files
Most of the time you won't have a problem with any of these things, but that one time you do could be a BIG problem. So it's wise to be aware and follow some basic safety tips.
Downloading & Installing Mods Safely
Use a reputable source
The hardest part of finding safe mods to download is avoiding all the dodgy-looking sites. One of the best places to look is The Minecraft Forum. While it's not guaranteed to be safe, if there was an issue with a mod you'd be sure to hear about it from other users. The MCF Modlist is a searchable list of known mods organized by version (and also tells you what other mods you need in order to run it). Some mods have their own websites, like Buildcraft, and these are reliable sources.
Find popular mods
You can be pretty confident that the mods which are the most popular are also ones that are unlikely to cause any problems. Sort forums by 'most viewed' or search YouTube for 'Minecraft mod' and look for videos with thousands of views.
Avoid mods from brand new forum accounts
Users need to be around for a while before their content can be tested and verified by other users, and therefore get a reputation for being trustworthy.
Look for older mods
Likewise, mods that have been downloaded and tried out many times are far less likely to cause problems (assuming they're compatible with the version of Minecraft that you're running of course.
Check pictures or demo videos
Any good mod will have screenshots to show what the result will look like, and hopefully a demo video of someone playing the game with the mod installed. Check through them to get an idea of what you're in for, particularly whether you can spot any content that you'd consider inappropriate.
Read what people have to say about it
The forums are also great places to find out about the experiences that other people have had with a mod - whether the instructions were clear and complete, if it caused any system crashes and especially if it contained malware or viruses. So do some research before you download.
Be careful of AdFly
A lot of mods send you through something called AdFly on your way to the download link. This is a service which pays the mod creator a small commission in return for showing you an ad before you get to the download page. This in itself isn't dangerous, but the thing to watch out for is the ad itself - it could be a link to who knows what or where. If you wait five seconds, a link will appear in the upper right hand corner that says SKIP AD. This is what you want to click on - never click on the ad itself, even if it looks just like a valid download link.
Make a back up of your .jar (or entire .minecraft folder)
If you do nothing else, always make sure that you have backed up your core Minecraft files before downloading and installing any mod. That way if things go wrong you can just restore everything and start over. If you don't know where these files are, check The Parent's Guide To Installing Minecraft Mods.
Scan with antivirus software before opening
Never open mod files on a computer which isn't running antivirus software. Ever.
Check that the mod won’t clash with other ones you have
Most mods will come with instructions that warn of potential conflicts with other mods. This might be in a separate file or as part of the forum post which has the download link.
Check if you require other mods to run it
Some mods rely on content provided by other mods, and won't work in isolation. Again, this information should come with the mod or at least be wherever you found the download link.
Check the mod is compliant with your version of Minecraft
Mods are made to work with a specific version of Minecraft. This should be stated clearly in the mod details - you can find out which version of Minecraft you're running by checking the Launcher when you open Minecraft.
Don't let your kids download mods without supervision
This one might be the most important tip of them all! Of course it depends on how old and net-savvy your kids are, but until they're able to judge the trustworthiness of a site and understand the risks involved with downloading public user-created content then a no-downloads rule could save you a lot of headaches. Let's just say that my kids are extremely computer-literate teens and I still make them check with me before downloading files.
The bottom line
None of these steps are particularly hard or time-consuming, so do that extra little bit of research before you download and you'll run into a lot fewer problems.