By Bec Oakley

“I hate Minecraft. I want to kill it with fire.”

A friend was ranting to me in an email about her kids fighting over the game and running into problems on a multiplayer server. She’d well and truly reached her limit, and was thinking about banning Minecraft from her house altogether.

She’s not alone – there are loads of parents who are baffled, frustrated or tearing their hair out over their kids’ passion for playing in this blocky little world. Which is a shame because the game is full of a lot of really positive things and can be a wonderful experience for kids.

But it’s important to remember that Minecraft was never specifically designed with kids in mind, and so naturally there are aspects to the game that can be a problem for families – including a couple of things that have the potential to cause some major drama.

The good news is that all of these things are fixable and shouldn’t prevent you from letting your kids harness the very real benefits to the game. So let’s take a look at some of these not-so-good things about Minecraft, and how to make it a better experience for the whole family.

One of the confusing aspects of Minecraft for many parents is trying to understand exactly what their kids are doing when they play. And that’s because it’s more like a toy than a game – the player’s experience is mostly driven by their imaginations. So when they tell you about their adventures and creations, it’s like when they describe role-playing with friends or a second-hand conversation or even a dream… you won’t always follow along with the story. And that can make it hard to figure out exactly what this game is all about.

Another thing that makes it hard to grasp what’s going on is that every player is having a different experience. That’s the way that Minecraft is designed. When a new game is started it creates a new world, and you can have as many of these worlds as you want. Each time you play you can choose a different one to roam around in, and the things that you see and do (or that happen to you there) won’t be the same each time.

You can also customize the world using a bunch of different options, as well as unofficial modifications to the way the game looks and acts. So there is no real universal experience called ‘playing Minecraft’… every player is having a different experience of the game. And that makes it really hard to get a straight answer when you Google something like “what the hell is Minecraft”.

Learning about these different options, or even just knowing that they exist, can help you feel a bit less confused about what Minecraft is all about.

Once kids become familiar with the game and get connected to the wider community they’re going to want to download mods (check the What Are Mods article if you don’t know what that means). Most of these won’t be a problem, but since they’re files which have been created by the public there’s the chance that some may contain viruses or objectionable content, or make Minecraft run slowly and even crash.

Mods can also conflict with each other and cause problems, and they need to be reapplied every time Minecraft is updated. There’s also no guarantee of support from the people who made the mod, and if something goes wrong you can’t get support from the makers of Minecraft either (since these are unofficial changes to the way the game is supposed to work).

Tips for fixing:
Learn how to download and install mods so you can help
Have good virus protection running on your computer at all times
Only download mods from reputable sources
Limit the number of mods that are applied at one time
Help older kids to learn how to make their own mods
Always back up your game files before applying mods
Playing Minecraft with other people can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to understand that connecting to a public server means playing with strangers. This is no different than taking your kids to the playground – you wouldn’t leave them there alone to play and talk with other kids and adults without your supervision. While most of the players on multiplayer servers are just there to have a good time, some will knock down your kids constructions, try to kill their player in the game or use bad language in the chat feature. Some players might also wear skins that can be disturbing or inappropriate.

Multiplayer games can also be very fast paced with a lot of chatter going on, and some people may cheat or not follow the rules. The server may use a different set-up than your kids are used to when they play in single player mode, and not having control over that can be frustrating for some. So venturing into the world of multiplayer servers needs to be tackled very, very carefully.

Tips for fixing:
Play in single player mode
Play in multiplayer mode with people in your house via a LAN server
Start your own multiplayer server
Join servers run by people you know or can trust
Practice playing on single player first… then a multiplayer LAN… then a server with friends… before venturing into playing with people you don’t know
Join a family-oriented server that uses whitelisting
Help them learn how to deal with griefing
Minecraft is a pretty easy game to move around in, but as play progresses kids are going to want to do more and more with the knowledge that they’re acquiring. Some of this will require complex executive functions like memory and planning, and some pretty agile fine motor skills. Some kids might really struggle with this, which can make their time in the game frustrating.

Tips for fixing:
Help kids to strategize and plan out the things they want to do
Make a Superflat world just for building to make it easier
Start the world with a bonus chest to give kids a head start
Help them learn how to navigate and not get lost
Show them how to pay attention to their status bars
Practice attacking monsters in Creative (where you can’t die) before trying Survival
If your kids are young or they’re finding the game difficult, try progressing through the game levels and options more slowly so they can build their skills:

Start in single player Creative mode and practice building, digging and crafting
Stay in single player Creative mode and practice attacking monsters
Progress to single player Survival mode on the Peaceful setting
Then try Survival mode on Easy difficulty or a multiplayer LAN game
Another potential source of frustration in the game is losing all the stuff that you’ve made or collected when you die. Depending on which mode you’re in, that might happen fairly frequently. There can also be unexpected changes to the game, like glitches or server outages or updates.

If kids are used to playing in single player with mods or cheats, they might find it difficult to play on another server or world where these aren’t allowed. So kids who have a low frustration threshold or tolerance (they get frustrated easily or don’t cope well with the feeling of being frustrated) might find Minecraft overwhelming to play at times.

Tips for fixing:
Use a cheat that lets them keep their stuff when they die (see Using Cheats)
Play in Creative mode (where you don’t die)
Play in Survival mode with difficulty set to Peaceful (where it’s harder to die)
Play single player (where you’re less likely to experience lag or glitches)
Change the video settings to make the game run faster
Help them set goals to add structure to the game
Learn the game so you can help them solve problems
There are aspects to Minecraft which can be overwhelming for some kids, particularly younger ones. There are a lot of dark and spooky places to explore, not to mention monsters that are trying to get you. Stuff often pops up from nowhere, and some of the ambient sounds you hear in caves and the groans of monsters can be pretty creepy. You may need to kill animals to survive, and although there’s no blood they do make a grunting noise when attacked (before turning into a lump of raw meat).

While none of these aspects of the game are particularly graphic or violent, playing in first-person perspective is an immersive experience which can make the game feel very real to the person playing (especially if they’re young or sensitive).

Tips for fixing:
Play in Creative mode (no monsters and you don’t need to kill anything)
Play in Survival mode with difficulty set to Peaceful (no monsters)
Show your kids how to make and use torches (so it’s nice and bright everywhere)
Switch to third-person perspective for exploring caves or if it gets intense (F5 key)
Turn down the sound and/or music volume
Find mods and texture packs that make the experience less intense
Practice attacking monsters in Creative (where you can’t die) before trying Survival
There’s an enormous world that has sprung up outside of the game itself – there are YouTube videos of people playing and giving tips on how to play, parody songs and videos, a wiki, forums – kids will feel compelled to seek these things out and find the people who have answers to their questions. But remember that Minecraft is not specifically a kids game – much of this content is not suitable for them. This is particularly true of the forums and YouTube videos.

Tips for fixing:
Be aware that not everything that says ‘Minecraft’ on it is okay for kids
Look for family-friendly YouTube Channels
Check videos before your kids watch them – if you’re not willing to do this, don’t let them on YouTube
Don’t let kids into the forums without supervision
The Minecraft wiki is safe to read and will have most of the answers they need
Minecraft is a game with no real end. The challenges keep presenting, and the further you go the more you want to do and the more challenges result. Kids can become totally absorbed in the work that they’re doing in the game, and lose all track of time in the real world. Finding a moment to eat, do chores and homework and even use the toilet can be difficult for kids to do when they’re caught up in the game, especially younger ones who haven’t yet learned how to manage their own time.

Tips for fixing:
Have a visual timer sitting next to the computer
Periodically alert them to how much time has passed
Help them to transition from their time in the game
There’s something about Minecraft that makes it completely engrossing for many players, to the point of obsession and beyond. This can cause huge problems for families – so much so that I’ve dedicated an entire article to just this aspect of the game for kids (it’s called Help, My Kids Are Obsessed With Minecraft).

Okay, let’s get really honest here – preventing these kinds of problems with kids playing Minecraft requires parents to be very invested and involved in the game, more so than with others that your kids might want to play.

For some people this isn’t a problem, because they’re interested in video games or they love to play Minecraft just as much as their kids do. But what if you’re not one of those people? What if you could care less about gaming or don’t know your way around your computer or have a million other things to do right now?

Minecraft comes with a steep learning curve for parents, and that’s not going to suit everybody… but the truth is, the less involved you are the more problems your kids are likely to have with the game.

Tips for fixing:
Learn the game (and play alongside your kids) so you understand what they’re talking about, how to get the most benefit from their time spent playing and how to help them when they run into trouble
Outsource the learning – if you don’t want to get involved yourself, enlist the help of a friend or family member who already knows about it
Help the kids to help themselves – show them the wiki, find good sources of information for them to use to solve their own problems
Keep the chance of problems low – play single player or multiplayer LAN games only

There are a lot of things about Minecraft that make it a really worthwhile game for kids to play, and the areas where most families run into problems are easily fixable.

But there’s really no getting around the fact that it’s a game that requires parents to be involved if they want the experience to go smoothly for their kids. So if you don’t want to do that – if you can’t bring yourself to learn about the game or put in the time to supervise, sort out problems, keep them safe on multiplayer servers and prevent their obsession from becoming unhealthy – then Minecraft isn’t the right game for your family.