I’ve spent a lot of energy keeping my kids away from “the screens.” The fact that they’ve never played Minecraft — a ginormously popular video game that places players in a randomly-generated world where they create and destroy structures — has been a source of parental pride. My neighbor’s son was so addicted that his mom resorted to using a time clock to monitor his Minecraft screen time. The kid clocked in and out like an actual miner whenever he used his iPad.
But I was wrong to take pride in my kids' ignorance of the game. Here are four surprisingly wholesome things that experts see:
1. Minecraft teaches morality. Eric Klopfer, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scheller Teacher Education Program, told me: “When they play Minecraft, kids have to think about establishing rules for society. It’s like 'Lord of the Flies', but hopefully with happier outcomes.” They’re not just learning the golden rule, they’re learning why obeying it works for everyone.
2. Minecraft is like Facebook with training wheels.Louis CK’s advice notwithstanding, kids’ interaction with social media and online communication is here to stay. And kids often begin interacting with each other on Minecraft before their peers are pressuring them to get on Facebook. According to Joel Levin, who uses Minecraft as a learning and teaching tool with his company TeacherGaming, “Kids are getting into middle school and high school and having some ugly experiences on Facebook and other social networks without an understanding of how to interact with people online. With Minecraft, they are developing that understanding at a very early age.”
3. Minecraft fosters collaboration. There’s a legitimate worry that excessive time alone with screens can stunt social and ethical development—that’s why I try to limit the time my kids have sitting passively in front of screens. But, when engaging with others in Minecrafts's multiplayer mode, kids are forced to work together. The United Nations is using the easy collaboration in the game, “to digitally reimagine 300 run-down public spaces in the next three years, giving people who live near them the chance to chime in on how they might be improved.” Whoa.
4. Minecraft teaches impulse control. Klopfer also believes that the cadence of the game allows a user to think about how to react to a provocative act. “If one kid blows up another kid’s house online,” he says, “they have time to think about how they deal with it and how to confront them. If something goes wrong on the playground, they might be reminded of how they worked things out in Minecraft.”
Do you think video games can be good for kids? Tell us why it in a comment or blog post.