Latest Pointless Moral Panic: Minecraft Is Ruining Our Children

from the lessons-in-burgeoning-nerd-dom dept

Like many people, video games have been an integral part of my life for about as long as I can remember. From my days visiting Wildcat! BBS systems where I’d play Trade Wars 2000 — to obsessing over the Apple IIe, IIc and IIgs — video games were not only an integral part of my childhood, they actually helped forge an adult career path. Swapping out graphics cards and building new PCs to play Quake 2 led to a job in Manhattan legal IT, which in turn resulted in a life focused on writing about technology. Aside from a few tics, I like to believe I wound up relatively normal, and video games have made my life immeasurably more rewarding.

That background usually forces me into the role of video game evangelist when surrounded by folks that, all too frequently, are engaged in hand wringing over the diabolical moral dangers games purportedly present. At a party recently, some friends expressed muted shock because a colleague’s kid was, instead of being social, playing a game in which he was “herding human beings and keeping them in a barn to eat.” I had to explain (skipping the part about how you’d need a mod to actually eat them) how this behavior wasn’t indicative of a Jeffrey Dahmer in training, he was simply engaged in normal problem solving behavior on the new frontier:

Despite the fact that Minecraft is simply an amazing evolution of the Lego concept for the modern age, the moral panic surrounding the game never quite seems to abate. The latest case in point is over at the BBC, where the outlet implies it has heard all of the pro-Minecraft arguments before, it’s just choosing to ignore them in order to portray the game as an unpoliced virtual-reality hellscape that’s rotting the brains of children everywhere. While there are some good points embedded within, there are notably more bad ones, like the argument that kids should instead be reading, because reading engages imagination and builds character:

“I concede the point but say that it’s two-dimensional, and that children should be exercising more than their mouse fingers. The other side asks why it’s any worse than reading for hours at a time. Because, I say, reading allows you to imaginatively inhabit other minds. The opposition implies that this is just the latest moral panic, and that Stone Age elders probably thought the world was going to the dogs when people stopped just staring at the fire and started telling each other stories.”

The author pretty clearly sees the lips of “the opposition” moving, he just can’t apparently be bothered to actually hear what they’re saying. Of course it makes sense to encourage kids to read as well as play games but to dismiss Minecraft as unimaginative shows a total misunderstanding of the massive, cooperative world-building that occurs in the game. Instead of actually playing the game and trying to understand it, the entire article is doused in fear over whether Minecraft is negatively influencing kids. The only concessions toward admitting the game’s benefits come via gems like this:

“For some autistic children who have trouble with complex social interactions, Minecraft is clearly a good fit with its lack of intricate social cues and simple environment. But for many parents, the absence of that complexity, in a world where their children spend so much time, might be a reason to be wary.”

Whether it’s Minecraft, apps or the internet at large, there is such a thing as parenting — or paying attention to and understanding what your children are up to. Even then, in 1987 my parents certainly had absolutely no understanding of the world I was experiencing via the local Wildcat! BBS, yet those experiences opened an entire world of social interaction with like-minded individuals I never would have experienced otherwise as an awkward, socially anxious tot with painful new braces. That world taught me many things my parents never could have, but parenting in the brick and mortar world still helped me understand where social lines in this new frontier were drawn (with the exception of that time a 35-year-old BBS member called my folks to complain about their son’s occasionally-barbed tongue).

In stark contrast, The Guardian makes the counter-argument that maybe it makes more sense to try and understand Minecraft instead of fearing it, allowing this informed education to fuel intelligent parenting choices:

“…here?s a simpler way for parents who don?t feel they understand Minecraft to build their knowledge: sit down next to your child and watch them. Ask questions. See if they?ll teach you how to play it with them. This doesn?t mean you?ll avoid having to make decisions about the amount of time your child spends in Minecraft?s beguiling ?hyper-reality? rather than the unblocky real world, but it does mean you?ll have a better idea ? with less worries ? about what they?re up to, and how it can fit into their life.

Like so many things, actually bothering to understand something before you waste energy fearing it makes all the difference in the world. There are millions of kids for whom Minecraft is opening an entire world of enjoyable problem solving and social interaction, the benefits of which may extend into and across their entire lives. Stagnating this potential with fear because you couldn’t be bothered to try and understand what your children are experiencing wastes more than just your time.

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Comments on “Latest Pointless Moral Panic: Minecraft Is Ruining Our Children”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Instead of actually playing the game and trying to understand it, the entire article is doused in fear over whether Minecraft is negatively influencing kids

Man, the best picture of this behavior I’ve seen comes from the Croods. Basically these folks are the ones afraid of anything and everything that’s not strictly within their knowledge that is set in stone since they turned 20 it seems. If it’s new it’s bad. Either way if I don’t understand it’s also bad.

Sadly those people are very, very noisy.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not the only one, no. Plenty of folks are mildly disinterested in the game even though they completely understand it. Myself, beyond interest in the world building algorithms and the possibilities of the in-game logic circuits (though the former is less about playing the game than it is interest in the mechanics, and there are better examples than Minecraft of the latter, e.g., Little Big Planet, Space Engineers), I find it rather dull.

That said, I completely understand why so many people enjoy it. The best analogy really is an endless set of legos; Minecraft allows for an enormous amount of creative expression. But, then, I never did enjoy legos as a kid. They always felt… pointless. Instead, I spent weekends and holidays building complex engineering feats (for a kid, anyway) out of K’nex. Less about making pretty structures than seeing what you could build, struggling against gravity, structural stability, load distribution (I think I figured out the awesomeness of the lowly triangle at about 6 or 7), etc. Throw some motors in the mix, and things start to get really fun. I remember spending a lot of time messing with a remote control motor, building various vehicles.

I guess I’m trying to explain that I’m creative, but not artistic, and that I that I think Minecraft appeals to those with an artistic tendency. Since allowing kids to explore their artistic side is laudable, I have a hard time understanding why anyone with a touch of sense would think Minecraft is bad for kids.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Haven't played minecraft

Though I’ve devoted plenty of time to Terraria which is a 2D vertical version of the same type of crafting / resource-harvesting / survival / exploration game.

It’s not the same kind of fast paced experience as racers, jumpers and shooters, but it has its charm and leads to some interesting discoveries about how civic technologies and protocols develop.

In the meantime, Borderlands 2 has shiny guns and plenty of things to shoot at to get more shiny guns, and that seems to be enough to distract me from my more cerebral pursuits.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Corrupting Children

When I was a kid (post dark ages, pre color TV) we played all kinds of games, war, cowboys and indians, ‘pro’ wrestling, etc., much of it violent. Oh, and our parents were nowhere in sight, at least until dinnertime. Man were we corrupted.

Funny thing though, when we watched a show on black and white TV, it was in black and white. when we listened to some show (not music) on the radio, it was in color. Oh, the corrupted mind.

Children have imaginations, and often those imaginations run a huge gambit. If a parent is concerned about their child’s imagination running wild, let them do some parenting. Besides trying to impose some moral code of the order they perceive as ‘right’ on everyone else, they are just lazy parents who do not want to be bothered with parenting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Corrupting Children

–When I was a kid (post dark ages, pre color TV) we played all kinds of games, war, cowboys and indians, ‘pro’ wrestling, etc., much of it violent.

Oddly, there were no violent video games or gun/drug free zones back then and murder suicides in said zones was unheard of.

Proof that video games are causing the ills of society today!

lord binky says:

Bah, sounds like the author doesn’t understand children. Kid’s imagination fill in the blanks. So while as an unimaginative adult the author thinks about autism when there are not complex interactions the child with an imagination is filling in the missing pieces of those interactions. What would appear as bunch of trapped emotionless villagers with tables in front of them to the author is a noisy class room and a slew of social interactions, a full story with multiple people and personalities being made up by a child with an imagination. Dear god, if only I could repeat the ridiculous arguments I’ve heard from two girls are playing minecraft.

I guess we should throw out legos, dolls, toy animals, or anything that’s a still representation of something else if children play with it, because it hurts their imagination.

Or we could understand that there’s more creative freedom in a sandbox than a book.

NoahVail (profile) says:

My kid roped me into launching a MC server

One of my kids wanted to setup a Minecraft server.

Two years later I’m managing & hosting 2 Minecraft servers w/ most of 100k usernames and my kid has wandered off onto the next project.

I did my bit. I got involved with my kid playing MC and now I’m saddled with running his online community.

At least pets die eventually. I don’t know how long game servers live for.


John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: My kid roped me into launching a MC server


As someone who has operated gaming server of various sorts for decades, I can offer you two pieces of advice here: first, don’t feel obligated to continue if it doesn’t bring you joy to do it. Second, you probably have a few hardcore players that you know well enough to send them an email or something. If you want to give up the job, ask them if anyone wants to take over the operation rather than just letting the whole thing go dark.

If you are going to let everything go dark, be sure to give the players as much advance notice as possible. I guess that’s three pieces of advice.

NoahVail (profile) says:

Re: Re: My kid roped me into launching a MC server

I’ve been part of online communities and get how it is to be integrated. That’s why I haven’t just powered it down.

Your advice is sound except for one thing – the average age of MC players is around 0.
My staff range from 11 to 15 and some of them are pretty sharp.
However, the few that wouldn’t turn it into Lord of the Flies just don’t have the means to host it (and maybe not the time).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: My kid roped me into launching a MC server

AVERAGE age is zero..that means either a) every single minecraft player is playing AS THEY’RE BEING BORN (flatscreens must have been a godsend to the screaming, mother being told to PUSH, PUSH….I CAN SEE THE KEYBOARD!!!!).

Or b) some people are playing Minecraft BEFORE they existed (or in a previous life so have a negative age).

James Blackburn (user link) says:

My kids (10 and 12) are RUINED by this game. The last parent – teacher interviews I had I was told how my kids are sickeningly respectful to authority, work well with others, and to top it all off, will include other classmates in projects or activities when those kids are being left out by others.

(Full disclosure: I said “You sure you have my kids in mind??”)

Oh, and to top it off, not only do they amaze me with what they make on that game (although really how anyone can sit for more than 5 mins on that game amazes me), they have come up with some pretty creative crafts using ordinary items around the house because of that game.

So, yeah. Terrible game.

That One Other Not So Random Guy says:

Its what you make of it.

I love Minecraft. My Kids love it. we play together. We add mods and resource packs. I started a MC server. The whole family survives the zombies…. Together. It has become the Pong of today. We bounce ideas off of each other and come up with solutions to problems as a unit. Best part is, the kids rush to finish chores and homework so we can play. We still read a book a day and go to the Library every Saturday morning.

I hate being of the “Get off my lawn” age. When I see asshats trying to make an issue of nothing. One Paragraph proves this Jenkins lady has no clue:

“But that’s what Minecraft is – a computer game in which you build things using cubic blocks. But it’s Lego on steroids. You never run out of blocks and they never topple over. You can walk among your own creations, and play online with other people who are in the same world.”

She has no clue of this game other than what she see’s when passing her 13 year old’s computer.

“Sometimes, monsters come out after dark to try to kill you,” Not sometimes dear… every night.

her proof:
“It’s all consuming,” says Gabrielle Wacker, of her 11-year-old son Arthur. “It’s become a way of life. He would be on it before school given the chance. I’ve had to hide the device in the morning.”

So… one parents assertion that her 11 year old’s obsession with MC is proof enough that society as we know it is doomed… uh huh.
“Her biggest worry, she says, is that it reduces his interest in the real world.”
Maybe her kid is just an idiot. For mine it sparked in interest in minerals and how metals are mined and smelted, and for my Son it sparked an interest in IC’s due to Redstone and zombie traps.

“Parenting websites are full of such stories.”
They are also full of pussy parents that need to get a set and structure their kids activities better. Chances are these sloth parents would just LET THEIR KIDS sit there and do whatever rather than taking an active roll and provide a structured environment for their kids.

If your kid sits there all day playing MC its no one’s fault but your own.

Anonymous Coward says:

This journalist wasn’t even given a “write an anti-games spiel”, he’s basically told fill in this 12inches of column space (8point font)….ready set GO…

Then he has to randomly google for a subject and whatever it is, claim it’s destroying childrens lives.

Lucky he didn’t google for organ transplants or we’d have an article titled “are these organ transplants getting YOUR children ready for a life of organ stealing and cannibalism?”

Anonymous Coward says:

So killing violence in comic books didn’t work as well as they hoped, eh? Hasn’t worked out in limiting movie violence, hasn’t worked out in video games, so now they’ve found a new villain to go after. About right.

Busybodies wanting to tell you how to live your life. Only for all the hype they put up, they don’t tend to prove any of this is actually a danger.

I learned to read with comic books. To this day I don’t feel I can just jump over a skyscraper, go for a swinging stroll along building sides, nor stop a bullet by swelling the chest out.

I enjoy FPSs, the very kind that always seems to get the ire of the do gooders. Know what? When done I feel I’ve worked all my aggressions out and I have never felt the need to go rob a bank nor shoot someone.

Coronation IM (profile) says:


I wasn’t sure about Minecraft when my kid started playing it a few years back. Heck, I was even wondering what the big deal was when I saw how crappy the graphics were. It was like looking at video games from the 80s!

But, I changed my mind about the game when he showed me the things he was building which included a house, a roller coaster and a sling shot that shot TNT. Far better to have him playing this game than going around and shooting people in Modern Warfare. Sure, the social interaction isn’t the same as real people. The thing is, he’s learning and showing creativity which is important too as far as I’m concerned

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Moral Panics are a fact of society

And they’re consistently wrong, whether we’re talking about the recovered-memory Satanic-ritual scare, the alleged backmasking in Stairway to Heaven, the gateway to the occult that was supposedly in AD&D (Disappointed, TSR. Disappointed.) or even the sexy elf cards in Magic, The Gathering.

I’d think that in this, an age in which our young people are cynical, we’d see this, yet another moral panic — and not a very original one — that this wouldn’t make news outside Fox. I mean yet another addictive, dangerous video game? So what?

Anonymous Coward says:

The insanity of helicopter parents is everywhere. Just take a look at my dear brother. He’s in his 40s and his eldest child has just hit age 7. He’s not allowed to play miecraft on survival mode “because the zombies are scary.” Not joking.

When I was 7, and when my brother was 7 – we were read stories of the Grimm brothers. I even had my own copy of the collected works. You want some scary shit that should fuck up a child, look no further than the Grimm brothers.

We would read (and later watch the TV series of) Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia the Robber’s Daughter”, full of monsters and hardships. Somehow we turned out just fine, but a blocky zombie is too scary these days. Let’s not get into the things me and my brother would watch on television.

Get a fucking grip, parents. You can’t get more non-offensive and safe than Minecraft. Let your damn kids be kids.

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