Feb 7, 2016

Minecraft Part 1: What the hell are you talking about, kids

I thought I was a very tech savvy parent and secretly felt pretty smug about my preparedness for my kids to gradually enter the fray of online life.  Then along came Minecraft.

I'll admit, gaming has been a bit of a black hole for me. What little I know about gaming I have gleaned from 9Gag and Gamergate (which, you know, both make gaming seem super awesome).

I am, however, a technophile and ambitious to know it all. I mean, I switched from an iPhone to a Samsung two years ago, so I'm like, pretty cutting edge.

Now that the kids have an Xbox, I fully intend to give up some Netflix time to learn how to steer the goddamn Need for Speed car down the middle of the highway instead of careening from barrier to barrier and getting stuck in reverse, and I am looking forward to trying a first-person shooter game to see how violent it makes me.

But commanding the Xbox controller is, like, hard. Why are kids immediately so dextrous at this stuff? I cannot get all my fingers plus my brain to work in unison. I cannot get my car or skateboarder to go more than a couple of metres without crashing. This is a good way to immediately feel like your own parents as your kids try and keep the laughter out of their voices while they show you how to use the technology. Karma.

Back to Minecraft...

The kids have long loved Minecraft and spend a borderline unhealthy amount of time glued to their screens building stuff and playing interactive games.  And here's where I (also) got caught napping. I had no idea you could play Minecraft online.

When my kids started having run-ins with online etiquette and trolling, they came to me with complaints and lengthy descriptions of online interactions I could barely understand. And I thought I knew about online interactions! I was a bit shocked and had to have some quick tutorials from my ten year olds on what the hell they were talking about.

Here's the deal: you can join servers run by other people and build stuff in their world, or play battles or racing games where you are playing against, and interacting with, other players. This whole world is subject to a whole lot of arcane rules and etiquette the kids pick up fairly quickly, but is also obviously subject to the whims of the people running it.

There are also the usual dispiriting online spats between friends where someone gives some people access to a game but not others, or kicks one person out for bad behaviour but lets their best friend behave worse, etc. There are days when this seems to be happening all the time and I have to tell the kids to take a break from it and do something else, and sometimes they even listen to me.

The thing with online play is that your kids can be sitting calmly in the lounge room tooling around on their iPod and you can be sitting a metre away, and a whole world of turmoil can be going on where they show no sign and you have no idea.

For me (and I'm trying not to sound smug here, as I know I don't have this solved) the answer is to try and be involved enough to understand what's going on and be interested in the games and the online world so they will talk to me, and we can talk about the problems as they come up.

There are millions of kids playing Minecraft. Most Minecraft players these days are probably under 13, but there are a lot of adults too.  My kids and I have talked a lot about this, what it means and what they need to keep in mind. We've had a couple of ugly moments, but for the most part, it's been fun and educational and the girls have been handing it well.

There are Minecraft glossaries and guides online you can Google if you want to know how redstone is used, or what a creeper or an Enderman is - this one is a good place to start - but they don't have the words my kids and their friends are using when they talk about interactive play.

Here are the Minecraft words I hear all the time and what they mean:

Minecraft online play words and meanings 

Seed - the code that Minecraft uses to generate terrain and content in worlds you create. There are online directories where people have shared good seeds or people pass them on through word of mouth. The reason these are valued is that without a good seed you have no idea where you will "spawn" to start your game: it could be awesome terrain, or it could be "a bland, uninspiring world full of flat grassland and the odd chicken(that sounds familiar as that's what I got the one and only time I tried to play Minecraft on my own)

Server - any Minecraft player can set up a game on a Minecraft public server and others can join if they have the IP address of the server (which is passed around by word of mouth or found in the Minecraft public server directory)

Admin - person who runs the server, gives access to players and polices behaviour

OP - "give someone OP" - full access to all the available commands. The Admin as someone who is already OP gives OP status to other users. If you are given OP, it is generally bad form to give others OP without permission from the Admin.

Donate - Admins will sometimes ask players to donate money to the server, which is fair enough when it's a couple of dollars to help with the cost of an established game, but can be a bit rich if players are asked to donate as soon as they join, or if it's more than a couple of dollars, or if it's in return for getting a ban removed, etc.

PvP (player vs player) - term refers to interactive play with other online players, but my kids and their friends (in which case others they play with online as well) are using it as a noun to mean the server/game hosting the play, e.g. "I was on an awesome pvp yesterday but I updated my iPod and now I've lost it"

Grief (verb), Griefer (noun - person who griefs) - destroying things others have built, generally causing trouble in the game

Lag (verb) - perform moves that cause the game to lag - a major infraction that can get you banned. Eg flying.

Kick - to be "kicked" is to be kicked out. Not as bad as being banned because you can usually get back in, but it is done as a warning, or in a fit of pique

Ban - you can get banned for griefing, lagging, trolling, speaking in all caps, using annoying phrases like "lol" or "yolo" or... all sorts of things really! I will cover that in Minecraft Part 2...

Wallpaper image by dkjjr at Minebook


  1. 'the usual dispiriting online spats between friends where someone gives some people access to a game but not others, or kicks one person out for bad behaviour but lets their best friend behave worse,...'
    I remember that behaviour. It wasn't online but goodness it hurt. And now I can't even remember the names of the perpertrators.
    I do admire your dedication to parenting and technology. I don't do the former and pretty much suck at the latter.

    1. Exactly - those online spats are pretty similar to the non-online ones!

  2. Eyes glaze over. I know a little of Minecraft because my 8 year old niece is interested in it. I've never gamed. I bought my first mobile phone in 1996. By 1998 I was texting. I watch in amazement at the speed young people now text. I just don't understand why I never developed the skill of speed texting. Perhaps it is because I punctuate and use caps and full stops, commas even. I used to think I was fast enough. A sad old man who never moved on is an appropriate description.

    1. I don't speed-text either, and I still use my forefinger not my thumbs. I also use my forefinger to press elevator buttons whereas I note the young 'uns these days tend to use their thumbs. I remember I only got my first mobile phone around 1998 or so, after a stressful day trying to find a working payphone in between job interview appointments. If not for that it probably would have taken me another couple of years!

  3. I am completely hopeless at any of these types of games.I always find that by the time I've worked out what I should have done and what my next move should have been, everyone else has moved on so far ahead, I might as well have been napping the whole time. I don't even try anymore.



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