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Send him back to the Nether: Minecraft and violence

When you think of violent video games, Minecraft probably doesn’t feature very high on the list. But Turkey’s government isn’t taking any chances and neither is Kim.


Title overview

Name: Minecraft
Developer: Mojang
Publisher: Mojang, Microsoft Studios and Sony Computer Entertainment
Release date: November 2011
PEGI rating: 7
Platforms: Android, iOS, Linux, PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PS Vita
More information: Official website

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Kim says…

Back in February, the BBC reported that Turkey’s Minister of Finance and Social Policy Ayşenur İslam had ordered an investigation into Minecraft. She had voiced concern about the game’s content after speaking with press outside the Turkish parliament, where a journalist suggested that it depicts violence against women and could promote aggression by awarding points for killing characters.

According to Load the Game, the complaints were specifically in connection with the title’s multiplayer mode and most advanced levels where platers may have to resort to slaying their own allies, companions and friends in order to survive. İslam has been quoted as saying'[we] will examine the game and see if there is an element of violence’ on the Haberturk website, and the ministry could have the power to a partial censorship or a nationwide ban of the game if the investigation finds the claims to be true.

Minecraft is no stranger to such controversy despite being classified as suitable for children aged seven and over in Europe by the Pan European Game Information group (PEGI). For example, in Florida in September 2013 a nine-year-old boy was charged with possession of a firearm on school grounds, possession of a concealed weapon and possession of a firearm by a minor – his father claiming that he ‘was playing a character he learned from his favourite video game’. The child didn’t actually use any of the weapons in this case but it was enough to get the survival title in the spotlight.

It’s supposed to be a ‘creative’ gaming experience

“There are swords, bows and arrows, but most of the attacking is against monsters and creatures rather than human beings.”

Whilst doing some research for this article, I came across many comments from both gamers and professionals disputing İslam’s claims. Newsweek provided the following quote from gamesTM’s UK Editor Jonathan Jordan (although it should be noted here that I couldn’t find the source and the magazine’s editor is actually Jonathan Gordon): “Minecraft is one of the last games I would think would be banned based on violent content… [It] is no more violent than The Lord of the Rings films. There are swords, bows and arrows, but most of the attacking is against monsters and creatures rather than human beings.”

There can’t be many people out there who haven’t at least heard of it but for those who don’t know, the game is a sandbox survival title that allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally-generated world. Activities include exploration, gathering supplies, crafting and combat, and several gameplay types are available. In survival mode it’s necessary to acquire resources to build the world and maintain health; in creative mode, players have unlimited resources and the ability to fly; and in adventure mode they can take on custom maps created by other players.

Although players are able to attack ‘villager’ characters within the game, Jordan says that it isn’t something you’re instructed to do. He argues that the title actually encourages a more ‘creative’ gaming experience rather than encouraging violence: “If anything, Minecraft has pushed things the other way, giving players the power to create rather than fight.”

Doctor Andrew Przybylsku, an experimental psychologist and research fellow from the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, agrees with his description of the game: “Thinking of investigating Minecraft for being violent is the equivalent of ordering an investigation into violent LEGO playing.” After conducting research on video games and violence, Przybylsku says that the title ‘is in no way realistically violent’ and that ‘truly violent video games are the ones that set you up against violent people’.

Praise for Minecraft

With millions of players worldwide, Minecraft is often considered to be one of the less violent games on the market when compared to titles such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. It has become a phenomenon since the alpha version was released in May 2009 and has one of the broadest player-bases of any video game, so no wonder Microsoft wanted to snap up the franchise along with Swedish developer Mojang for $2.5 billion in September 2014.

Despite Turkey’s investigation, the game has been widely praised for its fun style and lack of realistic violence, along with the fact that it encourages creativity due to the ability to build and alter the in-game environment. It’s also frequently cited for its educational value; a special version called MinecraftEdu is used in schools across the UK as it ‘contains many additions to the original game that make it more useful and appropriate in a school setting’.

Joel Levin’s daughter solved problems on her own, developed a spacial understanding, and accelerated her reading and writing skills because she wanted to be able to interact with other players.

Education establishments in the US are following a similar route, and former teacher Joel Levin and his colleagues founded a startup called TeacherGaming in 2011 in order to bring game-based learning into classrooms. In an article by The Atlantic he revealed that he first played an early version of Minecraft with his five-year-old daughter in 2010 and was amazed by how much she learnt: she solved problems on her own, developed a spacial understanding, and accelerated her reading and writing skills because she wanted to be able to interact with other players.

Microsoft’s stance

Being a sandbox game with no real set of rules, players are free to do pretty much whatever they like inside the Minecraft world. This is part of the title’s appeal and an aspect which has fuelled its immense popularity, but it could also explain why some might see it as a game that could promote violence.

Following the publication of the original story, GameSpot’s News Editor Eddie Makuch contacted Microsoft and the company issued the following statement: “Minecraft is enjoyed by many players in a variety of ways. Many enjoy the creative freedom that’s presented by Minecraft and its tools, some are interested by the opportunity to explore a landscape without boundaries and go on exciting adventures with friends. We encourage players to cooperate in order to succeed, whether they’re building, exploring or adventuring.”

Minecraft, video game, pixels, blocks, Steve, mountains, trees, cabin, lake, wolves, view

They did however admit that some violence may be necessary towards enemies, as ‘the world of Minecraft‘ can be a dangerous place’ because it’s ‘inhabited by scary, genderless monsters that come out at night’ and it ‘might be necessary to defend against them in order to survive’. The company concluded with this helpful recommendation: “If people find this level of fantasy conflict upsetting, we would encourage them to play in Creative Mode, or to enable the Peaceful setting. Both of these options will prevent monsters from appearing in the world.”

Unfortunately however, this hasn’t been my experience of the game. Not even the Creative Mode or Peaceful setting could stop a cheeky little monster from appearing in our world, and now we’re trying to figure out how to send him back to the Nether.

Building up Minecraft

I’ve written about Pete and his eight-year-old son Ethan several times, along with his love of everything LEGO and video-game related. We introduced him to Phil a couple of months ago and after being allowed to play Minecraft on Phil’s iPhone, they hit it off like a house on fire: so much so that my lovely colleague purchased the full game and gave it to him one weekend as a surprise.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times Ethan has dragged me into soft-play centres because he needs ‘some help getting rid of the creepers’.

Since then Pete and his eight-year-old son Ethan hasn’t stopped talking about the game. He chatters non-stop from the second you see him on a Friday night after school and wakes me up extremely early on the weekends just so we can play it together (surely it must be time for Pete’s turn now). When we take him out for the day we’re ‘exploring Minecraft world’ and in his head we’ve constructed everything around him from various blocks; and I’ve lost count of the amount of times he’s dragged me into soft-play centres because he needs ‘some help getting rid of the creepers’.

It may sound as if I’m exaggerating, but it’s honestly as if Ethan thinks of nothing all week except for those few hours we get to play Minecraft on a Sunday morning. He builds it up in his head so much that by the time the opportunity arrives, he’s wound tighter than a coiled spring; he turns into this little ball of babbling excitement that can’t even be distracted by LEGO or chocolate milkshakes. This isn’t a problem in itself and could be seen as rather sweet… but then you get what we’ve started calling ‘Minecraft-behaviour’.

The horror of Minecraft-behaviour

It wasn’t entirely successful when Phil first tried to teach Ethan how to play in Survival Mode because he struggled to understand it. The game may have a PEGI 7 rating but as I’ve written before, these classifications apply to the suitability of content rather than the difficulty level involved or skills required in order to play. We could see he was getting frustrated so the following morning we decided to switch to Creative Mode on the Peaceful setting to see if this would appeal to his love of LEGO. But rather than bringing out his creativity, it’s had the opposite effect.

We’ve noticed that Ethan’s behaviour changes when he plays Minecraft. He’s genuinely a lovely child, full of jokes and enthusiasm along with an interest in the world around him; but after picking up the controller he starts to become quite tetchy. He doesn’t take our suggestions on things to build because they’re ‘silly’. When asking us what sort of pickaxe we think he should take on his adventures, he does the opposite of whatever it is we’re proposing. And then there’s the bashing… oh, the bashing.

Jordan may believe that Minecraft encourages a creative gaming experience but this isn’t something we’ve seen much of ourselves. Ethan is more interested in roaming from one end of his island to the other in a full kit of armour while bashing everything standing in his path. He’s destroyed villages with floods of lava and killed of their entire inhabitants; bred packs of wolves before deciding there were too many animals and hitting them to death; and blown up everything from mountains to a single cacti with huge piles of TNT. One time he filled a Nether fortress full of chickens which was actually pretty funny – but you get my point.

For a title that’s meant to be about creativity, it actually seems to have brought out a more aggressive side in my step-son. He’s quicker to give his dad a cheeky kick when playfully teased and lose his temper when something he’s trying to do doesn’t go his way. Before you say I’m picking on Minecraft, I’m honestly not: this behaviour doesn’t seem to be a side-effect of him playing video games in general but Microsoft’s baby in particular. It always escalates when he picks up this title, it’s behaviour which is far different from Ethan’s normal personality, and it seems to end when we put Minecraft away.

Launching an investigation

Our lack of experience goes some way towards explaining why we were worried whether this new, more aggressive behaviour was normal.

I must admit that neither Pete nor I have had much experience of other children of Ethan’s age. Several of our friends have sons and daughters who are toddlers but we don’t really know anybody with older kids and so haven’t had the opportunity to be around them very often. This lack of experience goes some way towards explaining why we were worried whether this new, more aggressive behaviour was normal.

When we had the opportunity to attend a meeting at his school earlier this year, we decided to bring up the subject with Ethan’s teacher: either everything was as expected and we could stop fretting or something would need to be done and we could come up with a course of action. Fortunately Miss Cookson helped allay our fears and assured us all was well, explaining that a certain level of destructive behaviour was to be expected in eight-year-olds as they try to push the boundaries.

The problem remains however of what to do about the situation. It might be normal but being on the end of Minecraft-behaviour isn’t much fun; and it’s not nice for my step-son, Pete and myself to end up grumpy with each other at the weekends as it’s the only time we really get to spend together. We’re currently trying to limit the time spent playing Minecraft and video games in general, as well as trying to encourage Ethan to pick up other titles such as Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (a great puzzle game for kids).

Kim, Ethan, fair, fairground, ride

We don’t want to stop him from spending time with Minecraft because he clearly loves the game. He looks forward to it all week and in general he’s a very well-behaved child, but we obviously don’t want to encourage aggressiveness in him and a destructive nature. I’d be interested to hear from parents out there about how they handle video games with their children, whether they’ve experienced anything similar to Minecraft-behaviour, and if they’ve ever filled a Nether fortress with chickens.

Many people may believe that Turkey is over-reacting when it comes to the original story mentioned above but trust me, I’ve seen a different side to Minecraft. And I’m about to launch an investigation of my own – one that looks into why Ethan decides to wake me up at 05:30 on a Sunday morning rather than Pete.

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14 thoughts on “Send him back to the Nether: Minecraft and violence”

  1. I think you guys are right on the money on this. If his behaviour changes drastically while playing this title , it’s good that you look into causes and possible solutions.

    Perhaps it’s the rule-less nature of Minecraft that’s the issue, or the creation mechanics frustrate him as you say and that is the cause for the behaviour.

    Getting him out into the world and not playing so many games, and directing him towards other titles I think is a very good idea and you’re definitely doing the right thing.

    Lovely article, it’s rare you get insights into gamer parenting,but you, Pete (giving him.co-author credit on this one) and Ben have been delivering that!

    Hopefully it works out perfectly.

    And the 5:30 thing, it’s easier, you’re cooler than ‘Dad’ in his head 😉

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    1. Since writing this article, we’ve figured out that one of the reason’s behind Ethan’s Minecraft-behaviour is the a lack of consequence in the creative mode of the game. He behaves much better when playing titles where there’s a repercussion from his actions – if he thinks something might have a bad effect, he’ll think twice about doing it.

      We could put him back on survivor mode but he’ll only get frustrated again. So it’s up to us to find titles that will both appeal to him and teach him how to be a ‘better’ gamer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a difficult task to find games that appeal to his creativity, offer the sandbox freedom but still have a set of rules.

        There is a similar game called Roblox. It’s aimed at children specifically. It might offer an option. But I don’t know enough about it so I can’t tell you more I’m afraid.

        Is there any other genre that appeals to him? Perhaps there are other styles of games that might engage his mind. I would suggest adventures but point & clickers might be too frustrating at this stage I think.

        I’m trying to think of titles but I need to double check as I’m unfamiliar with the PEGI ratings. But if I find something that could help I will let you know.

        If survivor mode is frustrating for him, it’s better to find an alternative I believe.

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        1. So, I’ve checked some titles I have in my collection and here are some picks that might be worth checking. I also checked Roblox and I think it wouldn’t help Ethan because it might frustrate him or induce Minecraft-Behaviour, and the presence of 13+ chatting in this MMO-like environment is a minefield best avoided, so sorry for recommending that.

          The Wonderful Miss Take, a stealth-based tactical game about a cat-burglar. It’s PEGI 7 and having played it myself I can tell you it’s quite fun, easy to pick up but hard to master.

          Machinarium is a very good adventure game and one I’ve read very good comments from parents’ point of view, on how good it is for their kids. PEGi 7 as well.

          Finally, going to the classics: Super Mario Bros. All available on the WIIU virtual console or as a full game and almost all PEGI 3-7. Based on how much Ethan likes the freedom of exploration (from his fun ETA videos) I would personally recommend Mario 64 and the two Mario Galaxy titles. Extremely fun and they offer lots of freedom in how you go about things.

          Hope this helps in any way. I’m not used to looking for what’s appropriate for children so this was quite interesting. Knowing you enjoyed it as a child, I looked up Monkey Island and it’s now PEGI 12, so I didn’t recommend it in the above list. I would be interested to know how you, the parents, would make a call on this one, again considering you played it as a child.

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          1. Things were different back when we were children – there weren’t PEGI ratings and parents didn’t really understand what video games were. Some (but not all) still don’t, to some degree.

            Obviously every child is different but ratings are given to games for a reason. As mentioned in another comment on this article, Ethan is very good in terms of knowing that he shouldn’t play older rated titles.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The fact that some parents allow their children to buy Mature (ESRB, don’t know the PEGI equivalent) rating games is proof enough of your point.

              It’s amazing that he understands why those rules are there, not many children do. Or as we’ve established, not many adults either!

              That’s a very bright boy you have there 🙂

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  2. This one is a tricky one – As someone with a much younger brother whom I love dearly and do you want to know the game that’s changed him..?

    We thought Minecraft might do him bad, but he calms down when he gets his fix of making up blocks and knocking modded in rabbits across the world with a kick. In the real world, he absolutely adores animals, carefully loving them and everything…

    Garry’s Mod, another sandbox title, is one he frequently goes back to. It’s funny watching how he plays it. He used to get frustrated with me, as I don’t do things for him in it, but I told him that part of the appeal of Garry’s Mod is unlimited creativity. He thought about it and said “But I cannot do the programming…” – and now he’s at least reading Lua to try to understand it. Even if what he does right now is mostly a copy paste job. But the game…

    The Five Nights At Freddy’s franchise! It’s turning him.. Very strange indeed. To the point where I’m suggesting we ween him off of it. Recently, he had a shower and went to get changed. I walked into the bathroom simply to clean my teeth – He had written on the damned mirrors “It’s Me Golden Freddy Fredbear” Which immediately made me chuckle… But also made me frustrated that he thinks about it non-stop.

    I wonder what the next “Imagination snatcher” is going to come out to brainwash children.

    For the record: I love Garry’s Mod, Minecraft and FNAF… But video games have a surprisingly strong influence on children.

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    1. Speaking of FNAF, Ethan recently saw me writing an article where I’d used a picture from the game. He said, “Oh look, it’s Fredbear” – not something an eight-year-old should know!

      He’s extremely good when it comes to games that are ‘too old’ for him though. He tells us that there are certain things he shouldn’t play, and doesn’t complain when he picks a game with a PEGI rating that’s too high and we explain that he needs to choose something else.

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      1. That’s good of him 🙂 I think FNAF is a bit of a kids game, in the long run. The story is super convoluted so kids will play it just for the scare content, so I’d not be too worried that he knows about it all 🙂
        Besides, it’s not like there’s any blood or any gore in FNAF. It’s probably LESS violent (at least graphically) than Minecraft!!! And that’s saying something haha ^_^

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  3. Put it this way: after seeing Ethan cry because he was scared of the dark at bedtime – after being told at a museum that pirates used to spread ghost stories to keep people out of their caves – I think I’ll steer him clear of FNAF for the moment! Ha ha ha 😉

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  4. > I must admit that neither Pete nor I have had much experience of other children of Ethan’s age.

    As much as I appreciate the effort put into this article, this is where the assumption and Turkey’s government is wrong. What you have described is variance, of a single sample size, Minecraft does a lot more good than bad as you have described.

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    1. Of course – as mentioned in another comment, every child is different; and a certain video game won’t affect everyone in the same way. The fact that Minecraft is now being used in schools as an educational tool is proof of the good that it can do. 🙂

      This article was written to describe my own personal experience and if Ethan participates in something that affects his behavior negatively – be it games, sports, films or anything else – it’s up to us to teach him how to use ‘use’ it in the right way. I’d be interested to hear from other people on how they handle such situations as I don’t necessarily think that taking the content totally away is the right method.

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      1. No problem, I just think the idea that Turkey could possibly end up banning the game is ridiculous, but I don’t think it would ever happen as Microsoft would try to sue the entire Turkish government in the international courts for banning a game unlawfully

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        1. Everything I read about the Turkey-thing makes the situation seem as if it was one big publicity-stunt for the government. And if they want to start talking about video games, there are other titles they should possibly consider looking at first before Minecraft. 😉

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