In the space of a few years, the computer game Minecraft has come to dominate the spare hours of millions of children, and has even entered the classroom. But is this an entirely good thing, asks Jolyon Jenkins.
If I want to irritate my 13-year-old son, Joe, I refer to Minecraft as “digital Lego”. He grew out of Lego a long time ago.
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.
Sometimes, monsters come out after dark to try to kill you, which is never pleasant, but compared with games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, Minecraft is innocent, peaceful, and pretty wholesome.
So why does it drive so many parents to distraction?
“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.”
Her biggest worry, she says, is that it reduces his interest in the real world. “He doesn’t do any clubs any more. At weekends, one of the first things he says when he gets up in the morning is, ‘We’re not going anywhere, are we?’ because clearly he wants to be at home where he has got access to the devices.”
Parenting websites are full of such stories. If not actually playing Minecraft, parents report that their children watch videos of other people playing it.
The statistics are astounding – one group of Minecraft gamers, Yogscast, based in Bristol, is watched for 37 million minutes every day, and they are not the biggest.
The stars of Minecraft, like “Stampy Longnose” are to this generation of children what John Noakes was to mine, except Blue Peter was only on twice a week, whereas Stampy is viewable all day, every day, a permanent uninvited guest in some households.
I hesitate to use the word “addicted”, but for some children it seems to fit.
Dr Richard Graham, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist who runs a technology addiction unit at the private Nightingale Hospital in London, sees children with a serious Minecraft habit. He talks about the game’s “hyper-reality” which he says makes the external world “slower, paler, less stimulating”.
My son Joe has his own server, where 20 or so like-minded friends have been creating their own world for the last couple of years. Most of them are in America, and he has never met any of them. Their creations are impressive, but still – is it right for kids to be shunning the real world for this virtual, low-res, blocky universe?
The moves in this argument are as well-rehearsed as a 17th Century gavotte. Minecraft’s champions say that it’s very creative and that I should just look at the things kids are making on it.
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.
But then there’s the “griefing”. Because Minecraft is a world with private property but no police force, children are, at least on public servers, in a world that philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have recognised – a state of nature where all are at war with all.
“Griefers” are people who deliberately make trouble, destroy property, and then sometimes post videos of their exploits to amuse everyone.
Even Joe, on his well-ordered server, has had his property stolen by a Russian member. He doesn’t know where his stuff went, but suspects it was disposed of in molten lava. When parents think of online bullying, they probably don’t think of hard-earned virtual property being trashed, or their children being digitally mugged.
Joe’s nine tips to bluff your way in Minecraft:
1. Diamond is the best material for pickaxes because it breaks blocks the fastest and lasts the longest.
2. Players can tame wild wolves by feeding them a few bones, and ocelots with fish.
3. Throwing an enderpearl like a ball allows you to teleport to where it lands.
4. With redstone, you can create complex mechanisms. Some people have even recreated computers.
5. The only blocks in the game which are affected by gravity are sand, gravel, and anvils.
6. Creepers are green creatures which will sneak up behind you and try to blow you up. Skeletons try to shoot you with bows.
7. Cows and sheep can be bred by feeding them wheat, pigs with carrots and chickens with seeds.
8. You can play music to nearby players with a music disc, which are created when a skeleton shoots a creeper.
9. A trapped chest will give off a redstone signal when opened, meaning you can create all sorts of traps to fool your friends.
It was in a bid to deal with griefers that Amanda Osborne set up her own server where her son Callum could play in relative safety. Callum, aged nine, is autistic, and finds it easier to interact with people in the Minecraft world than in the real one.
Now, children with autistic spectrum disorders from around the world are logging on to Amanda’s server and making amazing, inspiring creations that impressed even Joe when we paid an online visit.
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.
But Minecraft is unstoppable. You might think that at least school provides a few hours of Minecraft-free time a day, but the game is coming to classrooms, as education experts enthuse about its ability to engage and capture the imagination of children who are hard to reach through traditional teaching methods. Even the British Museum is getting volunteers to recreate the building and its exhibits in Minecraft.
Worst of all, Lego has brought out its own Minecraft set. What this means for the next generation of engineers brought up in a world where nothing ever falls over, I dare not imagine.
Children with Asperger Syndrome are usually on a regular diploma track in high school. However, just because they graduate from high school with a regular diploma or go to college or graduate school does NOT mean that they have learned sufficient independent living skills to cope successfully. Independent living skills (ILS) include numerous items that (typically) are not taught to neurotypical (individuals NOT on the autism spectrum) because they usually learn them by observing others around them. However, individuals with ASD often need explicit instruction to learn ILS.
The home environment is the “natural” environment for teaching many of these skills. The following list includes some of the items one might want to work on in the kitchen/food arena.
• Kitchen Household Chores
• Setting the table
• Emptying the trash -Inserting a new trash bag
• Clearing the table
• Putting food items away
• Knowing amount of food worth saving
• Obtaining correct container & transferring food to container
• Determining whether items go in refrigerator or pantry
• Doing the dishes
• Handling dishes with care
• Handling knives
• Rinsing items sufficiently
• Knowing what does/does not go in the dishwasher
• Learning what items need to be placed on the top rack
• Wiping off counters
• Where to place sponges/wet dish rages/towels
• Unloading the dishwasher
Many individuals with ASD have difficulty generalizing skills
Generalization refers to the ability to perform a skill that has already been learned in one setting with different materials across a variety of settings. For children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders, we often overlook how these challenges affect learning. The following scenarios illustrate the kinds of challenges that may come up.
I was recently at a party with a number of children with ASD. Mark (age 9) was asked to help return items to the refrigerator. He walked into the kitchen, looked at the refrigerator and asked “Is this the refrigerator?” His mother immediately understood that he was confused because their refrigerator at home had the freezer compartment on top, and this was a side-by-side refrigerator.
Another family recently relayed a story about their daughter, Lisette. She was helping clear the table and put the food away after dinner. They had eaten spaghetti and Lisette had four strands of spaghetti on her plate. Getting ready to clear the table, she asked her mother whether she was supposed to (a) find a container and save the leftover spaghetti, or (b) throw it away.
Situations like these remind me of how hard our children work on understanding what we want them to do. This helps me plan to orchestrate teachable moments.
Here Are a Few Tips to Remember
1. Always evaluate whether this is a good time for an instructional moment.
2. Make numerous positive statements for every one correctional statement.
3. Use few correctional statements.
4. Look and listen carefully! People with ASDs get stuck in all kinds of ways.
5. The whole lesson may take less than one minute.
6. Be realistic! You can only work on a limited number of skills at a time.
7. Try to end on a positive note.
Diane Adreon, M.A. is associate director, University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities, and co-author of Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Practical Solutions for School Success
Number of Players
Object of the Game
To spell words using the cards in your hand to get points. The player who earns the most points wins.
Setting up the Game
Cards Ace to 5 are vowels. Ace is ‘a’, 2 is ‘e’, 3 is ‘i’, 4 is ‘o’, 5 is ‘u’. Try practice game “Vowels” to help (Pg. 47). Cards 6 to 10 are consonants of your choice. All players agree on which consonants are represented by which number.
s r t c d
How to play
1. Deal 6 cards to each player. The rest of the cards are turned face down in the middle.
2. Player 1 makes a word using the cards in their hand. Once they have spelled a word, they replace the cards they have used from the deck in the middle. Player 1 scores their word and writes it down e.g.
Letters in this hand: Word made from these letters:
a, a, d, t, u, e date
Player 1 scores their word: “date” scores 10 + 1 + 8 + 2 = 21
3. If a player spells a word using all 6 cards, they get a bonus 10 points.
4. Players take it in turns to make words, score and then replace their cards from the deck. Each player must always have 6 cards in their hand.
5. If a player can’t make a word, they may discard 1 card in the center and pick up a new card from the deck. If a player can’t go for 2 turns running, they may swap all their 6 cards for replacement cards ending their turn.
6. Once a word has been spelled, it cannot be used again in the same game.
7. If a word is in doubt, use the Oxford English Dictionary to judge.
8. The game finishes when a player no longer has 6 cards in their hand or when a pre-arranged target score is reached.
Players take it in turns to see how many words they can make within a specified time, for example 10 minutes.
This book explores the aspects of a teenager’s online life, from simple texting behaviour to how to deal with the negative side of being online. Each section of the book is accompanied by quotes from teenagers that give examples of real-life problems that teenagers experience every day. Text, Tweets, Trolls and Teens also features quizzes to help readers to assess their own behaviour and work out their technology style. It is a great book for any child who spends a lot of time on the internet.