There’s a pretty good chance that if you’re reading this, you own a computer, and as the saying goes, if you own a computer, eventually your child is going to bug the high holy bejezzus out of you to buy them Minecraft.
In it’s simplest form, Minecraft is a lot like virtual legos.
Where we get into trouble is that there’s more to Minecraft than just Minecraft.
By that I mean Minecraft mods.
A “mod”, for the non-gamey types, is a home-grown “modification” to an existing program. The act of modding games has been around almost for as long as the games themselves, and some game companies have decided to build their games in such a way as to make this easier. This, by and large, is a good thing. Games get longer lifespans because fan communities find ways to extend the game, and generations of new programmers are born by creating the mods. So far, so good.
Minecraft has a large, devoted following, including many talented adults (and more than a few teens) who have lent their free time to developing mods. Some of these mods are very simple (like giving your in-game character a pet dragon), and some are very complex (adding new game modes like capture the flag that are not in the base game). Your child will hear about mods from a friend, because if you combine any group of pre-adolescent children together, they will talk about Minecraft eventually. Then your child will Google “minecraft mods”, and be completely and utterly entranced by having a pet dragon. They will download a mod.
And your computer will be well and truly hosed.
Like losing a knife fight to a leprechaun
Mods are hosted on aggregator sites, and those sites make their living off advertising. The number one kind of advertising on these sites are scummy adware downloader crap.
This is an actual screen grab of a download site. Now I am a fairly technically-savvy person, but I have to stare at this page for a few minutes before I realize I shouldn’t click a SINGLE DAMN THING on the page. Your average minecraft-addicted child? Not a chance. It’s like a sketchy van with a sign on it that says “Free candy”.
Before you know it, your computer has turned into a truck stop bathroom complete with glory holes and feces wallpaper.
Your pop-ups have pop-ups.
Then, to rub some salt into the already nicely lemoned wounds, the little ingrates complains that “The computer doesn’t work”.
STOP FORNICATING ANYTHING THAT BLINKS BOY! ANY GIRL THAT SAYS SHE’LL MAKE YOUR DOWNLOADS FASTER IS A WHORE!
What to do
If you haven’t already, install the ad-blocker extension for the browsers on the computer the kid uses. Your virus detection probably won’t help you much here.
With Ad-Blocker installed, the spammy stuff never loads and instead your child is presented with this:
Ad-blocker is a wonderful thing. Get it now.
The other thing you can do is make sure your child has their own account on the computer, and it’s set up for kids. Mac users have an advantage here over Windows, because Mac OS has much better user-level security controls than Windows. Even with Windows 8, which has the best family safety controls of any Windows version to date, it’s still very possible for a user to inadvertently install an application.
If either of these articles are beyond your technical abilities, find yourselves a good high-school nerd and flash them some side boob/leave out some booze as appropriate.
With these measures in place, you are going to filter out a lot of the bad stuff before it ever gets to your computer. There are still bad guys taking advantage of Minecraft’s popularity to insert viruses into popular mods, but here your more old-fashioned virus protection stuff can help you. I prefer Kapersky, because the company was founded by an Ex-KGB spook, which is pretty badass.
Just keep digging…
As a parent and a gamer, I tried to get into Minecraft but I think the part of me that could build anything other than a house with four walls died somewhere around age 16 so I could never get too into it. All of my kids who are old enough to operate a mouse, however, love it, and it’s fascinating as a parent to watch how each child interacts with the game.
My 6 year old is constantly starting over- building from scratch is part of the fun for him. My 9 year old daughter is stereotypically obsessed with the virtual cats and dogs and horses that populate the game, and my 11 year old has figured out how to connect to other computers so he can swear at other people over the Internet in competitive Minecraft (sometimes called PVP, or player versus player). Overall, it’s been a net-positive for the kids.
There has been some coverage in the media about whether or not it’s an “addiction”, but these are the same old arguments that have been rehashed since I was a kid in the 80s and 60 minutes did a story on how Dungeons and Dragons would cause your kids to commit suicide, or some bullsh**. The world of children only occasionally intersects with reality, and that’s always hard for parents to deal with. Video games are freaking awesome, and they’ve killed off a lot of competition in the entertainment universe.
Like anything else, it just comes down to good old fashioned, low-tech parenting. Turn off the screens, kick them outdoors, and ignore them to the best of your abilities. However, taking a few steps to bubble-wrap your kid’s adventures on the Internet will go a long way to cutting down the amount of PC repair you have to do and prevent any long term damage that might come up.
Shout-out to the Lunatic Autism Mom for the blog post inspiration!