Minecraft: Beginners Don’t Stay Beginners for Long

by Amy Kraft on May 19, 2014

Minecraft-fun

If you’re an average human being who exists anywhere near computers, you’ve most likely heard of Minecraft. Now, if you’re a game designer who works on games for kids, you’d better know it. Until I had a kid who reached Minecraft age, though, I didn’t motivate myself to give it a go. I just faked my way through conversations about Minecraft based on the volumes I had already read about.

But then Olive hit the age. Most of her class plays it, so she asked to have it. I obliged immediately and we both sat down to give it a try. Within an hour, I was ready to chuck my computer out the window in a frustration rage. I try not to swear in front of the kids, but I might have screamed I JUST WANT TO KNOW HOW TO PUT DOWN THE DAMN BLOCK WHY IS THIS SO HARD I’M MORTIFIED THAT I CAN’T FIGURE THIS OUT DAMN IT DAMN IT DAMN IT! It’s possible that was just in my head, too.

You see, in kids’ games I’m used to scaffolded instruction that eases you into the game mechanics. Not so with Minecraft, but in fairness, it’s not exclusively a kids’ game. We found a list of the keyboard commands, and even modified them to our liking. Though we could navigate the world, we simply couldn’t figure out how to build.

The first step is admitting to the world that you have a problem.

Pete Vigeant, who knows quite a bit about Minecraft and its uses in education, pointed me to very helpful tutorial videos from Minecraft Teacher

The trouble was, right in between video 1 and video 2 was the mystery piece of information I was looking for, which was supplied by Ben Shive. 

Oh, uh…. yeah. We’re Mac people, so while this should have been obvious it just wasn’t. Once the girl was equipped with that piece of information, it was like the floodgates opened. Suddenly she had made a lovely garden to share with her brother.

Minecraft-garden

The next level of floodgate-opening came with two books that we ordered from Scholastic Book Clubs, Minecraft: Essential Handbook and Minecraft: Redstone Handbook. These had exactly the kind of kid-friendly information we were hoping to find online as we started. If you’re looking to sit down with Minecraft for the first time, I highly recommend doing it with these books in hand.

We’re less than two months in from our initial entry into this world, and now Olive is quite the expert. She’s sharing tips with her friends, surfing YouTube (if she didn’t know all of her swear words before, she does now), and experimenting whenever she can. I asked her to put together the top 10 things she’d tell someone just starting out:

1. Right-clicking is how you place blocks. (!!!!!)

2. You should try playing in Creative mode before playing in Survival mode.

3. Creepers don’t die in the sun, but zombies and skeletons do.

4. You can dye sheep. (You get lapis lazuli dye, then right click on a sheep with dye in you hand. It will give you blue wool when you kill the sheep.)

5. You can make wolves into dogs by right clicking on them while holding bones.

6. You can’t place blocks directly on top of redstone dust.

7. If you hook up a dispenser to a redstone circuit, you can get it to shoot anything (like arrows).

8. Villages are useful in Survival mode because you can trade with the villagers, like you can trade wheat for emeralds which are the rarest game. Also, you don’t have to build a house. There are houses you can just walk into.

9. Don’t make your house in a cave or zombies might find you.

10. You can make a dragon by pressing / and typing in “/summon EnderDragon” and when you kill the dragon it will make an End Portal which will take you to the end where there’s another dragon.

That’s right–I looked over her shoulder and my little Daenerys Targaryen had made herself three dragons.

Minecraft-dragons

This past week on YouTube, I pointed her to the work of stampylonghead, who makes epic, hilarious videos that capture how you can use Minecraft for storytelling, humor, and creativity on a grand scale. (Thanks for the recommendation, Melissa Wiley!) Her favorite so far is this one where he dabbles with time travel in the world of Minecraft.

At the moment Olive is working on an amusement park with several roller coasters and rides, but I think the parks best features is the Happy Chicken Diner. It’s shaped like a chicken and only serves chicken. Indoor and outdoor seating are available.

There’s so much more to say about this game, and I’m sure I’ll keep exploring it in future posts. I still need to tell you all the cool uses for Minecraft I learned about at the recent Games for Change Festival, including a panel led by one Pete Vigeant. More blocky goodness coming soon!

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