Today we have a guest editorial from Andy Warren as Steve is at SQL in the City - Los Angeles. This was originally published on Feb 23, 2015.
My daughter started playing Minecraft when she was 6 years old. She’s had a computer of her own since she was 3, and as much as I think reasonable, I let her try the games she wants to try. Initially Minecraft seemed OK, then it seemed like every other sentence was about creepers, TNT, and blowing things up, which didn’t seem like a good thing. The answer was creative mode. Think of creative mode as building with Legos where physics only sort of apply (in a helpful way). She took to building things and that grew when I showed her how to build inside a mountain or underground as different approaches.
She wasn’t reading when she started, so she had a lot of questions. Where does a 6 year go for questions, besides me? YouTube! She’d go to YouTube, ask me to spell something, and find videos about how to do whatever task in Minecraft she wanted to know more about. She learned to split the screen so she could watch the video while building/playing on the other half. All good, and quite interesting to see what happens when you combine questions with the ability to get a variety of answers demonstrated.
That led to her wanting “mods”, which are user created plugins for Minecraft. They extend the environment with tools, building options, and a lot more. That’s where things turned painful. Installing mods on a good day isn’t bad. You install Forge and dependencies (Scala? Who would have thought), then you copy the mod file into a folder (that strangely is in %appdata%\Minecraft). Sounds easy, but not all mods work. Not all mods work on all versions of Minecraft. Some have other dependencies, or break if certain other mods are installed at the same time. That’s more than a 6 year old (or her father) really wants to mess with it, but we got it figured out, more or less.
In theory she could then load her own mods. Except…the mod environment on the web is treacherous. Pages are filled with deceptive links, including links to exe downloads that flag as infected. Figuring out which link to click is hard. Hard, annoying, time consuming, dangerous. That lead me to try to explain what was ok to click and what wasn’t. Mostly she gets it, especially when I’ve explained that it’s bad people trying to trick her and she doesn’t like bad people, or being tricked!
Enter Microsoft. They purchased Minecraft. Whether that is a good business decision or not remains to be seen, but there is a huge opportunity there for them to train kids. If they clean up the mod system, make it easier to find and deploy them, and then follow that with tools to let children modify existing mods, or build their own from scratch, I think magic might happen. Kids don’t want to learn to program, they want to do things. That’s why Minecraft works today, and why it could become truly amazing if Microsoft invests in the community and the product in the right ways
As a parent I marvel at how fast kids can learn when the resources are available and they want to learn. I hate having to teach them now about deceptive links and malware, but if not now, when? It feels like more than a worthwhile trade. The learning opportunities are just too valuable to forego.