What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a seemingly endless single-player and multi-player sandbox game - a term which basically describes a game in which you're free to do pretty much whatever you want. When it comes to Minecraft, you're given an open world which you can explore, and the ability to build almost anything you can imagine out of blocks. You'll be chopping down trees, digging up soil, and mining rock to gather resources/collect new blocks, while filling in or creating areas of water to create your perfect world. With no real story, the whole point of Minecraft is to be creative, placing your blocks of collected materials to create anything you want, from a simple shack to a massive mansion.
How do you play Minecraft?
There are several different modes to choose from here, each offering a different take on the create-your-world format. In Creative mode, the game focuses almost entirely around the construction aspect, granting you the ability to fly, and place unlimited amounts of the game's material blocks without having to worry about gathering them first.
However, the game's original and default mode, Survival, plays out a little bit differently. Instead of an unlimited supply of blocks with which to build, here, you have to gather them first, digging up soil and stone, knocking down walls of dirt, and chopping down trees for raw materials. In Survival mode, you can only build safely during the day time, too - at night, enemies roam the land, and will attack should you stray outside of your shelter. In Survival, you'll also get hungry, and will need to eat food that you grow, hunt, or cook. If you don't eat, you'll eventually pop your clogs.
With support for up to four players in split-screen, and up to eight players online (or many more on PC), Minecraft can be an incredibly collaborative experience. On console, you have the choice of setting up a public game (where anyone can join) or a private game (where only your friends can join) - or, you can choose to play on your own. Online multiplayer will require a Playstation Plus subscription on PS4 or PS3, and an Xbox Live Gold subscription on Xbox 360 or Xbox One.
How easy is Minecraft to pick up and play?
Despite its huge scope, Minecraft isn't too tricky for people to get stuck into. There's a substantial tutorial on the console versions, which talks you through the basics of gathering materials, crafting said materials into better items, and even constructing buildings to stay safe. The sheer scale of this can be discouraging at first, but with a sensible approach, and a bit of persistence, it can all be learnt fairly easily. There's also a wealth of information online should you get stuck.
The game automatically saves your game, so there's little chance of losing a substantial amount of progress should something go wrong. In Survival mode, there is an in-game clock, so day will become night, which is when most of the monsters come out. You can fast forward to morning by sleeping in a bed, or you can play through the night.
For the youngest of players, with little in the way of a story, there's no constant reading requirement - although as the tutorial is relayed entirely through text, you'll either need to be a confident reader, or have someone sit down and explain the game to you to begin with.
Sample sentences include:
- "Hold R2 to chop down four blocks of wood (tree trunks). When a block breaks you can pick it up by standing near to the floating item that appears, causing it to appear in your inventory."
- "Horses, Donkeys and Mules must be tamed before they can be used. A horse is tamed by attempting to ride it, and managing to stay on the horse while it attempts to throw the ride off"
In terms of mature content, there's little in Minecraft that parents should be aware of. There's nothing in the way of bad language in the game itself, and equally little in the way of sexual content. Animals can reproduce, but not in the conventional way - instead, if you feed two of the same type of animal (they are not assigned genders) a certain food product, they will "fall in love" and seconds later a baby version will appear. For example, giving wheat to two cows will produce a calf.
While there is some slapstick violence here, it's a long way from realistic - whenever you or a monster are attacked, you/they will simply jump backwards. When they die, they disappear and sometimes leave behind items. It's important to note, however, that the easiest way to get some items is to kill animals - while you can get leather through fishing (it sometimes shows up as junk), the easiest way to get it is to kill a cow, and without leather, you can't make leather items.
The aforementioned night-time monster attacks, however, can be sufficiently unsettling to cause younger players to be at least wary, if not scared.
While the game itself is reasonably family friendly, it does have a significant online component. While things are a little safer on console, as you can only join a friend's game, the ability to play in worlds with other players does add an element of uncertainty, with other players able to add profanities and suggestive imagery to their creations. As worlds aren't externally moderated, there's no guarantees as to what your child may/may not see if they play in other worlds.