If you are a parent of kids over the age of 5, the chances are good that you are well acquainted with Mojang's popular online game "Minecraft."
You have probably dropped a few buzzwords like "Steve," "Creepers," "Baby Zombie Pigman" in an effort to pretend you have been listening when your young "Minecraft" fan prattled on about a mod or whatever-it's-called. You might have eaten a vibrant green and brown cupcake at a kid's birthday party and recognized the theme at work.
Most of all, you have probably requested that a child get off the game. Then, perhaps, demanded it. Then, possibly, you hid the "Minecraft"-supplying device after all kinds of ultimatums (yours) and loud protestations (your kids') and went to bed that night still cursing the "Minecraft" name under your breath.
If somehow you have escaped all this... please share your secrets.
What is "Minecraft?"
"Minecraft" is a single or multi-player game that in essence gives kids the ability to build their own worlds, complete with houses and pets and resources and even enemies who might creep up on them at night and attack.
After selling a reported 176 million copies worldwide as of May 2019 and counting and with 200 million registered users, there's no denying "Minecraft" is a phenomenon — and for some, almost seemingly addictive.
But is "Minecraft" bad for kids?
Is it giving them the keys to a kingdom that could quickly turn into "Lord of the Flies" in the wrong hands?
"Minecraft is online Legos," parenting and child development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa told TODAY Parents. "Could a kid go rogue on 'Minecraft,' create something inappropriate, or focus on gore and destruction? It is possible.
"But that's not the purpose or the focus of the game," she said, "and most 'Minecraft' obsessions make kids more creative, improve their cognitive flexibility and working memory, and give them opportunities to feel great about their nerdy skills."
So the game itself is not all bad. NBC News even used it to help explain who owns the moon once. But what about all that screen time?
Conscientious parents, take heart: A 2017 study published in the journal Child Development by researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University found that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines for managing children's screen time might be a bit alarmist — or even misguided.
While the AAP recommends limiting screen time for young children to 1-2 hours a day, the Oxford study found that moderate screen use above the AAP's recommended limits might actually contribute positively to the well-being of children.
"‘If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time," lead author Dr. Andrew Pryzbylski of the Oxford Internet Institute wrote in the paper. "Future research should focus on how using digital devices with parents or care-givers and turning it into a social time can affect children’s psychological wellbeing, curiosity, and the bonds with the caregiver involved.’"
While the findings might be comforting, they don't solve the exhausting problem of trying to teach children how to balance life in their virtual worlds with life in their real worlds. Maybe if we enrolled them in schools they could attend in their "Minecraft" mods, our kids would show more enthusiasm for math homework?
This story was first published on Aug. 20, 2018, and has been updated.