My Life

Children of Minecraft

So my kids love Minecraft.

However, when they started playing with friends, online, I noticed that the servers they played on were filled with a fair bit of inappropriate conversation. Given that I didn’t want to be looking over their shoulder the entire time they played I eventually created my own server. I still monitor it a bit — to ensure they are not being obnoxious to one another — but I was curious about how other parents handle stuff like this.

I come from the games industry and was often frustrated by the negative commentary from media — and some people, including those I knew — that disparaged video games for being violent nonsense. After I had kids though and started seeing how other parents parented, I was shocked by the hypocrisy. People might grumble about videogames but they are sure pleased to be able to throw their kids in front of them. And so many kids play completely inappropriate games — games that clearly state they should only be played by adults. (And I won’t even go into the whole issue of watching inappropriate movies — my kids get to see very few of the blockbuster type movies, yet almost all of their peers have seen them.)

Sometimes I think we are overly strict about monitoring the media our kids are exposed to (and the amount of time they are allowed to play games or watch shows). At other times I think other parents are just inept and bloody lazy.


(And as a sidenote, in case this sounds overly grumpy, I’ve found a good use for our old home phone line. The kids use it as a direct line — on speaker phone — to their friends, when they play Minecraft together. A side benefit of this, despite the constant noise, is that we get to pay attention to how our kids talk to their friends.)

(Okay, a second sidenote. I do have to admit to a bit of sadness. It used to be that my kids wanted to play Minecraft with me. Now, unless I find a particularly exciting mod, they don’t want to play on the server with boring old dad.)

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.


  • linmayting

    We are driven crazy with the inappropriate language and behaviour in online games. We are not gamers, so we were slow to realize what’s happening and how extreme it is. Now we’re in a snarl. Em started with webkinz, club penguin and poptropica and they seemed okay. Friends recommended Minecraft, but she didn’t like it. She said the graphics were lame. It was after she was playing Wizard 101 for awhile that suggestive language and inappropriate behaviour showed up. We tried to find teaching moments and thought for awhile we could help her learn strategies for dealing with bullies. She can teleport away from people and block them. It was upsetting for her and us, but she loved the game. Now she’s nearly 13 now and wants older games and we are so worried. This suggestive language and behaviour is all over TV, which we can monitor, but it’s also at school, which we can’t monitor. Yikes! What have we wrought??

  • Brent Knowles

    Yeah, it’s difficult to know what’s appropriate. Our kids are a bit younger so we’ve got some time to delay things, but eventually I guess we’ll have to trust them a bit. (Which is scary.)

    Or go live in the woods :)
    Let me know if you find any other strategies that work.
    Good luck!

  • officezombie

    This is a bit like the old ‘parenting with TV’ debate that I’ve heard since childhood, but now that I have kids I tend to go easier on parents. My children are too young for video games (my opinion); they’re three.

    However they watch far too much TV. How did that happen? I swore I would never be like those inept and lazy parents who parent via TV. I even got rid of our TV. It doesn’t matter. There are TVs at the daycare. There are computers here and they are connected to the internet, and therefore Netflix. I think it’s important to teach kids about some form of ‘media hygiene’ and to put strict limits in place (no TV after 7) but it’s pretty hard to force them to do something ‘more constructive’ like reading when there is an outlet with so much more …oomph. On top of that we live in the heart of the polar vortex where playing outside is basically a form of torture .

    Once my kids start playing video games I’m pretty sure they’ll tend to be like their dad – playing to the point of excluding everything and everyone else. I am not eager for them to repeat my mistakes.

    The additional issue of being exposed to bad behaviour online makes this even more complex than when I was growing up. Or does it? I was exposed to the bad behaviour of other kids in real life. Wouldn’t that be more troublesome? Although this is the bad behaviour of thousands of other kids, not just a playground.

    Still, if I’m honest with myself I have to lump video games in with the other excesses of modern life: processed food and additives, sedentary lifestyles, exhibitionism. They’re a big part of the giant glittery machine of consumer distractions. Who really needs it? My kids would probably be better off never even knowing of their existence.

    However, this doesn’t jive with my belief that video games can be the highest form of art – interactive, immersive and deeply meaningful. So if I had to say when is it OK for my kids to start playing video games? Five years after leaving college once their careers are fully established?

    Good luck with that, right?

  • Brent Knowles

    Thanks for the great response. We limit the kid’s content but they do still watch a fair bit of Netflix (we don’t have cable). The oldest, who is able to read, will sometimes skip watching shows in favor of reading, which I like. (Though reading itself, can be a bit of an obsession at times too)

    With videogames, because they can be so time consuming, we also initiated a token system… so the kids get a certain number of tokens each week and each allows a half hour of play. We are not completely strict with this, but it serves as a reasonable guideline, I think.

    We also have a giant playroom in the basement, with about a million toys — they often (occasionally?) prefer that over games/tv anyways.

  • James Paten

    My daughter is almost two, so it is often very easy for us to just plop her in front of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Sesame Street while we are cleaning or doing things around the house. However, I feel pretty terrible about this and try to limit how much she is sitting in front of TV a day. Some days, she even doesn’t wind up watching any at all, which is relieving.

    When it comes to video games, I am a little baffled, honestly. I have a nephew who is older than my daughter and saw how amazingly he learned his letters, shapes, colors and numbers at such an early age by some of the games out there, specifically for mobile phone or tablet devices. Yet it often requires a lot of research – you need to find an app for letters, find an app for vocabulary, find an app for numbers, etc. I would have thought that given how effective I’ve seen some of these games be in teaching, that not only would they be incredibly popular, but that there would be some “industry leaders” or even an uber-app, that would be a place where you could buy incremental content to cover a lot of subjects/methods.

    Given how much potential video games have in terms of engaging people, young and old, I’d always been really puzzled that using them as a teaching model hasn’t more widely embraced.

  • Brent Knowles


    Thanks for the comment. I understand the guilt over too much screen time! There’s definitely some days where I get too involved in my work or household chores, when the younger kid is at home (he’s still not in full-time school). We do our best.

    As for the apps, I ran into the same problem as you. We have a wide assortment of programs we use, for various educational paths. I too am curious why there isn’t an uber-app. Even at a the school age level there seems to be a lot of fracturing, with some grades and schools using wildly different apps and online sites. I suspect part of it has to do with licencing deals — we had access to a math website that was fantastic at our kid’s previous school but the current school doesn’t have access to it.

    I would definitely like it though if some of these sites were consolidated… we have a big whack of passwords we have to keep track of!

    I’ve definitely considered working on something like this, but I’m so darn busy with a bunch of other things. That said, if there’s specific issues my kids run into, I do have a homebrew app, where I can add ‘levels’ targeting the weakness.

    Thanks again for the comment.

    Take care,


  • Copeland Casati

    We didn’t do tv or games at all until they were older. Then we started enjoying “movie nights, ” good movies without the flickering commercials.

    Our children are 9 & 11 now, and a teacher friend recommended minecraft as a good logic game. It was quickly apparent many of the kids weren’t raised with the same expectations of vocabulary usage, lol.

    The children solved the problem themselves- they gravitated to other kids’ profiles they had met on scratch (scratch programming via MIT). Not only do the academic kids speak more kindly, they play more nicely. Not much group think (“Hey! Let’s go over here and slay everyone! Arrrrrr!) but team building (“Let’s build a really cool city and discover stuff!”).

  • Brent Knowles

    Though we’ve always let the kids watch shows we have managed to avoid commercials — everything is netflix or movies we’ve bought… we don’t have ‘real tv’. I think the first time my oldest saw commercials was at school — during the lunch hour the kids watch tv while they eat (which sort of horrifies me).

    And that’s awesome, that the kids solved the problems themselves. I’m hoping mine are able to do the same when they are a bit older.

    Thanks for the comment!

    – Brent

  • Randall Newnham

    My kids love Minecraft, but so far, they haven’t gone online. At 5 & 8, that’s a little young. They do watch Minecraft videos on YouTube, though, and sometime the language there is a little much. We just try to stay aware and impose reasonable limits on screen time.

  • Brent Knowles

    I found setting up my own server has been sufficient (for now) to keep the kids interested. My oldest occasionally wants to check out some of the various “minecraft worlds” others host, but once he and his friends start playing on our own server, they have just as much fun. Plus, with a smaller group, I think they can accomplish a bit more. They’ve built some pretty cool castles together and whatnot and its fun watching them cooperate with others.

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