I need to mine your knowledge about minecraft
March 15, 2012 5:04 PM   Subscribe

My kid wants to play Minecraft. I am not a gamer. Please help me answer questions regarding system requirements, appropriateness and how to get him started when I really don't want to get involved at all!

My almost-9-year-old kid lives for gaming. I've accepted that, and limited my role to policing game appropriateness (is that a word?) and the length of time he is allowed to play.

So now he's really gotten into Minecraft on the iPad, but wants to switch to the computer-based game to get the full experience. I got questions.

#1: Because I need my (newer mac) desktop to be free for me to use, I'd like him to be playing on my (older mac) laptop. It is a PowerBook G4 running 10.5.8. The processor: 1.33 GHz PowerPC G4. Will this work? Do you need more info to determine if it'll work? If yes, please explain it to me in baby terms.

#1A: Or is there a way to play the full experience of the game on the iPad? That would be ideal.

#2: How can I quickly get up to speed about what Minecraft is? I don't have a ton of time to devote to this, and frankly gaming bores me to hell and back. But I'm trying to understand enough so I can responsibly determine if this is truly an appropriate game for him. He's been playing on the iPad and, at least as that version is currently configured, he's totally alone within the game. Which is great. Will it be that way on the "real" Minecraft?

#3: What do I really need to know that I'm too ignorant to even be asking?

#4: Above all, what do I need to do to keep my kid safe?

(I've seen a bunch of previous questions, like this one, but they're mostly geared toward knowledgeable parents introducing their child to the game.)

Thank you, from a non-gaming parent.
posted by BlahLaLa to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Minecraft is very RAM (memory) and graphics card (GPU) intensive. Looking at this website it would appear that the Powerbook you speak of has 512MB of RAM and a 64MB GPU (that's assuming the highest-spec 17" version).

I have 4GB of RAM and a (I think) 2GB graphics card running on a recentish Intel processor (can't even remember what it is exactly) and Minecraft can still be pretty chuggy, depending on the 'Draw Distance' you set in the Minecraft Settings (or Options). Draw Distance means just that - it's how far into the distance the game "draws" the environment, so as a rough example a very high "draw distance" would mean you could see, say, a mountain range many game "miles" away, but a very low "draw distance" would mean you could only see, say, a few game "yards" in front of you, and the rest would be basically a misty haze.

Performance also depends on what is happening in the game. If your son is just playing around with his own "world" then performance will be better than if he was online and playing in a networked "world", where there are many other players, all doing various things and constructing stuff of varying sizes.

But on this old Powerbook of yours, I'm not even sure that setting the "draw distance" to its absolute minimum and keeping the game offline would do much good. Others with Macs will be able to provide more accurate assessments, however.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:14 PM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: But in specific response to your #2, yes, you can easily keep your son offline in the "full" version of Minecraft, and have him only playing around in his own world, where he will not encounter other players (this is actually the best way to play it, if you ask me). He will be perfectly safe here, and you can even turn off the game's "nasties" (zomblies and skellingtons and such) if you're concerned about that.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:17 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Single-player Minecraft has zombies and other creatures but you can turn these off and play it in creative (single player) mode, making it very kid friendly. In creative mode you get all the buildings blocks from the very start so it's super easy to get started. There's also a multi-player available and this would expose your kid to all kinds of people on the net.

Probably the biggest challenge with Minecraft is figuring what to do with it. It's a sandbox where you can build anything but there are no goals, missions, levels, etc.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:22 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

"#2: How can I quickly get up to speed about what Minecraft is?"

You know Lego? Yeah, it's that, but with a few environmental additions such as weather and (easily killed but amusingly effective/annoying) monsters. Building, destroying, hitting stuff - it's absolutely brilliant for a 9 year old, he'll have a great time, and if you limit him to the single player mode only, he can play by himself as he has done on the iPad.

Additional information: the multi-player option requires you to input a server name or number, so unless he has friends that have their own server and play online, it's highly unlikely that he'll even bother using that. You have to register the account he'll use online, so it will be easy for you to log in and check the multiplayer section to make sure he's not been using shared servers without letting you know (they're saved on the screen for ease of use). You could also disconnect the computer from the internet if you wanted, but try and remember to connect every once in a while so that he can update the game with new features and bugfixes. Mojang are adding new stuff all the time for free (recent example: KITTIES!), and I don't know if that aspect of customer support is going to end any time soon.

You also might want to check out the Minecraft Wiki to help familiarise yourself with how the game works (I'm not sure what the iPad version is like in comparison to the full game) and give him a few guides to building new things if he gets bored or stuck. There's a LOT to this game and hardly any of it is obvious. At least to me. I'm 27 :(
posted by saturnine at 5:34 PM on March 15, 2012

I can't speak to computer stuff. My daughter plays on an old-ish laptop (almost four years old, or so), it's a bit laggy but runs fine.

Does your son have friends who play? My daughter plays on a server run by friends of ours, with a bunch of other kids and the occasional parent of those kids. She LOVES playing with her friends, they're also often on skype, planning, chatting, building. And I love that she has a safe place to play and I don't have to watch like a worried hen. Playing with her friends definitely adds a lot to her enjoyment of the game, but I definitely wouldn't want her signing onto just any old server.
posted by upatree at 5:43 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Which size Powerbook is it, and how much RAM does it have? If it's the 12", the video card might just be useless for Minecraft. You might be pushing it with 512 MB of RAM - Minecraft likes at least a gigabyte.
posted by WasabiFlux at 5:49 PM on March 15, 2012

Response by poster: @WasabiFlux (or anyone else): Um, the PowerBook's screen appears to be about 12" diagonally. Is that what you mean? How can I determine what videocard I have? And how much RAM I have? Sorry, but you really have to do slow talking with me on this. I know nothing about computers.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:56 PM on March 15, 2012

Response by poster: This is some of the system info. Does it shed light on the subject?
Model Name: PowerBook G4 12"
Model Identifier: PowerBook6,4
Processor Name: PowerPC G4 (1.1)
Processor Speed: 1.33 GHz
Number Of CPUs: 1
L2 Cache (per CPU): 512 KB
Memory: 1.25 GB
Bus Speed: 167 MHz
Boot ROM Version: 4.8.3f1
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:58 PM on March 15, 2012

Even with the (apparently) upgraded RAM, I can pretty much guarantee you that this machine will not run Minecraft remotely comfortably, if at all. Sorry.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:06 PM on March 15, 2012

That should be plenty of memory for Minecraft, but I still doubt the video card. I've tried to play Minecraft on my first-gen black MacBook, and it's playable, but it can get slow in some places. The video card on your Powerbook is considerably slower, as far as I can tell.
posted by WasabiFlux at 6:08 PM on March 15, 2012

1. I would expect that computer, with video settings turned all the way down, to really struggle. It'd probably be . . . okay? Maybe? Probably not as smooth as the iPad, though.

2. It's legos. Except with an infinite number of legos. and Zombies. The game (really it's more of a toy and less of a game) really comes into its own in multiplayer, but the community is fairly xbox-live-toxic in most places, and a kid of that age almost certainly needs an adult buddy to watch him if they're going to do multiplayer.

3. That's probably all you need to know unless you have some outside-the-norm principles. There's some very cartoony "violence", the player can eat pork (even uncooked!), and you use coal to cook things. There's no caffeine, though. But, no, it's a pretty simple game.

4. Just keep him offline and there shouldn't be anything to worry about.
posted by toomuchpete at 6:08 PM on March 15, 2012

My 8yo plays on a network server with me in "survival mode" (zombies, skeleton etc), we go exploring caves and building large things. The 5yo prefers "creative mode" to just fly around, building things, blowing things up and spawning all manner of creatures (who don't do anything in creative mode).

I am not sure about the ppc running minecraft, but I guess if you can get a recent Java for PPC then it would probably work. I have a MacPro 4cores with 8800GT (4GB) and that just runs fine.
You can get the free copy of minecraft and just try it. But I would say it can not run it at all well.

1. Minecraft likes memory more than GFX power, but it needs both
1A. Minecraft on ipad is very cut down, does not really have a game yet.
2. Single player its like being in a brand new world, where you have to survive. At first, build house, make fire, make axe, and sword to survive nights. The start getting resources, iron, gold, diamonds to get better things. Some 'killing' of the mob creatures, but no gore at all. In fact, long term you spend more time farming, animals for eating, growing watermelons, wheat etc. Building better and finer houses, and exploring dark scary caves.
You can connect to multiplayer servers, but you generally need to know their addresses. Huge worlds, so no problem being alone even on a multiplayer server. If you are worried about abuse, you can only send txt messages, not voice chat cursing like in xbox live. We play on a multiplayer server run by us parents, so we know everyone who plays on it.

I recently build a Gamer PC with my 8yo, and when playing minecraft, it is way over powerful. Also plays NFS The Run, Skyrim, Crysis 2, Portal 2. (Portal 2 co-op between PC and Mac is excellent). However, the laptop (dual core 2.8) is not at all enough to play it. It is horrible even at lowest setting.

The kids loved NFSTheRun, Portal 2 and Minecraft. Don't care about the other games at all.

The Gamer PC
Minecraft on PC (That's the 5yo's 'home')
5yo with favourite new creepers
Me and 8yo building PC
posted by lundman at 6:11 PM on March 15, 2012

Just to add, I was playing on a 2007 Macbook Pro, and it was getting pretty laggy. I have an older Powerbook that is probably somewhat similar to yours, and no, Minecraft was not playable. The lag was almost impenetrable. The just too graphics intensive.

It is, however, a great kids game. I introduced it to my friend, who subsequently introduced MC to his two boys (then aged 5.5 and 9) and they LOVE it. They play on single-player, usually on creative mode, and so they're not playing with other people. It's perfectly safe that way.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:12 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's totally, 100% kid appropriate. I can't think of anything possibly objectionable about it, unless you're a vegetarian. It's also a great way to learn about computers and logic, too, because there is something called 'redstone' in it that let's you build basically any kind of electronic circuit.

It will almost certainly not run on a powerbook, though. I've got a brand new macbook air, and the performance on that is 'okay', but not wonderful.

It's coming out on XBox very soon, though.

I have to say, you might be missing a bonding opportunity with your kid if you just dismiss the idea of playing the game with him out of hand. Minecraft is a great game for kids and adults to play together at the same level. If you can get a server running in your house, you can build castles together, and monster traps and houses and basically anything you can imagine. Even if you're not playing at the same time. I'm sure you're going to hear a lot of stories about parents playing it with their kids in this thread.

If you give the game a little bit of time, it's really a beautiful, thought-provoking game.
posted by empath at 6:39 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm loving these answers so far. Thanks for all the input. I'm resigned to the fact that the old laptop won't work. But now I"m getting nervous that my desktop isn't powerful enough either. I've got a 1-year-old Mac Mini running 10.6.8. Here are the details:
Model Identifier: Macmini4,1
Processor Name: Intel Core 2 Duo
Processor Speed: 2.4 GHz
Number Of Processors: 1
Total Number Of Cores: 2
L2 Cache: 3 MB
Memory: 2 GB
Bus Speed: 1.07 GHz
Boot ROM Version: MM41.0042.B00
SMC Version (system): 1.65f2
Whaddya think?
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:42 PM on March 15, 2012

Mac mini should be fine -- might even be able to run it at max graphics settings.
posted by empath at 6:44 PM on March 15, 2012

Why not just try the game on the various systems? If you don't have a subscription, you can borrow mine (just to test it out, you'll have to buy it eventually! ;) ) Memail me for details
posted by The otter lady at 6:59 PM on March 15, 2012

the Mini ought to be fine - I can play Minecraft OKish on a 2008-era black MacBook, which is similar CPU-wise. your machine has far better video hardware than it, though, and a newer-generation processor. I would upgrade the RAM, though; 2GB is pretty paltry these days and RAM is dirt cheap.
posted by mrg at 7:44 PM on March 15, 2012

Also, the website has a free (much older version) of it available. It won't be good for actually playing, but it should provide a decent test of hardware specs.
posted by CrystalDave at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2012

My 11 year old is a big Minecraft fan. I would say the free game is absolutely fine, the youtube videos are usually not great (language, mostly, some drug references) although they are occasionally quite good and have some inspiring building projects highlighted.

We got my son a low cost private server service that he can set to include a specific group of friends (knowing only their minecraft login name). Advantage: no strangers/adults in the space, and it is focussed on their 11 year old interests and skill level.

We are letting him act as op and there have been some issues (of boys destroying each others stuff) which he has been able to handle, and that has actually been a good process.

For a younger kid, if he has friends in minecraft, and you want to go the private server I'd say you would need to be the operator who sets controls and rules, fortunately this is very easy.

Overall, I think it is a great game--generally positive experience with the community, lots of opportunity to be creative and original, not following a strict script in the game.
posted by chapps at 11:47 PM on March 15, 2012

In answer to #2, kids pick up games like this really quickly, and the learning curve is part of the fun. My cousin's daughter is into Moshi Monsters - he told me how he decided to sit down for half an hour and try and figure out how it all works, but ended up none the wiser. His daughter, however, is well-versed in its nuances.

Minecraft is a nice safe environment for your kid to mess around him - don't worry too much if you don't have any idea what's going on though.
posted by hnnrs at 4:00 AM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: I can't answer the tech specs, although I play Minecraft on an ancient PC and while it's kind of laggy, it runs, but I can answer the other questions.

#2: How can I quickly get up to speed about what Minecraft is? It's a sandbox game. There aren't any rules or quests or things you have to do. You start out with nothing and gather natural resources to keep yourself alive and build stuff. The monsters come out at night, so you need to make sure you have shelter at night. Your first day you need to find coal for torches and make yourself some sort of shelter. Everything after that is gravy. There, that's it, you're up to speed about what Minecraft is. For specific questions, the Minecraft wiki is really helpful - I have linked you to the page that shows all the crafting recipes, which he will need. The forums, not so much.

#3: What do I really need to know that I'm too ignorant to even be asking? There really isn't anything more to it. No, seriously. Except! I did think of one thing. You pretty much have to kill animals to make it through and even if you don't kill animals (it's possible to be vegetarian) your pet animals will die and disappear and I can see where that might be a bit heart wrenching for some kids. The other hint I have is that you can set the levels from peaceful - no monsters at all to easy - monsters are easy to kill to normal to hard and you can change this setting any time you want within the game without disturbing anything. The way to do this is while you're in the game, hit escape to get a menu screen. Click on Options, click on difficulty. That's all there is to it. I recommend setting the game to peaceful when you're exploring caves, at least at first, because caves are full of monsters and it's scary down there.

#4: Above all, what do I need to do to keep my kid safe? Minecraft is perfectly appropriate and even great for kids - I wish it had come along when mine were younger! Your only worry might be the multi player games on servers where he could run into the usual kind of creeps who populate multi player games in general. To solve that, just tell him he can only play single player - the offline/online distinction above is kind of confusing because even when you're playing single player you are logged in to minecraft.net. It's not that easy or intuitive to play multi player - you have to know a server, get a password, etc., so I don't think you really need to lock him down. He might even have a bunch of friends who already have a server, in which case, let him play!
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:00 AM on March 16, 2012

Can I tag on to his question?

My nephews are 4-5 years old -- is that too young for minecraft? Would they be able to understand how it works if I got it for them?
posted by empath at 8:54 AM on March 16, 2012

how to get him started when I really don't want to get involved at all!

Would just like to jump in and say that Minecraft can be a wonderful collaborative project between kids and parents, even when otherwise hanging out with mom and dad is "so lame."
posted by xedrik at 10:14 AM on March 16, 2012

I would say that 4-5 is too young for Minecraft, empath.

On MeFightClub, there are many, many Minecraft folks who would be able to answer this question quite well, and perhaps even be able to address the concerns re:appropriateness (even on multiplayer). In fact, the Aporkalypse is a VERY kid-friendly server, other than the tendency for swearing in chat (text, not voice).

If I knew someone who religiously appeared in both MeFi and MeFightClub I'd recommend them popping in here to answer, or contact you directly... let me see if I can find someone. I'm not going to be much help in the system requirements part since I've only played it on two machines and haven't had much experience trying to get it running on older ones.
posted by snapped at 12:47 PM on March 16, 2012

My nephews are 4-5 years old -- is that too young for minecraft? Would they be able to understand how it works if I got it for them?

I know people with younger kids who love minecraft, but I'm under the impression that there is a little bit of co-play going on (ie kids and parents playing together), so you might need to join in to get them started?
posted by -harlequin- at 11:06 PM on March 16, 2012

empath: Each kid is different of course. My youngest is 5 (turned last month), and loves playing minecraft. Usually in 'creative' mode. Yesterday he whipped up a nice red-stone circuit using switches and timed pistons to push sand into a pit to trap creepers. Likes to build train-tracks, bridges and all that. He's fast enough on the controls that it can be hard to keep up.

Having said that, when his house gets blown-up by creepers, he can cry, poor fellow (lets get him a present!) I tend to help him rebuild, and show it is not "really broken" and can be fixed. It is after all, just a game.
posted by lundman at 8:13 PM on March 18, 2012

Hope this isn't hijacking, but my 9 yo is into minecraft too and I haven't had time to do enough research to really teach her anything about how to build and how to play. Does anyone know of a minecraft video tutorial that isn't too boring for a kid (the one linked on the minecraft site is pretty slow).

posted by latkes at 9:15 AM on March 24, 2012

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