No doubt if you have kids of a certain age, then you are used to them spending a lot of time in Minecraft. One of the benefits of the game and its open approach to game-play is the ability to play with other people. But how can you be sure that your kids are safe playing Minecraft on-line?
First, lets address the different versions of the game available. Each version has a slightly different take on multi-player:
Playstation, Wii-U & XBox – Can play with friends only
PC & Pocket Edition (Android & iOS) – Play on servers both on the internet and on a local network
The console versions are an easy option for single player and with split-screen mode you can have a quick multi-player game without any concerns. However split-screen only works obviously if you are in the same room, but it’s great for us parents to have a go too (Without having to buy a separate copy of the game). Think of it like sitting down to play with lego, how often as an adult have you ended up spending longer than they do building!
The multi-player aspect on the console version as we mentioned above is limited to your friends list, so in theory you will know who they are playing against.
However we need to raise the issue of voice chat, unlike the PC version, the console version has voice-chat included as part of the game. This is fine if it is their real friends but if they have added strangers from the internet with the intention of playing against them it could be risky. There are forums where well meaning parents have advertised their kids names with the intention of connecting to play on-line together with other kids, we’d recommend against this practice.
So while the console versions are safer in theory there are some differences, be sure to be aware of who they are adding as friends.
PC & Pocket Edition
The PC & Pocket Edition (Including the new Windows 10 edition which is a rebrand of Pocket Edition) all allow you to connect to public servers and use the new “Realms” service from Mojang. There are lot of public servers to choose from, many with custom maps and mini-games ready to play.
As the PC version does not have voice chat, often these servers will advertise a server for TeamSpeak, a software programme that allows those playing on that server to use voice chat. However they do not have to use it and if TeamSpeak is not installed then there is no issue. If they are playing with friends on PC and want to voice chat then I recommended they use Skype whilst playing.
We then have text chat to consider which can still be on occasion unsuitable for kids. It is possible to hide the chat window by clicking on “Options”, “Chat Settings” and selecting “Chat:Hidden”. However on some servers this might make it difficult to use required commands. Thus there is another option to have that be “Chat:Commands Only”, meaning that they can type commands but not participate in the chat. However they will still see any chat going on. A common sense approach is needed to stress to kids not to share any private information in on-line chat as with any on-line interaction.
Many public servers are loosely moderated in that they have rules about bullying, hate speech and other negative activities and users breaching these rules can be banned but it’s not full-proof. You should visit the websites for these servers to understand their rules (e.g. Hypixel or TitanMC).
Another option is to use a family friendly server, there are lots of on-line moderated servers that are vetted to ensure they are safe for kids.
If you have more than one PC in the home that can run Minecraft then you might want to consider setting up a LAN multi-player game. This uses your Local Area Network (LAN) to allow the players to play together. As you are communicating internally this is one of the safest options available but obviously requires multiple devices and accounts.
When playing Minecraft for PC simply select “Open to LAN” in the settings, then “Start LAN World”. On the other PC connect to the hosts IP address and port (Which it will have given you started the LAN World when it said something similar to “Local game hosted on port 10176”). Thus your server might be “192.168.0.2:10176” where 192.168.0.2 is the internal IP address of your host computer. Thus other PC’s on the network can connect to that (We know that’s probably a bit confusing so shout in the comments if you get stuck!).
Pocket Edition comes with a LAN multi-player facility build in, if you have two devices on the same WIFI network then they can join the same world. Using the first device simply login to a local world and then on the second device when you look at the world list it should show there is a Multi-player world available.
Realms is Mojang’s own internet server facility, it offers a simple multi-player option without the need to remember server addresses.
Realms allows up to 10 people to play in a shared environment at any time, for a small monthly fee. As the host you can see who has joined and change game modes. Unfortunately you cannot add any mods to your server although you are able to upload a map if you already have one. Realms is an easy option as there is no server IP to setup, just login and select Realms. You will then see any Realms you have paid for or been invited to join.
It is important to note that anyone can invite another player to their Realms server if they know their username, thus your child may be invited to Realms where they do not know the person hosting that realm so they should take care where they do not necessarily know the host.
Custom Minecraft Server
Running your own Minecraft server through a company such as BisectHosting is a relatively cheap affair but gives you more control. We host our own server through Bisect and it couldn’t be simpler with a simple control panel that builds the server for you, and it’s even easier to add mods to the server. As with Realms you can also upload your own map.
We went with the “Budget Package 4” which allows up to 24 players at any one time and has a 2GB server RAM for $5.98 per month. Although you could go for their “Budget Package 1” at $1.99 to get started. It really depends on how big the world you intend to create is and how many players you want at any one time.
The benefit is you then have full control over the multi-player environment, by creating a white list (Specifying exactly what usernames are allow to connect) or even using a password on the server. The downside is your kids friends will need to know the address of the server to connect.
We’ll cover the set-up of a server in another post but for now, this is the avenue I chose and it means my boy can play safely on our server whilst being able to build together in a closed world.
As with anything on the Internet and kids, the best avenue is education. Teaching your kids that whatever anyone says on-line to be cautious as you don’t know them in real life, teach them to be net savvy.
That aside there are a number of options that we have detailed above in how you can help them to play on-line in a safe(ish) environment. I for one love having our own server that myself and our boy can play on and build away knowing it’s a safe place.
On occasion we will join other public servers but only under supervision and only on servers I know are well moderated. We usually spend that time together whilst either in the same room or connected via Skype (When he happens to be in his bedroom playing).
Minecraft doesn’t have to be a solitary game, it’s relaxing and fun for parents too!