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January 18, 2018

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Minecraft teaches kids about tech, but there’s a gender imbalance at play.

Jane Mavoa, University of Melbourne and Marcus Carter, University of Sydney

Arguments about “screen time” are likely to crop up in many households with children these holidays. As one of the best-selling digital games of all time, Minecraft will be a likely culprit.

In a recent survey of Australian adults, excessive “screen time” was rated as the top child health concern, but current time limit guidelines are not only criticised by some experts, but also not very achievable for many families.

Thankfully, more practical advice is on the way. We are starting to see research that looks beyond the number of hours spent playing to more meaningful studies about what children are actually doing in their digital playtime.

Our research contributes to this by studying the characteristics of children’s Minecraft play in Australia, shedding light on how kids access the game, assessing the social nature of play, and providing a reality check on claims of gender-neutrality.

Understanding the Minecraft phenomenon

Minecraft is as much a digital playground as it is a digital game. The player controls a character within a virtual environment that can be manipulated in various ways, with varying degrees of difficulty. There is no definitive goal and players are free to create and direct their own playful interactions with the landscape and its inhabitants – either on their own or with other players.

Since it was first officially released in 2011, more than 120 million copies of Minecraft have been sold. The game is one of the most searched terms on YouTube, and in 2016 an educational version was released for use in schools.

Despite these indications of its pervasiveness, no prior work had identified how popular it actually is with children in Australia.

Consequently, we surveyed 753 parents of children aged 3 to 12 living in Melbourne, and recently published our findings in New Media and Society, and the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Computer-Human Interaction in Play.


Read more: Tapping into kids’ passion for Minecraft in the classroom


The results show that 53% of children aged 6 to 8, and 68% of children aged 9 to 12, are actively playing Minecraft. More than half of those play more than once per week.

It is now clear that Minecraft is no passing fad, but rather a new addition to 21st-century play repertoires. It is crucial that we form a detailed understanding of how children use the game and how this fits in with their overall “play worlds”.

Minecraft is a social activity

Reflecting the rise of the tablet computer in children’s digital play, more than 70% of children aged 3 to 8 primarily play Minecraft on a tablet. This falls to 50% in children aged 9 to 12, with a corresponding increase in PC-based play where more technologically challenging play is possible.

Despite the persistent myth that digital game play is a solitary activity, 80% of children in our sample at times played Minecraft with someone else – including siblings, friends, parents, other relatives or other players online. And nearly half most often played with someone else.

Although there is evidence that co-play between parents and children is one of the more effective ways to maximise the benefits of digital play, only 11% of parents reported ever playing Minecraft with their children.

Minecraft is not gender-neutral



The game’s creator claims gender ‘doesn’t exist’ in Minecraft, but our results show significant differences in rates of Minecraft play in boys and girls.
kjarrett/flickr

Minecraft is often referred to as equally appealing to both boys and girls. The game’s creator, Notch, has claimed that “gender doesn’t exist” in Minecraft, and popular discourse commonly refers to young children’s digital play in titles like Minecraft as gender-neutral.

But our study shows that this does not appear to be reflected in actual player demographics.

We found that girls aged 3 to 12 are much less likely to play Minecraft than boys, with 54% of boys playing and only 32% of girls. This difference was greatest in younger children: 68% of boys aged six to eight in our study played Minecraft, but only 29% of girls.

This is important, because young children’s digital play is connected to the development of their confidence and literacy with digital technology.


Read more: How to keep more girls in IT at schools if we’re to close the gender gap


What’s more, the players who most often play in the game’s more competitive “survival” mode are more likely to be boys. Girls are more likely to play in the game’s “creative” mode.

The research that supports campaigns like Let Toys Be Toys would suggest that this may be due to the broader marketing of digital games as “for boys”, even if Minecraft is for everyone.

The most striking gender difference was in relation to YouTube videos. While 32% of six to eight-year-old boys had watched Minecraft YouTube videos in the week prior to their parent taking the survey, only 9% of girls had. So not only is Minecraft play gendered, but so too is early immersion in the surrounding gamer culture.

Digital gaming can pave the way to careers in STEM

Children are increasingly required to bring iPads to school. The government (highlighting the benefits of STEM fields to the economy) casts the tech-savvy child a in central role in visions of “Australia’s future prosperity and competitiveness on the international stage”.

There is mounting evidence that Minecraft can be used to foster interest and skill in the kinds of areas that are relevant to STEM industry careers. And involvement with gamer culture is a likely inroad to interest in gaming and technological pursuits later on in life.


Read more: How Minecraft could help teach chemistry’s building blocks of life


This is why the dominance of tablet play and the significant gender differences are so important. We need to look at why these differences exist and understand them in more detail.

It is only through this kind of information that we will be able to ask meaningful research questions and form advice for parents that maximises benefits of Minecraft play, while reducing any possible harms.

This work will ultimately mean that future advice is based more on the realities of children’s everyday practices and less on policing the clock.

The ConversationIn the meantime, we recommend checking out the “Parenting for a digital future” blog for practical tips on how to strike the right balance when it comes to managing screen time – including Minecraft play.

Jane Mavoa, PhD candidate researching children’s play in digital games, University of Melbourne and Marcus Carter, Lecturer in Digital Cultures, SOAR Fellow., University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Have you noticed that apps are mainly marketed towards one gender?

Share your comments below

  • Interesting, both girls and boys I know played this, and moved on to the latest as they got a bit older.

    Reply

  • I have never noticed which one of my kids play the most different games. My concern is their content. Children are developing eye, neck and shoulder problems a lot younger than they used to. Only difference in lifestyle for a lot of toddlers upwards is small screens playing games – tilting their necks forward to get the eyes down closer to the screens. There has been several articles written about it because of studies because of the large increase increase in those problems

    Reply

  • Interesting article, but my girls loved this game and we never really thought of it being gender based

    Reply

  • Thank you for the interesting and thorough article.

    Reply

  • Interesting, because I know a lot of girls who love and play Minecraft.

    Reply

  • Minecraft and Roblox are played by both genders in this house and often with many friends playing at the same time.

    Reply

  • Aren’t we supposed to be making our kids gender neutral? So girls can play these so called boy games anyway. Sone people are just too easily influenced by the media

    Reply

  • My daughters really enjoy Minecraft however they did begin playing it after hearing about the game from boys in their classroom.

    Reply

  • I’d be interested to know who sampled this study and the sample size. I can only speak from my experience but almost all of the girls in my daughter’s class at school play minecraft and my sister and brother’s kids (both sexes) all play it with equal excitement.

    Reply

  • all of our older kids played it, boys and girls. I don’t care who markets what and how, my job as the parent is to encourage my kids to try the things they are interested in whether that is sports or games or clothing, as long as they don’t break the law, I am happy

    Reply

  • I have 4 nieces and the only one that doesn’t play minecraft, is still only 2. This small study may have found there tends to be more boys playing, but that doesn’t mean its a “boys game”. Also how does one digital game in the study show digital games are marketed for boys? I think a lot more research is needed before coming to that kind of conclusion.

    Reply

  • The mindcraft sessions at our local library have just as many girls there as boys. I’m not likely to overthink this one.

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  • My daughter loves Minecraft. She started playing it when she was around 8-9 years old. I never thought it was marketed to boys. And a lot of her girlfriends used to play it too!

    Reply

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