The Psychology of Minecraft

Jan 21, 2016

I remember years ago when I heard of a little game called Minecraft. At this point in time it was not released, but was still in beta and available for purchase. My friends had all gotten in and were creating a world together. Looking at screenshots of the game and hearing their tales of phallic monuments just didn’t interest me. I chalked it up as dumb and moved on with my gaming life.

Years later Minecraft released and turned out to be a big success.  Millions of people play it and it’s available on just about every gaming platform there is. I guess Minecraft isn’t as dumb as I thought it was.  Then my son started playing it. How he got interested I’m not entirely sure, but since catching the Minecraft bug I’ve bought three different versions of it for him, he’s constantly watching Youtubers play it, or he’s playing it himself.

In kid terms, Minecraft is his world.  The point of this was driven painfully home when I accidently deleted his world. The result of this was a crying fit that could only be sated by the promise to create another house for him.

My big take away from this event was my son, muttering through his tears that I had deleted “His house”. His creation, in this instance his house, was a expression of himself.  Despite creating him a new house myself, “it just wasn’t the same”. His house was his own. Something he created that reflected himself as a person.

You may not know this about me, but I work in the mental health field. More specifically with elementary school kids with behavior or emotional difficulties. I’m surrounded by elementary children on the daily basis.  These children love Minecraft too and I’ve watched many children play Minecraft over the years.  The amazing thing is that each child plays Minecraft different.

Kids love Minecraft

Kids love Minecraft

Within counseling there is a technique called Play Therapy. Essentially a counselor will watch a child play or engage them in play, and through the course of play a counselor will be able to pick our themes within the child’s play which may indication inner thoughts they have. I believe Minecraft could be used for play therapy purposes. Mojang recently announced an educational edition of their game to be used in schools, perhaps other applications are not far-fetched.

My son is a blatant rule follower and love structure. Watching him play Minecraft this becomes apparent. His houses are usually cube and uniform.  When digging mines everything is ordered and in straight lines. When me mines ore he even replaces the mined blocks with stone to make the tunnels uniform. He is also really into creating secret bases with trap doors and redstone switches. Could this be an indication he’s hiding something psychologically? It’s possible, but he’s also seven and secret bases are awesome.

Observing children with ADHD play,  their worlds are patchy and apparently random.  Items are spawned willy nilly just to see what they do.  I’ve witnessed a child who had significant trauma issues create a pack of wolves to follow her only to later turn against them killing them all. Could this be symbolic of what has been done to her within her own life? There is a fair amount of interpretation that can be applied to these cases, but it could also be a talking point to discuss with a child while their defenses are down because they are playing a game.

 What do you guys think? Could Minecraft be used for therapeutic insight or am I full of it? Sound off below!