Kids make sure their Minecraft website is clean

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 6:00am

Coestar narrates his Minecraft adventures for fans who watch him play for entertainment or to pick up tips, sprinkling in some language that might not be suitable for younger followers.

And that's enough for Mitchell Brown and Scotty Vrablik, American students in the Hong Kong equivalent of Form One, to reject that video from their own fledgling Minecraft website.

Coestar and other gamers - some of whom have millions of followers - have posted countless online videos of the wildly popular game, which allows players to build and explore digital landscapes. But Mitchell and Scotty's website, posts only those videos they think are appropriate for kids. The students in suburban Chicago don't allow profanity in the gaming videos they post or in the chat section of a small, multiplayer game they run. They've also turned off game modes involving battles so the Lego-style characters don't engage in violence.

A growing number of teachers have embraced Minecraft as an educational tool, but are looking for "clean" versions.

" Minecraft is a totally, open-ended sandbox," which makes it easy to customise for use in the classroom, says Joel Levin, co-founder of TeacherGaming. His company created MinecraftEdu, a modified version of the game for classroom use.

Minecraft not only engages students, he says, but encourages skills such as resilience, problem-solving and thinking outside the box.

"In some ways, academics are catching up with what gamers have known for years - that these are evocative experiences that challenge the mind," Levin says.

He praised Mitchell and Scotty for taking the initiative to make their virtual world a safer and better place.

Mitchell, 12, came up with the idea after overhearing the bad language in a Minecraft video that his little brother was playing about two years ago.

Teachers at their school have helped Mitchell and Scotty expand their website and create an Android app, both of which now require subscriptions.

Both Boy Scouts, the boys came up with hundreds of words to filter out of their Minecraft server - profanity but also words such as "idiot" - and gamers are banned if they use any of them. The gamer is permanently removed from the site on the third offence.

"Profanity is really not acceptable," Scotty says.

That was a sentiment shared by an Australian gamer known as Fox Blockhead, who asked Scotty and Mitchell to post his Minecraft videos on their website. It turns out that Fox Blockhead's real name is Justin Gilfillan, and he's a teacher and a father who wanted to create videos appropriate for children.

The boys' principal, Ben Hebebrand, says their website earned them distinction in their character education programme at school.

Levin says he sees no limit to Minecraft's potential classroom applications. History teachers can use the game to simulate historical events, and maths teachers can teach lessons on volume and area, he says.

Scotty's mother, Lisa Vrablik, who is also a teacher, says her students have used Minecraft to complete projects for French class and lessons on Greek architecture.

Although she admits she sometimes questioned the amount of time the boys have spent gaming, she is proud of their project.

"They really kind of branched out and learned when to ask for help," she says.

About 100 users worldwide have subscribed to their website and app since Mitchell and Scotty began requiring payment. Their multiplayer server allows only 16 players at a time, but they hope to expand it.

Mitchell says the service they provide is more important than any money they might make. And Scotty, who says he once thought the idea was "really out there," is committed to it now.

Tribune News Service