Wait a minute? What?
I recall hearing last month that the above mentioned ministry was considering an investigation into the game after reports that Minecraft encourages kids to 'score points by killing other players including women'. I laughed it off as just another bizarre ill-informed comment from a Turkish politician, reflected by the fact that I found the article in the BBC's 'News From Elsewhere' section, which focuses on the more amusing and obscure reports from around the world.
But that news came back with a vengeance this week as the Hürriyet newspaper in Turkey reported on its English-language website that the investigation had been completed and the conclusion had been reached that
"Although the game can be seen as encouraging creativity in children by letting them build houses, farmlands and bridges, mobs must be killed in order to protect these structures. In short, the game is based on violence."
The world's media, including the BBC and Washington Post, has met the news with a mix of disbelief and derision. A spokesperson from Mohang has, of course, defended the game to Gamesbeat saying:
“Minecraft is enjoyed by many players in a wide variety of ways. Many enjoy the creative freedom that’s presented by Minecraft and its tools, some are more interested by the opportunity to explore a landscape without boundaries and to go on exciting adventures with friends. We encourage players to cooperate in order to succeed, whether they’re building, exploring, or adventuring. The world of Minecraft can be a dangerous place: it’s inhabited by scary, genderless monsters that come out at night. It might be necessary to defend against them to survive. If people find this level of fantasy conflict upsetting, we would encourage them to play in Creative Mode, or to enable the Peaceful setting. Both of these options will prevent monsters from appearing in the world.”
It is not violent.
Yes, there are creepers, zombies, skeletons, and more. They attack players and try to kill them. Yes, there are cows, pigs, and sheep and you can kill them for meat.
But this is a game of survival. You are alone in the wilderness. You have to build a shelter, you have to defend yourself, and you have to find food. That's the aim of the game. When you 'die,' you respawn and carry on doing what you were doing before. You try again. That's how you learn how to play. That's how you learn.
We should not be talking about ways in which the 'violence' of Minecraft can be negated. We should be pointing out that the 'violence' is not really violence at all. As PEGI describes it, it is 'non-realistic' and happens with 'characters which although human are not very detailed'.
We should also be talking about the fact that children are very much capable of distinguishing between what is real and what is a game. Of course, they may get inot a game so much that they can't stop talking about it and they spend time watching YouTube videos and reading books about it (the fact that the Minecraft Beginner's Handbook was one of the most popular selling children's titles in Turkey last year is quoted in a lot of the news stories) but they know that it is a game in a virtual world. I have heard no reports of kids hacking at pigs and cows expecting to be granted pork chops and steaks as a result and I don't think we ever will.
For centuries, kids have heard fantastical stories with all sorts of weird, wonderful, and terrible creatures. They have seen them brought to life in illustrated books, on film and now in games. And they know they are fictional. Even when they include them in their own imaginiative play, they know that. They are not dumb.
We should also be talking about all the crazy, weird and wonderful things kids are doing with Minecraft. They use it to tell stories, to provide content for projects at school, to engage with English, and to simply have fun. And not just kids - another misconception that seems to drive the thinking in Turkey is that Minecraft and most other games are aimed at kids. They are not. In fact, there are more games that are aimed solely at adults than kids. My recommendation to the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Affairs is that they spend more time informing adults not to let their kids play Call of Duty and GTA. One thing I loved about Minecraft when it first appeared in playground chats during my time in Turkey was that my primary school students finally stopped doing all sorts of violent things in those games for adults and started playing something more suitable for all ages. Ban Minecraft and they will just go back to killing enemy soldiers and performing gangster hits in games that are rated 18+.
All this news has shown to me is that in 2015, we still have a lot to teach people about games and gaming. The fact that this ban is even being considered says a lot more about what is wrong with people's attitudes to gaming than it does about anything that is wrong with gaming itself.