Why Is Minecraft So Appealing to Children With ADHD?

My work as a child clinical psychologist has sparked my interest about how children interact with video games, apps, and other technologies. Over the past 20 years, I have conducted thousands of interviews with kids and their families, I have learned about the power and perils of digital media. I have heard from families about their use of computer, console, handheld, online, smartphone, and tablet-based video games.

But one game has stood out as the most popular and compelling game for children with ADHD: Minecraft.

Why does Minecraft appeal so much to children with ADHD?

In order to answer this question, I began to conduct brief interviews with children diagnosed with ADHD who cited Minecraft as their favorite game. I initially started by asking them questions such as, “Why do you like to play Minecraft?”, “What makes it hard to stop playing Minecraft?”, and “How did you learn to play Minecraft?”. Since then, I’ve expanded my questions based upon what I have learned from Minecraft players. For example, I now ask questions about watching Minecraft videos and what these children think of other games that are similar to Minecraft.

In this post, I will share how a number of children diagnosed with ADHD responded to the question: Why do you like to play Minecraft?

One of the main reasons that children with ADHD enjoy Minecraft is that they get to “build whatever they want.” Many of the kids I interview use exactly that phrase. A 15-year-old young man noted that “I get to build things as big as I want such as churches, roller coasters.” He reported, “When I was little I used to like to play LEGOs because it’s the same thing as Minecraft.” (It is worth noting that for 30 years I have observed how kids with ADHD, boys in particular, are described as being able to sustain long-term attention and persistence in their LEGO play, in contrast to many other types of activities.) An 11-year-old girl told me that  “Minecraft is lots of fun because you can build a house and it comes with fun stuff like eggs, chickens, animals, bad guys, zombies, and creepers.” She enjoys the building part “because you can build it anyway you want and you can customize it.” An 8-year-old boy enjoys the building part “because I want to be an engineer when I grow up and I want to be good at it.” He said, “Minecraft is helping me learn how to build and teaches me how to build houses, mansions, and labs.” One consistent point in these descriptions revolves around the flexibility to build what one chooses and not be constrained by a particular goal or set of rules about how to do something.

 

Another common theme among children with ADHD who love Minecraft is that they appreciate the opportunities for creativity. A 10-year-old boy stated, “It’s fun, it’s very creative and you can do whatever you want.” Another 10-year-old boy had a similar response, and said he enjoyed the game because “[y]ou can be creative as you want and you can walk around and do whatever you want.” A 12-year-old boy noted the fact that “Minecraft allows you to express yourself in a building and you can build your structures using redstone and you can make stuff using circuits and on/off switches.”

Some kids like Minecraft because of the competitive and aggressive nature that can be found in the survival mode. The 15-year-old who likes building churches and roller coasters also expressed enjoyment in his ability to “kill other players when they are mining a diamond and once you find a diamond you want more.” A seven-year-old boy likes “killing animals because then you have meat to eat and leather to help you to make armor.” An eight-year-old boy likes that “you can explode stuff when playing Minecraft.” A six-year-old girl likes it because “you get to tame stuff, you can make babies survive in Survival and spawn stuff and the creepers explode and have bows and arrows.”

One of the more interesting observations that I have recently made is that the children engaging with Minecraft are increasingly younger. When I first began to hear about children’s interest in Minecraft in 2010 it was only a PC-based game with a predominantly teenage following. As evidenced in the above recent interviews, children as young as six are now regularly playing Minecraft. Part of this is because it’s easy to learn. Minecraft’s “sandbox” nature allows for many different levels of interaction and engagement. Minecraft may appeal to kids with ADHD in particular because of the lack of specific rules, the opportunity to try things without fear of mistakes, and the fact that players can either switch activities as they choose or remain focused on one thing in particular. Minecraft also provides kids with ADHD immediate feedback that goes beyond something being “right or wrong” and allows them to easily make changes, something they might not experience as much in the “real world.”

To learn more about how Minecraft helps build executive functions by checking out our Minecraft Playbook. If your kid is really into Minecraft, be sure to see our post about finding the best online video resources. You’re probably also wondering if kids can really learn from Minecraft. You can also find other games like Minecraft, find out how sandbox games like Minecraft help kids on the autism spectrum, and learn why you should encourage your daughter to play Minecraft. If you’re curious, read about whether kids with ADHD should play video games (we say yes).

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40 thoughts on “Why Is Minecraft So Appealing to Children With ADHD?

  1. Thank you for writing a positive article about ADHD and video games. So many “experts” say that video games are bad, or should be strictly limited. However, video games are where my son thrives — it’s something he’s really good at in a life full of weaknesses and challenges (ADHD and LDs). Video games boost his self-confidence and give him something relate-able to talk about with peers in the midst of great social struggles.

    I do think that the types of games kids play should be restricted to strategy and fun, without too much violence. But, I’m happy for my son to play appropriate games, and I appreciate the validation.

    Penny Williams
    Author of “Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD” and “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD”
    ParentingADHDChildren.com

  2. This article was great! My 10 year old son loves Minecraft and watches a lot of the videos as well. I see a big difference in his attention span when doing these things. He is very focused.

  3. Thank you for this article. I was having this conversation with my mother just this morning. My 7 year old plays Minecraft everyday and will play all day if I allow him to. I am very interested in more research on this very topic.

  4. I wanted to say Thank you for this artice. My 11 year old son has ADHD with Impuslitivity. He plays Minecraft for hours sometimes. He loves the game and I couldn’t understand why. Even after asking him, I was still clueless to a point. This article helped shed a bit more light as to why he loves the game so much. Thanks again.

  5. My 7 year old son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 5 has been asking to play minecraft since he was around 5 years old and saw the case in Gamestop. We’re a gaming family and last Christmas his grandpa asked what he should get him and I encouraged him to get minecraft. Since then it’s all he talks about. He watches minecraft videos on YouTube. Trying to get him to do anything else is difficult. This was really eye opening.

    • same goes with my son, now 8 discovered he was Adhd at 7. he s crazy abt this game always what he talk abt and watch videos to learn more. sometime i feel he is living inside this game.

  6. Very interesting observations. I find that the majority of my nephews (those exposed to computer/console games), my teenage son and my 4 year old daughter, all greatly enjoy Minecraft. I think it spans a large demographic because it is simple and doesn’t push players to go in any particular direction. This is especially true of my daughter. She loves to spend time digging and building. And she loves just watching others play the game as it seems to give her ideas and teaches her some of the different things she can do.

    My teenage son enjoys the social nature of being able to create a world and then share it with his friends and others.

    As someone who was diagnosed with ADD back in the 80’s, I completely understand the appeal of a game like this. So much of our society, from school to games, has a rigid structure that doesn’t work well for free roaming learners. It’s much like a digital sandbox. Easy for all ages to access and use, but with plenty of more advanced uses that keep people coming back for more.

  7. As a 64-year-old adult who has had A.D.D. my entire life [but was not officially diagnosed or treated until I was in my 40s], I would like to offer an insight into the “WHY?”, the reason behind this behavior. As has been mentioned in the article concerning the children, my life also has found fulfillment in creativity [I am a programmer/report designer; author; poet; singer-songwriter; scroll saw artist; and stone/jewelry craftsman]. Creativity is the positive side of A.D.D.; the more destructive side is a proclivity toward addictive behaviors or habits.

    In my struggle to discover who I am and why I act the way that I do, I have learned that all those blessed/cursed with A.D.D. have a deeply felt primal need, which is rarely put into words, to gain CONTROL. From our perspective, since we have trouble controlling our minds and cannot control the way outside influences [environment] affect our mind processes, then we can only overcome this by being able to impose absolute control over an environment that we create. So hyper-focused creativity becomes a self-rewarding means of personal validation; an acceptable pathway of gaining approval in a world where we otherwise would not “measure up”; and also a means of shutting out the chaos that seeks to rule our lives and steal away our identity. This then explains the Pied Piper attraction that draws A.D.D. children to artificial creative environments such as Mindcraft – an innate desire to reassert control and thereby reassert our self-worth.

    A fellow pilgrim in the A.D.D. journey once told me that all people with A.D.D. self-medicate to compensate. I believe that this is probably true and can manifest itself positively in hyper- focused creativity or negatively in addictions. Realizing that my desire to control had become my controller became the laser that cut the chains to one such addiction in my life.

    • Your insight on the issue impacted me and was illuminating! It resonates my own son’s characteristics, behaviors and tendencies… i could not understand where his obsessive behaviors, repetitive, hyper focused interest and controlling characteristics came from- or how they developed, or to what could i attribute them to! All i knew was “something was not healthy” about them… they worried me… and although having some understanding of them now relieves a lot of the feelings of uncertainty i had while observing my son display these, i cant help but remain saddened by these qualities displayed..regardless if soothed or compensated or self medicated with by engaging in an unreal world of video gaming… for when you take away the video games, whats left? The problem does not go away! My little boy still remains with the inability to cope with social pressures of life and growing up… in fact, rhe more he enters that world wherein he rules and controls, and is all mighty, leading, followed by his friends forever making himself feel capable for a change… the more he “disconnects” with this world and with the opportunities to be “all that” in this real world…. and visciously, the video game world becomes more aappealing to him, and the more he wants to be there instead of here… and so he becomes an expert there but not here… i want to help him be what he’ s learned to be there, HERE!!! In this world! To learn how yo apply what hes learned there, to here! I want to learn how to get rid of these traits not just soothe them! Thats not enough for me!

    • hey i really liked your comment. I’m 15 and i was diagnosed with ADD when i was 7 and you just put all my thoughts into words. I’m doing a research paper right now about how certain video games don’t cause ADD or ADHD and how some of them can be helpful for children diagnosed with the disorder. i was wondering if i could quote some of your comment.

  8. My son has been playing Minecraft since he was 2 years old. He started by just walkimg aroumd the maps smashing everything. We limit his time and have used it as a reward in the past. We believe that he has learned a lot from playing the game. We have also used it to practice counting, letters, and colors. He is now 3 and building structures and fighting the “bad guys”. He loves when Mommy or Daddy plat with him and build together. He is an amazing little boy.

  9. My 7yr old started playing a similiar game to Minecraft on my phone a few weeks ago and absolutly loves it he was diganosed with adhd and odd over a yr ago.

  10. My oldest son has ADHD and he loves minecraft too. I thought it was bad for him to play it all the time but he loves building things. At least he isn’t into all the other bad games out there. He only gets to play it on the weekends anyway so I think that’s not to much.

  11. Nothing you shared has any bearing on ADHD though. Those are the reasons all kids like Minecraft. Where is the correlation between how those aspects of the game soothe an ADHD kid or how they grasp his attention or whatever? And boys with ADHD like Legos? LOTS of boys and girls like Legos, it’s been a very successful brand of toys for generations.

    This article is missing any true evidence or analysis that Minecraft appeals to ADHD kids any more than it does to all kids.

    • Agree with Daria. The only thing this article does is affirm parents and their feelings of guilt for allowing their ADHD kids to play video games. What Robert Dennis says above is more valuable in that he explains the reasoning behind the attraction – addiction stimulus, instant rewards, and hyper focused activity. These are common issues for children with ADD and ADHD. Yes, Minecraft can give a child more control and tune out distraction, but what happens when the game is turned off? ?? These children all have different temperaments and learning styles which they must understand in order to function in the real world. Just because they are soothed by this game only continues to enable their dysfunction by feeding it. I believe caution should be exercised in the use of these games. I believe real world experiences, hands on play, visual arts, movement arts, music, and drama do more for enhancing creativity, focus, problem solving, etc.. Kids need whole body learning and be exposed to many many diffetent experiences that will teach them who they are and what they really want. It is up to us as parents and teachers to help them find out how.

    • That’s what I thought. Not enough meat and potatoes and no “why” from an “expert” point of view!

  12. Thank you for this article! My son wants to play or watch videos of minecraft every available free second he has- he started playing it at age 3! He turned 5 yesterday. I have received slack from everyone about his constant playing/watching or asking to do one from every adult he’s in contact with – I can now show them this article. Thank you!

  13. this article is great, now I understand why my 10 year old son never took a interest in anything constantly plays this game. I couldn’t understand he can’t concentrate on anything. Yet spends hours and hours on minecraft.

  14. just curious if kids without ADHD reply any differently, and if mine craft actually seems more popular with this population than with kids who don’t have ADHD. don’t all kids love to do whatever they want? i’d love to hear the comparison to strengthen your argument/observation!

    • I agree. I think Minecraft is just insanely popular right now. My cousin who is turning 5 plays it. It keeps him occupied for hours. He knows all about the game, how all the different blocks work, and what all the creatures do. I think if I asked him why he enjoyed it, he’d say something very similar to kids in this study. I’m 20, so I’m not a child, but I find Minecraft to be entertaining (when I have time to play it that is.) because there are so many different things you can build, and I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD. I think it would be interesting to see both sides.

  15. My 6 yr old daughter has been playing minecraft for about a year now and She loves building and then destroying, taming and raising animals, exploring the landscapes, and having free reign of a world compared to reality where everything is dictated by rules. While I was never diagnosed, ADD and ADHD run in my mom’s while family so I see myself exhibiting signs and find myself drawn to Minecraft and other “open world” or “free world” gaming. I have always seen the value in Minecraft simply because I love gaming and Legos-it was the perfect combination for myself and my kids. Even my husband finds himself enveloped in the game on occasion!

  16. My 5 yr old son loves Minecraft. He was diagnosed with ADHD in September of 2013. He loves Legos also. He is fascinated to wanting to build robots and attempted to disassemble his Wall-e robot to make it voice interactive because he watched a guy on You tube do it. He is very smart and he will grow up to do great things.

  17. Great article! Minecraft is a big part of life in our home. I’ve used it as a tool to gage my sons mood and change of feelings. When he shows me a destructive harmful scenario I know to work with him to work through whatever is making him angry/anxious/cross. He incorporates things he has learned at school – it’s more fun in minecraft. We engage in conversation about science and engineering. And best of all when he invents a room for mum with a special chair in her own reading corner which includes a retractable sound proof screen and a fridge full with cans of coke and some wine in case my friend Katie come over. Happy house x

  18. I may or may not have ADD or ADHD, but I have a very hard time focusing on a single thing and immersing myself into it unless it’s constantly presenting me with new, interesting stimuli. I’m around 20 years old and I’ve been playing Minecraft regularly since I was 18 when it was still in Beta, and it’s still my favorite game of all time. The best 27 dollars or so that I’ve ever spent on a video game.

    The main reason I love it is the possibility of creativity. In the real world, most of us don’t have the resources to build huge buildings or complex contraptions, but in Minecraft we do. It’s also addictive because you feel like you accomplish something every single time you break and earn a block or kill a monster and earn whatever it drops, and then you accomplish something greater when you use those blocks and materials to build something even bigger to contribute to an even larger project. Breaking grass to get seeds, using seeds to make farms, using farms to produce wheat, using wheat to make bread and breed cows, using cows for meat (for extended survival) and leather to make picture frames and books, using books to make bookcases, using bookcases to extend the abilities of enchanting weapons, using enchanted weapons to fight larger monsters… it’s a continuous progression and the feeling of moving up and progressing is probably the main reason, along with the possibility to express myself and put a part of who I am into creations, that I play the game.

    And then the modding community is another huge factor – once you get bored of the things you can build and craft in the game, you can open yourself up to a whole slew of new opportunities with mods. Create new autonomous, advanced machines that mine for you so you can focus more on the creative side of things (BuildCraft), build a computer and learn to program it and gain real world skills (ComputerCraft), build machines that compress, grind and manufacture ores and minerals and learn a few things about metallurgy (Mekanism, IndustrialCraft), learn (although very generalized) basics of power consumption and nuclear power production (IndustrialCraft). There’s an incredible amount of possibilities and opportunities to guarantee that there’ll always be something new to figure out, and that’s why I keep coming back to this game year after year.

  19. my son has adhd and is also obcessed with minecraft, would be on it all day if I let him everytime I watch him on it he has built an amazing building and world etc one after another and I haven’t got a clue how he does it lol! constantly watching the minecraft videos on youtube also and stampy I think u call him lol x

  20. my 10 year old has Adhd and disruptive behavior disorder and has been playing minecraft for 3 years he loves it and when he’s not playing he is youtube videos about it my 4 year old speech delayed son absolutely loves the game as well and will sit and watch it like it’s a movie. The lego games area also a big help and the batman games as well for strategy games.

  21. My son was all about Mindcraft but has moved on to Pokémon. I wish he would go back to Mindcraft. I at least saw some of the advantages to it. The building etc like the article said. No so much in Pokémon. I’m sick of all those characters.

  22. My 12 year old daughter has ADD and I completely agree with this article. I’m the one that actually started playing Minecraft when it first came out. It gave me the opportunity to get to know the game and realize that it was absolutely not violent and appropriate for children that are raised in this techno generation. Sure, our kids may not play outside as much as the older generations but each generation is different. If they enjoy video games, then let them do what they enjoy I say! Besides, Minecraft has allowed my daughter (who has struggled since kindergarten) to make friends, fit in, basically let her be her intelligent, creative self all while being happy and reducing stress and anxiety in her life. She has become a leader, has taught other children how to build complicated things on this game that require lots of knowledge. To some, this may not be much. To a child with ADD, it means everything in the world… And what makes them happy makes mom happy too.

  23. All kids ADHD or not love MineCraft.. all kids love to imagine they have adult like abilities or better…just like when they walk in mommies heels or daddys suit.. or when they put on ballerina dresses wishing never to come off or spiderman outfits and believing web shoots out their hands… they love to imagine- and each age brings its different territory to explore.. like toddlers getting into kitchen cabinets, six year olds believing to be princesses and superheros, and 10, 13 yearolds pretending to be war heros..
    pretend play or imaginary play is a way of learning about thrmselves, others and their surroundings.. its little people in progress and thats healthy! Its part of children’s development… its a different story however, when imaginary worlds and pretend play are used for other needs…

    i have a son with ADD and.that certainly doesnt make me an expert on the subject, but it does make me passionate enough.to have an opinion about it.. frankly i hesitate when it comes to the subject of using imaginary worlds like video games to address other serious developmemtal issues or highlight a connection to them.. i think its a fairly new area and much research needs to be established before we can write on concrete.what works and what doesn’t , before we start applying it.. maybe thats why.the author.in this article doesn’t provide the connection between technology and ADD from t:he children’s responses as obtained from interviewing them…

    Things change when.the purpose of using video games is other than developmental and we just have to be very.careful i think its fairly safe to say that its just not healthy to allow children to play video games for.hours on end.. ADD or not!! Or.to allow our ADD children extended video playing so to practice focusing… or to allow them days and weeks of playing just becasue in this virtual world he gets to boosts their self-esteem and confidence… or because its soothing and.self.medicating calming the symptoms of ADD…
    Experts.have not yet made the connection clear whether there is a beneficial connection with video gaming and ADD.. im.sure there are some benefits with it.. but wven still i use my common sense… i cant inagine how prolonged video gaming would help my son’ s ADD condition.. to soothe his anxiety over lack of.coping skills, to cover the sympptoms in other words, yes video gaming could do that.. but it does not help the condition.. In my eyes, it worsens it… it increasingly becomes an escape to avoid his inadequacy… it makes more sense to adress the root of the problem instead…
    So i dont think this kind of imaginary play osvhealthy at all…t

  24. My son is 7 years old and has severe ADHD, when hes had a particularly long, and challenging day, I will actually tell him to go play Minecraft, because it calms him down! He hyper-focuses on The game and gets really involved in “Survival” Mode, which makes him have to figure out how he can craft to things out of absolutely nothing to survive, it makes him think and think hard about what he has to do to achieve his end result. My son really wanted to work in an animal shelter, now he really wants to an Architect when he grows up!

  25. My son has recently bern diagnosed with ADHD and we have an upcoming nueropsych appointment to get some answers to some other issues he has (long story short, he was born with a heart defect, HPLHS, and had three surgeries by the age of three and the lack of oxygenation in his blood has caused some brain development issues). He is 11. We don’t do video games because he will sit and ignore everything in the world forever and play them, it’s obsessive. When he used to get on the internet, he would watch videos of people playing minecraft for hours and hours, just glued to the screen, eyes wide, mouth open. Can that really be good? When we’d limit the screen time, his behavioral problems were worse, he exhibits addictive type symptoms. So no video games, no internet anymore. But now all he does is play legos. For hours upon hours upon hours. All summer long he has played legos. I can’t get him to go outside and play like a kid. He won’t read or do anything else. That can’t be good. Shouldn’t he be using other parts of his brain, or socializing, or climbing trees and being more physically active? Any thoughts? Advice? Should I stop worrying?

  26. My grandchildren well 2 of them love this and have been playing since they were 1-1/2 and 3. Both have mental health. The youngest adhd and oldest who is now 10 with autism and odd. This game mostly and videos …. that are watched closely do to swearing. When the oldest has troubles with mood swings we tell him to play on his phone ..this calms him and resets his mind because autism they get focused on one bad thing it’s hard to break that focus. It works almost every time.

    • Roxanne, thanks for your comments! If you are concerned about the language used in your grandkids’ favorite Minecraft videos, you might want to check out our YouTube channel. Our video hosts (both named Ryan!) make family-friendly videos that are funny, fun, and also talk about the thinking skills used when playing popular games. We have lots of videos about Minecraft.

  27. I can agree that minecraft is funn. But its even more fun with other people. To make screen time fun, try letting the whole family build a house or a fortess. It helps build family time.

  28. Good article,my son has a passion for playing games ( Minecraft is his fav )….i find it amazing how the response and concentration is on point ,whilst playing video games and watching videos is.I allow it as its one thing were there are no limitations for him,he is free and allowed to do as he wants. he gets so involved in the game ,that he doesn’t want any interference from anyone and his focus is brilliant . As a parent running out off options at school,ill try anything to help my boy

  29. I agree my son doesn’t play video games much but he did love Minecraft and he has ADHD. He also has dyslexia which affects his working memory. I think creativity bypasses the need for a good working memory and still gives a sense of achievement much like athleticism which he also enjoys. They are learnt from a felt sense not logic. Being in touch with their feelings will calm them and creativity links to feelings. The game allows expression of need – destruction/ anger or nurture also safety and control as mentioned above soothing anxiety. That’s my theory. I am a children’s counsellor and have used it in the therapy room so it would be interesting to do more research on it. A young girl between homes kept asking to play it and after using more traditional ways of child therapy I listened to her needs. She built a home and a bed and made it safe then built a home for the animals to keep them safe. I thought it was empowering for her when she was so powerless.

  30. My son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was six. Now, 8 years old almost 9, he’s been building a bay full of a fleet of ships; Titanic, Queen Mary, Lusitania, Olympic, etc… He reads about ships, watches YouTube tutorials about ships and Minecraft. He has discovered the fact that not everything on YouTube is accurate. He evaluates credible sources and then takes his decision into Minecraft to apply it to a ship build. He’s always wanting to “teach” me how to Minecraft. His builds go from hours to days to weeks during a project. He is so focused. Sometimes, he uses his iPad mini to create step-by-step tutorials that he one day hopes to post on his own YouTube channel. His desire to learn and teach Minecraft amazes me since he struggles to pay attention in the classroom.

  31. This was a true insight to why my two children love this game. My daughter has ADD and my son has ADHD. What I would love to know is why my son gets hostile when he’s been told times up. It’s like dealing with a honey badger on meth! No joking, and it’s not just my son but friends’ boys, too. My daughter does not react this way at all.

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