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).