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(NBC News) – Say the word “Minecraft” among a group of parents with young children and you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear how their kids are “addicted” to it, with some referring to it as “Mine-crack”.
“Minecraft” is a video game, one that kids can get sucked into for hours at a time.
But is it an addiction or an education?
The online phenomenon is a bit like virtual Legos, where players construct their own worlds and then learn how to survive in them.
Unlike your typical shoot-em-up games, “Minecraft” can be highly creative.
Even parents are blown away by what kids learn from the game.
“He talks about minerals and I don’t know, physics, all kinds of stuff where I’m like — where are you getting this? It’s from Minecraft,” says father Matt Olson.
Still, many kids are compelled to play “Minecraft” for hours at a time, whether together in the same room or on virtual play dates via Skype.
“If I didn’t have to sleep or eat or anything, I would play 24 hours a day, every day,” one young player says.
Psychologist Dr. Jennifer Thomas has counseled many families on how to help kids find balance between virtual reality and actual reality.
“Interacting with another human does have a value. Kids don’t call people anymore. They don’t know how to talk to each other,” she says. “So I think we have a responsibility to ensure that our kids know how to do that.”
The video game industry agrees.
On its website, the Entertainment Software Association offers moms and dads step-by-step walk-throughs of parental controls like time limits.
“If he’s balanced in the rest of his life and getting his homework done and is still socially capable, apparently it’s not damaging him too bad,” Olson says of his son’s “Minecraft” addiction.
The website GetGameSmart.com also offers tips for parents and a downloadable form where parents and kids can track their screen time.