Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Minecraft Generation: A distinct demographic cohort

Roughly every other year I travel a few states over to visit my sister's family. I enjoy visiting with her and my brother-in-law and seeing my two nephews. I usually bring something for the kids, often in the form of a computer game. I recall in late 2011 thinking that on the next visit I'd introduce my nephews to Minecraft.

I never got the chance—early in 2012 my sister emailed me saying essentially, "What is this Minecraft game and where do I get it? The kids want it because their friends are playing."

The story in a nutshell: Minecraft has gone viral among children of all ages, but particularly middle schoolers.

Minecraft has sold 26 million on all platforms, but as far as I know Mojang has no data on the age of the players. While many adult gamers have bought Minecraft, kids make up a large percentage of players. Apparently the autograph lines at Minecon have consisted mainly of children and their parents.

As with any activity that becomes massively popular with children, parents become concerned. Below are some examples of this concern:
The Children Online newsletter devoted its October, 2012 issue to Minecraft: Is Minecraft the Next Parental Concern?
In the section Concerns for Parents the Internet Safety Project's wiki entry for Minecraft says:
Due to the immense popularity of Minecraft, pirated copies of the game are easy to find online. Besides being illegal, pirated software can often be a disguise for malware.
I've included the above links as anecdotal evidence about how pervasive Minecraft is among children. I'm certainly not alarmed at how much kids are playing it, but I do support parents who make sure that their kids get outside to run around. (As far as computer games go, I can't think of a more appropriate game than Minecraft, since it gives kids both a creative outlet and practical experience in planning and carrying out projects.)

The Minecraft phenomenon is now a couple of years old and shows no sign of waning. Mojang keeps adding features to the game which keeps it fresh, and there is innovation both in server game styles and Minecraft's lively mod scene. I think this means that the game will remain popular with children for the foreseeable future.

Thus in the next several years there will be a large number of people entering adulthood who grew up playing Minecraft. It may prove to be a defining experience for this group of people as a result of their pervasive and intense play of the game. Skills that they learn while playing Minecraft will be applied throughout their lives, and their outlook on life may reflect their experiences in the game.

Demographers look for shared experiences such as this when defining demographic cohorts (e.g. Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Generation Y). One name assigned to the cohort of kids currently of middle-school age is Generation Z. It may not be long before there will be a solid case to be made for calling it the Minecraft Generation.

I think the Minecraft Generation will have a profound impact on the real world since its members will have cut their teeth modifying their virtual ones.

The game industry will definitely feel the impact.

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