by Mark Ward
"Minecraft's creators revealed this week that the blocky freeform building game had 33 million users. It can easily become an obsession."
"In the real world it is very rare for a kid to encounter a problem that programming would be a way for them to solve," says Daniel Ratcliffe, a game developer who has made a mod for Minecraft, called ComputerCraft, that adds programmable computers and robots to the game world.
"By contrast, he says, Minecraft is rich in tasks that computer-controlled robots could help solve.
"If they play Minecraft, they are extremely invested in this world and can think of things that are real to them in that virtual world they can solve with programming."
"But what about other technical skills - can their obsession demystify computers and networks?
"My sons are both managing their own servers with parental overview from me, and it's been a good experience in learning the issues that come from managing any server type system," says Andrew Weekes, whose two boys are big fans.
"His younger son learned a hard lesson early on, says Mr Weekes, when his failure to keep back-ups meant he could not restore his favourite Minecraft world.
"Any regular player will be adept at using the game's "slash commands", can install texture packs to change its look and make their own skins for in-game characters. They can find multiplayer servers, use email to set up sessions with friends and use Skype so they can shout at each other in games rather than just type comments. They might also be recording, editing and uploading their own YouTube videos of what they get up to."
"Teacher Joel Levin has seen the positive effect Minecraft can have on relationships among schoolchildren - especially on those who would otherwise be dismissed for being too geeky."