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Turkey asks Microsoft to edit, not ban, Minecraft. Why?

Turkey denies media reports that the government wants to ban Minecraft. But it would like Microsoft to remove some violent elements in the online game.

The nation of Turkey will be asking Microsoft, makers of the game Minecraft, to remove zombies, creepers, and all violent elements from the game when selling to users there. This comes after published reports in the Turkish media that the country was considering a ban on the cube-based game.

A report released this week by the Turkish Family and Social Policy Ministry expressed concerns that the game, which last year was purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion from Mojang, may cause "social isolation," and that its online multiplayer component might lead to Internet bullying.

Turkish websites Hürriyet Daily News and LeaderGamer report that the country's Family and Social Policies Ministry wants to ban Minecraft for being "too violent."

"Although the game can be seen as encouraging creativity in children by letting them build houses, farmlands and bridges, mobs [hostile creatures] must be killed in order to protect these structures. In short, the game is based on violence," the report stated (via Hürriyet Daily News).

However, according to Turkish Embassy Press Counsellor Fatih Oke, in Washington, D.C., the Turkish Press and Information Ministry based in Ankara, Turkey, has now issued a statement in response to a Christian Science Monitor inquiry on the possibility of a ban.

“A ban is quite out of the question. There will be no ban,” Mr. Oke says in an interview. “The game is not banned and is not going to be banned, the Family and Social Policy Ministry does not have that kind of authority to ban any product. I understand that this is what has been said in the Turkish media, but it is incorrect.”

Oke explains that the ministry is comprised of a panel of experts on education, psychology, child psychology and special needs education (including experts on autism) which responds to complaints and not as the result of the direction of the government.

“The ministry can only work with complaints. In this case I am told there were numerous complaints from parents about Minecraft and its influence on children,” Oke says. “The function of this ministry is to raise awareness.”

Minecraft has been touted on the website for the Autism Speaks organization as a positive influence on children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, particularly when supervised by an adult.

Asked how the ministry will now proceed after the report’s completion, Oke says, “The reports showed that Minecraft has some negative items which can influence a child’s psychology in some ways, in just some parts of the game. The ministry will now contact the production company of the game [Microsoft] and ask that those negative items be removed from the game.”

“If there is a mode in which it can just be used to work peacefully and creatively then that will be the only version they would want,” he says.

Eric Klopfer, director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology says in an interview, “So we have one step forward and one step back.”

“It’s hard to understand all of this since one of the great features of Minecraft that made it popular around the world is a user’s ability to customize the game,” Mr. Klopfer says. “This reminds me of action figures. A child can use them to create a peaceful, beautiful and meaningful play event or they can use them to hit each other. For me this is more of a parenting issue, perhaps, than remaking a game.”

However, if Microsoft were to choose to “remake” Minecraft, Klopfer says it might not be all that hard to manage “provided Microsoft is willing to make the changes.”

“There is precedent for video games being sold in different versions in different countries,” he says. “Microsoft could create a mode that’s built-in with parameters fixed and unchangeable so things they don’t want aren’t spawned.”

But since Minecraft is already split into two modes, “Creative” (a peaceful building mode)  and “Survival” (where mobs and violent elements abound) there may be an easier way for Microsoft to keep its Turkish customer base.

Microsoft spokesman Sean McCarthy suggests that changing the game's setting may be a potential solution:

The world of Minecraft can be a dangerous place: it's inhabited by scary, genderless monsters that come out at night. It might be necessary to defend against them to survive. If people find this level of fantasy conflict upsetting, we would encourage them to play in Creative Mode, or to enable the Peaceful setting. Both of these options will prevent monsters from appearing in the world.

According to Klopfer, step one would be for Turkey to convince Microsoft to make the change. Step two, would be to create a different version for Turkey, and to make sure people in Turkey only purchase that version.

The harder route Turkey could choose would be to limit the licenses users are allowed to purchase and the multiplayer servers they could connect to. For example, he says, it would be hard to tell users they can only play on Turkish IP addresses and not typical servers based in America.

Asked if the Turkish government intends to abstain from working with United Nations groups that use Minecraft in the process of urban planning, Oke says, “As far as I have been told by Ankara, Turkey has full support for the United Nations bodies using this program. This is a very specific issue involving children’s use only and that is as a direct result of the concerns of parents who have complained.”

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