Why is Turkey weighing a ban on Minecraft?

Turkey's social affairs ministry wants to ban the popular open-world game for being 'too violent.' 

Minecraft, a popular open-world video game in which players build structures from textured blocks, is under investigation by Turkish authorities.

Gaming experts say that a move by Turkish officials to ban the popular game Minecraft for being “too violent” may actually be a “game shy” reaction to a gaming culture that has in recent years worked its way into the rallying cries of young protestors.

This week, 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).

The report added its concerns that the game, which last year was purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion, may cause "social isolation," and that its online multiplayer component might lead to Internet bullying.

During the 2013 Gezi Park protests, in which demonstrators in Istanbul clashed with police over President Tayyip Erdogan’s aggressive development policies in the historic park, some youths used the slogan, "Gta'da polis döven nesile sataştın" which loosely translates into "You are messing with kids who beat police playing Grand Theft Auto!"

Members of Massachusetts Institute of Technology responded in force to debunk the claims made against Minecraft.

Rik Eberhardt, Gaming Studios manager at the MIT Game Lab in Cambridge, Mass., says in an interview that he has some insight into why a government might feel compelled to ban games played over the Internet, instead of those stored locally on a PC or gaming console. [Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Mr. Eberhardt's first name.]

“Banning Minecraft is similar politically to banning Twitter because it’s a game played on a server. On a server those communicating can’t be easily observed and monitored,” says Mr. Eberhardt. “I wonder if they [the Turkish ministry] see that Minecraft’s popular, have a negative memory of video games influencing youth and worry this game is connected in the same way.”

Eberhardt adds, “These are some pretty typical concerns expressed by anyone who fears what they don’t understand about video gaming. We had our own brush with that I the ‘90s with [Senator Joe] Lieberman against Sonic.” The efforts of Senator Lieberman, prompted by a Sega vampire game called Night Trap, brought about the ESRB rating systems.

Scot Osterweil, creative director of the Education Arcade and a research director in the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing Program says, “The little bit of violence in Minecraft is to create obstacles to overcome through creative building. And, by the way, violence in Minecraft is basically like crashing two LEGO blocks together.”

But because Minecraft is not a console game, it is not subject to the rating system governing sales.

Eric Klopfer, Director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program at MIT adds in an email, “First, there are so many different ways to engage in Minecraft, all of which are creative and some of which are completely non-violent. Kids who play in creative mode can build and treat the world as a landscape upon which to build with digital blocks.  Even in other modes of the game the creative and building process are much more important than killing skeletons (all of the “mobs” that pose a threat are non-human).

“The game can be played with an exclusive focus on building and protecting vs. killing.  You can kill animals for food and hide - much like farming.  But it is also possible to be a vegetarian,” Klopfer writes. “Second, there is no evidence (and in fact much evidence to the contrary) that in game violence would translate to real world violence.  While in game activities seem to have an effect on the order of seconds, people are able to separate the in-game activities from real world activities, and know right from wrong.”  

Additionally, by calling for a ban on the game, the Turkish ministry may have stepped on some toes at the United Nations. Minecraft has been used by the United Nations Human Settlements Program and UN-Habitat as an urban planning tool since early 2014, according to the game's makers.

The Block by Block initiative enables people in neighborhoods to envision reconstruction through the game’s building functions.

According to a source at the Turkish Consulate in New York, the Turkish ministry's report has been sent to the legal affairs department, along with instructions for the legal process for the ban to begin. Ultimately, whether the game is banned will be decided in the Turkish courts.

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