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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. The people over at Connected Camps reach out to our staff and requested that we publish a post about their program in exchange for compensation. I am required to disclose that, but rather than sneak the disclosure in at the end in a tiny font I wanted to declare it right up front along with the promise that I believe in this program and would not have published anything if I didn’t.

Minecraft is a game that has taken the world by storm in recent years. There is hardly a grade school aged kid who hasn’t at least heard of it. The best part of the Minecraft craze is that it is more than just a simple video game. It is a game with a huge amount of potential for learning and expression of creativity. Sadly, a lot of parents can’t tap this potential because they aren’t savvy enough to use the game correctly.

CC_FB Cover


That, my friends, is where Connected Camps comes in. They are an organization that, in concert with The Institute of Play, has launched a virtual summer camp to help teach kids (and their parents) how to play Minecraft and to make the most out of the experience.

What exactly is a virtual summer camp you may ask? Good question. Connected Camps runs a program that is available for students to connect with around the clock to complete challenges and meet objectives on private servers run by the camp itself. In essence, they don’t “go” anywhere in the real world. They, instead, sign into a Minecraft server and participate in directed play.

The program itself runs for four weeks and is module based. It includes lessons on things like:

Problem solving and design

Minecraft is a game built around a logical framework. Everything is built one block at a time. This forced players to use critical thinking skills and develop their problem solving ability in order to complete game objectives.

The camp adds an additional layer with their own challenges in order to enhance the experience!

Advanced building techniques

Minecraft is tough, but a lot of kids figure out very quickly how to built a hut and mine for diamonds. The camp will help teach them some of the advanced tools that they will be able to use in the game (many of which are logic puzzles in themselves).

Some of the tools available in the game have been used by some enterprising players to make a working calculator so the tools are definitely impressive.

Online and web literacy

Completing these challenges follow some of the same methods used to complete online courses at colleges across the country. This camp will force kids (and in some cases parents) to learn how to communicate online and inhabit an online space.

Collaboration and community organizing

Many of the challenges built into the curriculum require teamwork. Completion of the different exercises will teach kids how to work within a group and how to help organize people at different skill levels and at different locations.

This is a skill that will become more and more useful as our workplaces embrace telecommuting.

Digital citizenship

A huge portion of our lives is experienced digitally right now and this is only growing. As a result, it is important for us to teach our children how to participate in the online world in a positive way.

Having young children participate in an online game under the watchful eye of camp counselors and other controls will help set a good example for players. This will, hopefully, carry over into other aspects.

All of these things are great. The learning possibilities are limitless, but don’t just take my word for it. Take a look at the video below and see testimonials from campers and parents! Then make sure you sign up at www.connectedcamps.com.

When you do sign up make sure you use the coupon code EFG30 for 30% off your the price of enrollment! That’s a HUGE deal!

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A 12 year old girl named Madison wrote an article for the Washington Post (an impressive feat all on its own) that has been making some waves in the video game industry over the last few months. Two very popular games are being updated to include female default characters for the first time.

Madison, a 6th grade student, performed a comprehensive study of the top 50 endless runner games on the iOS app store to determine the available genders for the characters that you can play as in the game. Her results did not look too good for game developers.

Of the 50 apps she surveyed only fifteen percent of them gave players the ability to play a female character for free (compared to ninety percent allowing a free male character).  Temple Run Oz (an intellectual property historically based on the female character Dorothy) allows players to purchase a female character to play, but at a cost of $29.97! (YIKES!)

Her article appears to have had an impact though!

Temple Run 2, one of the most popular infinite runner games in history, has made an update to their game to allow Scarlett Fox, a female character, to be selected from the start at no charge. We can hope here that the mobile development community will see this and adapt to make this the default for games going forward.

Scarlett Fox

Scarlett Fox is now FREE in Temple Run 2!

That isn’t it though! Mojang the developer behind the landmark hit Minecraft have released a female avatar named Alex on the PC/Mac and mobile platforms already, but those updates will now be coming to the Xbox and PlayStation versions of the game in the form of free updates this past Monday.

I can only hope that more developers will follow their lead!

I got a chance to exchange some email correspondence with Madison and with her parents’ permission I was able to complete an email interview to ask her some questions.  Read below to see what she said:


What is your favorite subject in school?

This year my favorite is science because I have a great teacher.

Aside from playing games on your phone what other hobbies do you have?

I love to read and be outdoors. Hanging out with my friends is another one of my favorite pastimes.

You’ve managed something that some writers dream of and never accomplish. How does a 6th grader pitch an article to the Washington Post? This has to be a cool story!

After my dad and I finished editing my op ed he (my dad) helped me find some online addresses to send it to.  One of the first ones we tried was the Washington Post and soon they responded saying they were interested.

A lot of parents would hear about your idea and wouldn’t think twice about it before they shot it down. Are your parents just that cool or did you have to work hard to convince them to let you do your project?  

Both mom and dad were very supportive and liked my idea from the start. When I came to them and said, hey this is something I really want to do. They immediately helped me find the list of top 50 endless running games.

A lot of writers in the game space get negative feedback when they write about gender equality in the games we all play. How has the public responded to your article?

When the Washington Post first announced they were publishing my piece both of my parents were adamant that certain security measures must be taken. Cautions like not putting where I was from or my picture on the paper were taken. In general people have been very supportive of my research. On comment boards others have defended my viewpoint [Editor’s note: Just hearing this made me happy as message board users are usually somewhat toxic.] and I have gotten lots of positive feedback.

What are your goals for the future?

This summer I am working on another research project having to do with girl’s and boy’s preferences in characters in video games. After that I’m not sure what I’ll be doing but I’m sure I won’t be bored.

Speaking as someone who reviews games, I would think playing fifty infinite runners would be tiring. How did your research process work?

After the 10th game I was bored. But I broke the work out over a period of a couple days and was fine. I would download several games and then play them and recorded the data. Then I would download some more.

Did any of the games that you played surprise you in any way?

I was shocked how few girl characters there were.  Also there was more diversity in themes than I expected.

Did you have a favorite game?

Some of my favorites were Kiwi Dash, which is a cute game about kiwi birds, and Nyan Cat, because it had awesome music.

Now that you are keyed into mobile games have you noticed a similar trend in other types of games?

Yes. In the video games my sister and I play together, such as Lego Wii, you have to work up to get a female character.  The default is two boys. Perhaps the audience is more boys, the games being Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean type, but still…


Please sound off in the comments if you have additional questions or comments for Madison!

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Holiday shopping is getting more and more difficult every year. Parents used to have to worry about “the hot toy,” but now there are so many video games released each year that it can be very confusing for parents.

The following is a list of some of our recommendations for parents who need a little bit of help to make sure they make the most of their holiday dollars.

“The Games”

Below will be what we consider to be the most important family friendly games available.


  • Minecraft (If you are buying your child a new Non-Nintendo console this should probably be the first game you buy to go with it.)
  • Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
  • Skylanders: Trap Team
  • Disney Infinity 2.0
  • Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Nintendo WiiU

Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Bros. For WiiU

Nintendo 3DS

Pokemon Alpha Sapphire or Pokemon Omega Ruby

Microsoft Xbox 360

Forza Horizons 2

Microsoft Xbox One

Forza Horizons 2

Sony PlayStation 3

LittleBigPlanet 3

Sony PlayStation 4

LittleBigPlanet 3

Sony PS Vita


Board Games

Squashed Family Board Game 

Full Disclosure: We have no reviewed this game yet, but a full review is on the way!

This is an interesting strategy game that involves moving pawns around the outside of a cube. The goal is to outmaneuver your opponents as the cube rotates. You want to be the last player with a pawn on the board. This one looks interesting just for the unique game board itself.

Robot Turtles

We reviewed this one earlier this year and it is still one of the coolest learning experiences you can play with your kids. It actually manages to teach some of the basics of coding while playing a simple board game. We highly recommend it!


This strategy game intended for players six and older is simple to learn and will remain fun for a very long time. In it players place wooden tiles on a flat play area and match them up in rows by either color or shape.

There is even a travel version that is great for parents on the go (and is great for teaching colors to even younger players)!

Spot It!

This game is simple, inexpensive, and portable. Oh! And your Preschooler has a decent shot at beating you in it.

Ticket to Ride

This was one of the first board games we reviewed. It is among the best family games on the market. If your family has been entertaining the idea of starting a family game night, then this is, bar none, the best game to start with.

Forbidden Island

Most board games that families are used to playing are competitive. Forbidden Island bucks that trend by being a perfect entry point into the realm of cooperative gaming.

Minecraft Stuff

LEGO Minecraft

Minecraft is a phenomenon. It has been described as “digital LEGOs” since it arrived on the scene. It actually stunned me that it took so long for LEGO to actually get in on the action. There are tons of different sets out there.

Minecraft Hoodie

I know the stereotype is that kids hate to be given clothes for presents, but this hoodie from ThinkGeek might just fix that.

Minecraft Sheet Magnets

There is a ton of Minecraft merch out there and I dug through a lot of it to make this list. I don’t know why but something about these really sung to me. Nothing screams “perfect gift” than something that will result in lots of little magnet squares attached to the fridge. This is probably most Mom’s personal nightmare right? Aunts and Uncles looking for vengeance gifts take note. (Full disclosure: My wife made me add that last bit since she basically hates these things.)

Minecraft: The Complete Handbook Collection

The various Minecraft handbooks are a great way to encourage kids to get excited about reading by engaging with Minecraft while they aren’t at the keyboard. The information in these books is very useful. Some of the details will likely be out of date relatively quickly as the game is patched, but the theory will be useful.

Miscellaneous Gaming Gifts

LeapFrog LeapTV Educational Active Video Gaming System – $149.99

No one should call this a knockoff. The LeapTV won’t be able to unseat any of the big name consoles, but its games are guaranteed to be child appropriate.

This may be a great option for households with a significant separation between older and younger siblings. This would be one way to keep the younger sibling away from a teenagers games.

The Bag of Holding (ThinkGeek.com) – $59.99

If you get this reference… you will want to buy this thing.

Parents: It’s ok if you don’t get this reference. This will be hysterical to your son or daughter if they play Dungeons and Dragons. Trust me.

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By: Stephen Duetzmann

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Microsoft is participating in talks to purchase Mojang, the Swedish game developer best known for its smash hit Minecraft. The deal, according to sources “with knowledge of the matter,” would be worth more than $2 billion (No. That is not a typo. Two BILLION Dollars.)

It is not surprising that Microsoft would try to make this move. Its newest home console, the Xbox One, has done well since it launched last year, but has struggled compared to the PlayStation 4. Microsoft has been quiet about sales numbers, but their last reports from back in April showed approximately 5 million units shipped to stores. We can safely assume more have sold since then, but I can’t imagine why Microsoft wouldn’t be shouting from the mountaintops if they were doing even close to as well as the PlayStation 4’s 10 million plus install base. Bolstering their lineup of studios that are producing exclusive content would be a very strong play and owning the Minecraft name and all of the licensing that goes with it would be a great source of income.

With all that said, it is very surprising that Mojang would consider the deal. They are generating a great deal of income from Minecraft sales and merchandise alone and have insisted on remaining independent for years. It is possible that Minecraft is such a phenomenon that they could sustain their company almost indefinitely based on that success alone. Mojang’s founder Marcus “Notch” Persson has also expressed strong (and less than positive) opinions of big corporations like Microsoft and Facebook as well.

We don’t know all of the details of the sale yet (including whether or not it will happen), but the Wall Street Journal is far from unreliable. It will be interesting to see what happens to the franchise in the future if/when it goes through.

Minecraft’s success has been helped significantly by its universality. It has appeared on just about every platform imaginable since its release. It remains to be seen whether or not Microsoft would attempt to flex their muscles and restrict that. One thing is all but certain though; Mojang would be starting work on Minecraft 2 shortly and THAT would be an Xbox One and PC exclusive.

What do you think of this potential sale? Sound off in the comments!

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