Just to correct some factual issues in Matt Thrower's answer:
"Minecraft Pi Edition", the cut-down version of Minecraft that runs on the Raspberry Pi, lacks many of the features of the full version that runs on Windows or Mac OS. However, it does have one feature that the full version lacks - a simplified API (Application Programming Interface). This API allows programs to be written to detect and create blocks in the Minecraft world, detect the position of the player and other simple operations. The full version, on the other hand, can be "modded" (modified) using tools like the Minecraft Coder Pack. This is vastly more complex than the Pi Edition API, but the possibilities are more or less limited only by the programmer's imagination - new types of blocks and items can be created, for example, or the behaviour of the game can be changed in fundamental ways.
So there is a difference between programming the full version of Minecraft and the Pi Edition, and the learning curve is far shallower for the Pi Edition. My 8-year-old daughter was helping me to write simple programs against the Pi Edition in a couple of hours (we made a rainbow out of different-coloured wool blocks, for example), but I wouldn't dream of showing her the full Minecraft Coder Pack just yet. I've been coding professionally for 20 years, and even I find MCP a bit daunting.
The Raspberry Pi is supposed to encourage kids to learn some coding, and as an added incentive you can now get a free copy of popular game Minecraft with the device. In theory, the open-source nature of the game allows anyone to tinker with its code. In practice such a monolithic block of programming is going to prove too difficult for the majority of teens.
However it does give your jaded offspring a reason to start tinkering with a Raspberry Pi. Since the purpose of the device is to get kids back to the nuts and bolts of computing, they’ll likely learn some useful lessons simply from getting it running. And once the seeds of curiosity are planted, careful nurturing may result in a blossoming interest over using the device for more educational tasks.
But this begs the question of why you’d choose a Raspberry Pi for this over your home computer. Both can run Minecraft. Both can run development environments. Given that your PC is vastly more powerful, there seems little reason to choose a Raspberry Pi in preference for either task.
Remember that the Raspberry Pi was created as a resource for schools, and that it’s intentionally inaccessible, the better to provide a practical lesson in computing fundamentals. It wasn’t created as a home programming tool, and while it has the potential to serve as one, it’s probably best reserved for its original purposes.
Of course your home computer probably runs Windows or MacOS, which puts a layer of user-friendliness between the user and the machine. That’s a good environment for learning programming basics, but not so much to explore computer science. The Raspberry Pi is a good next step after mastering the essentials. And then free Minecraft should help to sweeten the deal.
(pic: Elliot Seddon)
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