One day several years ago, the kids are playing Minecraft and I hear this from the other room:
“Okay! Meet you at the head shop!”
My parental ears perk up, and I casually call, “Wow, they have head shops in Minecraft? What do they sell?”
“Heads, Mom. What do you think?”
Then and there I decided it was worth the investment for me to get a Minecraft account too. My kids have been playing Minecraft for almost four years, but aside from installing “mods” (software modifications) for them and playing all-around IT support, I just wasn’t that interested in it. I tried it but mostly for their safety, to see what was going on. The kids were thrilled I had joined, but my first experience just wasn’t that exciting so I bailed. No real head shops. I just remember punching trees to get wood, killing sheep to make a bed and gathering seeds to grow food. I really found it boring. At the time I didn’t know that that was just a tiny part of how the game works.
So while I continued to install mods and watched the kids play from a distance, I stayed mostly off the game. Then as the years went by and they became more skilled and started to do more and more with the game, I began to get it and really appreciate how good they were at it. I began to see that the genius of the game is that you have a limitless amount of things you can do and there is a ton of social interaction multi-player servers like Mineplex and Minetime and, besides learning how to plan, there was a lot of problem-solving and collaboration going on. Not to mention strategy. Several years ago, my kids even started Skyping with their friends to all play online at the same time — it sounded like one seriously intense conference call with high-pitched voices shouting directions and requests to each other with fingers flying across the keyboard. So not exactly adult conference-call etiquette, but they were working together, and when things boiled over invariably they would figure out a way to work it out. Most of the time, anyway.
“I got first blood!”
“He stole my kill, and now he’s going in for the cleanup!”
If you need a translation, ask almost any kid between the ages of 5 and 12. Even if you don’t know anything about how the game works, you might know that kids are all addicted to it.
What is Minecraft? Most parents think they know what it is, some actually do and others just shake their heads while trying to pry their kids away from their monitors, iPads or game controllers. Minecraft is an online video game that was first made by a programmer from Sweden — Markus Persson (known as “Notch”) — and was later developed by the Swedish company Mojang. It was bought for $2 billion last year by Microsoft. It’s a deep game with varied goals, so it is pretty hard to grasp unless you start to play it. South Park even devoted an entire episode to the premise of two parents, desperate to understand Minecraft, who had to hire a kid to explain it to them and teach them how to play.“Don’t kill Mom,” my son hissed under his breath to my daughter. “I know, I know,” she hissed back.
Recently while I was “spectating” (watching) my kids play on some server, they got the bright idea that it would be fun for me to try playing again, not so much at punching wood and building, but in a multi-player survival game — in other words, the big league. It was quickly decided however that I would have to get up to speed by playing “SG” (survival games) with them in a protected environment. “Now, Mom, until you’re a little better, we won’t go on a multi-player server. We’ll whitelist you and train you until you get better,” said one. The other winked and said, “Think MLG pro, Mom. MLG pro.” (That’s Major League Gamer, folks.)
I was good with that. So one Saturday, we all sat around the dining room table and this noob did her best. Basically, I sucked. They were shouting directions at me in a survival game, and while I enjoyed playing, I realized that I would have to put a lot of time into it to really improve. “Mom! What did you get? Make a sword! Oh! You can enchant that if we can find an enchanting table!” The game lasted about 18 minutes before the DM (death match) began. “Mom! You’ve got low health. Take a pork chop. Here!” My daughter threw one down in my direction. I walked toward the pork chop. “Mom, you’ve got to eat it!”
“Don’t kill Mom,” my son hissed under his breath to my daughter.
“I know, I know,” she hissed back.
I was having fun. A lot of fun. (The game has diamonds, after all.) So much fun that I didn’t want it to stop. I could see how addictive the game was, and in an instant, I began to see their side of it. Every annoying time I had nagged them to stop playing and they had resisted rushed back to me. All the times that I had told them to stop playing, that it was time to go somewhere or go to bed or whatever, only to hear them say with feverish intensity, “Mom! I’m in the middle of a game!” or “One, second, Mom!” or “Noooooo!”
They were learning some good things too. They were learning how to plan ahead and to manage the expected and the unexpected. They would have to learn the power of self-control, and so would I. I also began to think, how long before they won’t want to play games with me at all anymore? What did I have? Two, maybe three years? Not to mention, I was just starting to get hooked myself. I saw all too clearly that one thing that was missing from my life was that kind of fun. Mindless, silly fun, the kind that kids seem to get inherently and the importance of which adults forget. The positive points were starting to add up.
I could see, though, that as the adult in our Minecraft world, I’d have to set limits for all of us. As I was sitting with them listening to their excited chatter while I slowly plodded through the map as they were flying by me back to spawn for the DM (the start-point of the game for the death match), it occurred to me that they were flying past me in so many ways. They had mastered a game in which I was unskilled, and they were patiently teaching me. I could see that they were growing up before my eyes and, in the game, they were leading and protecting me, just as I have done as their parent. It was a really weird feeling, but I know it’s one that I will have to get used to. They will be out of the house in the same time that I’ve had them and will continue to learn things that I will never master. Minecraft is just the beginning. At least they have learned to throw me a porkchop or two and help me survive this crazy world.