Disclaimer: Like a lot of parents, I’m a believer that “screen time” should be limited, and can’t replace face-to-face or hands-on exploration of the real world (Jax typically doesn’t watch any TV other than an occasional rented movie or a Dr. Who Episode on Netflix), but on rainy and snowy days and after a long day out, we love ourselves some Minecraft!
At first I was mixed about Jax playing so much Minecraft. We didn’t introduce video games to him until his grandparents bought him an iPad when he turned eight. Almost immediately, Jax took to certain problem-solving, physics games like Where’s my Water, Angry Birds, and Cut the Rope—all approved by me. But it didn’t take long for him to come across Minecraft.
He wanted to use his allowance money to buy the PC version, and after checking it out, we downloaded game. He knew very little about it at first, and basically got killed within one Minecraft day and was frustrated because he didn’t know any rules of the game. Not one. We got on his iPad together and I showed him how to look up tutorials on YouTube.
I soon noticed that Jax was watching Minecraft tutorials A LOT, completely engrossed. I let it go for a few days until finally I was relieved when he jumped on the computer and applied all his new knowledge about Minecraft until he’d accomplished a lot of the basic achievements. I could see this was hugely rewarding for him.
So, this became the process. Jax would watch Crafters playing on YouTube, search for something he wanted to learn, find the information, and then replicate it himself on the computer. A year later, he’s what I would call an expert. I’m not sure there’s anything he doesn’t know about the game and hasn’t accomplished. He’s made some very cool maps lately, which he shares with his friends. He loves coming up with designs and challenges, with elaborate story lines, while having to think through how the user will experience the map. To animate things in the map, he has to utilize some pretty sophisticated logic and programming. So, I do see some useful skills here.
His gift to me for my 41st birthday was a 15 minute long “Minecart ride” through mountains, in between waterfalls, and up into the clouds. All along the way, we passed words he’d built out of blocks that described me. Midway through the ride, we travelled under a rainbow that spit out fireworks and turned on the words “I love you.” It ended with an utterly massive cake he’d created out of a thousand blocks with 41 candles on it. It took him many hours to make that and he totally surprised me with it.
Lately, he’s been more interested in playing with his friends from school on a shared server. They are building an entire city together and essentially plan, play, cooperate and communicate virtually through the game. On Easter, Jax staged an elaborate egg hunt for his friends, which was a hit.
When I asked Jax why he loved Minecraft so much, here’s what he said:
“You can be creative and build things. I mean, haven’t you always wanted to build a huge sandcastle…and then be able to go inside it?”
“It’s an endless game (not a game with a story that has an end.)”
“It’s a fun kind of learning and is not all about killing.”
“You can go down different paths (You could become a builder, fighter, caver, or programmer/mod-maker)…there’s something for everyone.
“With friends, you can plan and socialize in the chat box. You can build things together you couldn’t build alone. You get new ideas you wouldn’t have thought of.”
“It’s a fun way to get together after school.”
“There are so many YouTube videos you can watch and learn whatever you want–to share with your friends.”
So, when Jax said he wanted to buy ME an account so I could play with him, I was a little intimidated, to say the least. But, he assured me he would help me learn the game. I am so happy I kept an open mind. Here’s how it’s rewarded me.
First of all…it’s part of Jax’s world—the one usually reserved for friends his age—and I get a window into it. There’s a whole Minecraft culture full of its own slang [“Hey, Mom, can you help me get the ‘Mo Creatures Mod’? The ‘mobs’ in it are ‘epic!’], key players [Notch, Jeb, Stevie], and legends [Herobrine!]. It’s a way for me to stay connected with him and what he cares about. Truthfully, as a mom, I’d always been a little worried how I would be able to stay close to my son.
Aside from that, I get to see different sides of Jax when we play together. All of them have impressed me.
- Since he’s become such an expert, he gets to be the teacher, which means I’m the novice for a change. For the first month, I was almost completely dependent on him. While I was getting used to moving about spatially, Jax made all the tools and our shelters. He fought off the mobs and killed the animals. You can imagine how this makes him feel. He gets to be a hero. I can’t tell you how many times early on I inadvertently fell off a cliff, mined down into lava, was killed by a midget zombie and especially witches, or drowned. Jax is always watching out for me and tries to “protect” me. I can tell he takes pride in saving me. He’s mindful at all times of my experience in the game.
- I get to see Jax’s relaxed/playful side. He sometimes talks in goofy voices, embellishes the drama, and surprises me out of the blue with some hilarious random comment in the chat box.
- I can clearly see Jax’s mind at work. Typically, I only get to see “artifacts” of his creations and problem solving from school (i.e., math sheets, papers, projects, etc.), but I don’t necessarily get to see his problem solving process real-time and what his emotional reactions are like moment-to-moment. He has to be strategic, tactical, and efficient, while prioritizing and delaying gratification. He’s been endlessly patient with me while I learned the game.
- I respect his values. Jax is adamant about not turning on the “cheats” or switching to creative mode to escape a difficult mob situation. He’s extremely cooperative. He’s genuinely complimentary if I come up with a new idea or strategy.
- We can talk about Minecraft and plan things when we aren’t playing. We can dream up things together. On the way back from Florida, we planned out an entire farm, with crops, houses, and animals, including a pen in of sheep in every color. It took us a month to finish it all, but we stuck with it and felt a sense of “team” accomplishment when we were done.
- He treats me like a pal. When things are going well and we’re riding a wave of momentum (e.g., we’ve just found a large pocket of diamonds or stumbled across a new and rare biome or discovered an abandoned mineshaft or sand temple)…we get to share in the excitement and bond.
Jax is 3 years away from being a teenager, so I realize our “Minecraft run” won’t last forever. Still, I’d like to believe the memories we made fighting zombies together will.