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A Dad’s Guide to Minecraft

Minecraft makes me feel stupid.  If you don’t know what Minecraft is, stop right now and thank the Lord  for His intervention in protecting you from this cult-breeding virtual LEGO set video game that bestows upon children the power to create whatever gargantuan constructs they can imagine out of 8-bit digital blocks.

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That’s it.

No plot.

You can’t win the game.

You just build.

You can, however, play co-operatively with other players online or on a home network, you can play Minecraft death-match (which I really regret allowing in my house), or you could go full-introvert and dive into the single-player mode to create immersive and pixelated landscapes just so you can look at it and say, “Yep.  There’s a pixelated landscape.”

And I honestly can’t get over the fact that this ground-breaking technology that has made the creator millions of dollars looks like the chunky blocky games I used to play on an Atari 2600 over thirty years ago.  It’s retro, yet futuristic.  It’s Minecraft.

I could have come up with this.  But I didn’t.  So someone else has made millions of dollars.

Whenever my kids lose twelve hours on a Saturday because they were creating a 500-story refrigerator filled with virtual pixelated bananas in Minecraft, I ask them how that will get them a job so they can move out in ten years.  They think I’m kidding.

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Last winter I had to temporarily leave my family behind in Atlanta when I got a new job in Denver.  I was living in an extended stay hotel and made the regrettable promise to my oldest two Minecraft addicts (who also happen to be my sons) that I would get a Minecraft account so that we could play cooperatively and, in lieu of actual father/son bonding time, we could do so online through Minecraft.

This experience made Minecraft the first video game I’ve ever encountered in my entire life that made me utter the dreaded parental words, “I don’t get it.”

Those words then lead to a ridiculous rant where I might as well have hiked my pants up to my chest, popped on old-man glasses, and declared, “Why, when I was a kid we used to walk to the video arcade in the snow uphill both ways just so we could throw quarters away on games that had purpose – like Pac-man (where you ran around the exact same maze as many times as you could manage without dying) and Donkey Kong (where you navigated through just three repeated constructs as a gorilla threw barrels at you) and Mappy (my personal favorite which hardly anyone else remembers which was about a Police Mouse who avoided criminal cats by slamming doors and jumping on trampolines).”

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Mappy – Now THERE’S a real game!

See, THOSE games had a point!  And years later I have a job.  Because those games also cost 25-cents each so it was impossible to lose hours at a time playing them.  Heck, we could hardly afford to play for more than ten minutes before we needed to go find some work to do to earn some more quarters.

“So what do I do?” I asked my sons via Skype last winter as we played together for the first time from a distance of over 1,400 miles.

“Come over here,” Sam (my oldest) instructed.  I navigated my avatar (generically named Steve in the Minecraft world) to follow his character and together we chopped trees.  And then we dug holes.  And then we chopped trees.  And then we dug holes.  And apparently both the wood from the trees as well as the dirt from the ground formed some sort of currency that I’d use to “craft” together other minerals and objects.  For example, three logs and a pound of dirt would create a pig.  Or something like that.

And that’s pretty much Minecraft.

“So how did you do on your tests this week?” I asked my boys.  They laughed.  Dad is such a cut up.

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Here are the other ways Minecraft makes me squirm:

  • If other people in your home want to play, you need to buy another account for about $30.  We’ve bought three of these accounts so far.  Nearly $100.  For digital LEGO playsets.
  • If you want to play on mobile devices, you’ll pony up another $7.
  • In addition to the games, my children also have Minecraft t-shirts, posters and toys.  My wife and I paid for those, too.
  • They’ve recently announced a new service called Minecraft Realms which (if I understand correctly from my children (because I’m not going to go research this)) allows you to have your own personal server hosted on Minecraft’s end.  And this will have a monthly charge.  Probably per user.  I’ve asked my employer about having my 401K transferred to Mojang, the company who makes Minecraft.
  • When our children aren’t playing Minecraft, they’re watching videos online of other people playing Minecraft.  Because playing the game isn’t enough of a time-suck.

So those are the primary negatives for me.  But as much as it pains me to admit it, there are some pros to the game, as well.  For example:

  • My kids have made some ridiculously awesome constructs.  The Minecraft screenshots in this post are all buildings and arenas my kids made, block by stinkin’ block.  My kids.  I know, right?
  • The program encourages a combination of artistry and engineering.  Of course, kids can defy all logic and place a random block 45 feet in the air that could hold the entire Empire State Building, but still, the basics of engineering still exist.
  • It teaches math, geometry, and physics without it seeming like its teaching math, geometry, and physics.
  • Co-op mode genuinely fosters cooperation.  My boys work better when they’re playing Minecraft than if they were left on their own to forage for food.
  • Minecraft actually has multiple elements that would be good in the classroom, and websites like this one and this one have tons of articles, resources, and videos as to how to make Minecraft an even more educationally beneficial tool.  If we were still a homeschooling family, I imagine Minecraft would be a big part of the curriculum.

The single biggest reason my wife and I have allowed it in our house is that the output of Minecraft has been some of the most creative that we’ve seen from our children.  Though they spend hours creating things in a digital world that only they and a select few others can enjoy, they’re found a medium for creating.  When I was their age, I did that with reams of paper and box loads of pencils.  Tools change, and I can’t completely begrudge that fact.

And on a more personal level, when we finally managed to move the entire family across the country to join me in Denver, Minecraft not only allowed our boys to remain connected to their friends back east (as it continues to do so almost  a year later), but helped them foster strong friendships here, as well.

Though I wish my kids would exercise more, read more, pray more, do their chores more promptly, cooperate as well in real life as they do online, and engage in more of the things I did when I was their age, Minecraft has inspired my boys to build a 100-foot statue of me for Father’s Day, create technically complex infinity roller coasters, and learn how to catapult chickens long distances.

And perhaps these skills developed in an 8-bit world (particularly the chicken tossing one) will indeed help them get jobs creating buildings, designing cities, or leading communities in the future.

Probably not. But I’ll keep praying that it works out that way.

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24 thoughts on “A Dad’s Guide to Minecraft”

  1. It’s such great timing for you to publish this! I recently played my first round (can I call it that?) of Minecraft, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

    Like you said, there isn’t a whole lot that you can so with a structure after you build it, but there’s something about the act of building that’s fun.

    I wonder if the appeal of a (fairly) blank world for someone to design ties in with post-apocalyptic tv shows and movies that have been all the rage. The Walking Dead comes to mind.

    1. @alwaysright If they are creating something beautiful (and the screenshots speak for themselves), it’s hard to write off their actions as merely “playing video games”. The production of art is a worthwhile leisurely pursuit, and self-expression is not servile in the least.

  2. Sounds like good slave training.

    How many liturature/religious books do your kids read? Idleness does not necessarily mean doing nothing and true leisure (skola) is not playing video games.

  3. People have built computers and terminals, one even built a programmable piano. It’s hardly slave training, it’s an excellent creative tool.

  4. Love this article! My gang are into Minecraft and I had to tell them that it’s the first video game I’ve seen that I actually approve of. I mean, legos you don’t have to clean up, right? (although we do have plenty of those, too). It’s a great way to spend a winter afternoon when even the weathermen are telling you to stay in.

  5. Two of my boys are Minecraft blockheads. What can I say? I guess that’s better than Call of Duty “Ghosts” which I have had the misfortune to see on occasion in their brother’s room.

  6. Both my son and I have an Xbox360. I have his hand-me-down. He wants a PC version of the game, but he avoids keyboards. Weird. I ran a BBS 20 years ago. I don’t feel like maintaining a Minecraft server for him. Been there. We’ll both be fine for now playing side-by-side with networked Xbox consoles.

    Have you seen the kickstarter funded documentary of how Minecraft started and how it grew?

  7. My two oldest boys (11 and 8), especially the 11-year-old, are fascinated by MineCraft. They have it for the PC, Xbox 360, and iOS. I’ve definitely spent more than $100 too, between the various paid accounts, downloads, and now the line of merchandise (MineCraft torch, MineCraft redstone cube, MineCraft iron sword, MineCraft pickaxe, MineCraft Creeper t-shirts). Now LEGO has licensed MineCraft-themed building kits.

    I’ve even given them assignments (e.g., build me a model of the Basilica of St. John Lateran) for homeschooling projects. The results (and their devotion to the game) are astounding.

    Still, it’s a video game. And it seems that especially for boys, video games easily become obsessions. Somehow, playing with real Legos “feels” better than staring a screen and manipulating a digital Lego set.

    1. I’m working on it! Whenever I was working on this post, the son who made that wasn’t around. I think he still has it on his Minecraft account. I just need him to log on so I can get a screen shot.

  8. I don’t get it either. Pants hiked up, old-man-glasses firmly in place. My family is my wife, her sister, niece, and brother in law, and my wife’s mother. And every one of ‘em spending hours and hours of daylight playing games on screened devices.

    I’m given to understand that they are all very good at these games, which they should be, given the time gone into them. It’s just hard for me to think of it as actually doing something. Back in the ’60s and ’70s we did things. Straightened old nails, found bits of wood, and made stuff. Explored. Read books, even. Learned to sew and cook. How to fold a fitted sheet.

    Everyone asks me, “How do you get those fitted sheets folded so neatly?” And I offer to show them, but they don’t really want to know, or else they’ve lost the ability to learn mechanical things. It’s all gone into mastering the umpteenth level of Candy Crush, or what have you.

    Of course, I can’t fault them for not wanting to learn how to snake a sewage main. There are some skills I might have been smarter not to acquire. But stitching down the straps on a little girl’s ballet slippers?

    Used to be said, religion was the opiate of the masses. I wish. I doubt there’s a boy within ten blocks of here that knows how to mow a lawn. If there is, I’ve never seen him. They’re all sitting rapt, hypnotized at these little screens.

  9. My son, 8, is Minecraft obsessed as well. I am a librarian and we are starting a Minecraft in Real Life club where we will be doing 3D printing, learning about circuits and creating things inspired by the game. Why not take something they love and bring it out into the real world. We will probably be hosting a server as well so the kids can play in a safe environment. I still don’t get watching endless You Tube videos, but whatever. :)

  10. Funny. My nephew’s into mine craft. I think it’s mine craft. There’s a flying dragon he can shoot arrows at or something.

  11. What a kick!!! Great read!!!

    My four children dragged me into minecraft (against my will) and I have enjoyed working with them a little too much… :)

    They run off and mine and bring ‘dad’ back the loot and then I just keep building… and building… and building… They continually check-in on me and review my new swimming pool, my new fountain, etc.

    They have a contest to find the most beautiful spot for dad’s next house… it has actually brought some very nice times to all of us – working together and occasionally suffering together when a poor soul starts to swim in lava!!

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