Thursday, January 9, 2014

mindfully into minecraft

i know minecraft has been around for a while, that we are relatively slow to the table with it as compared to so many others.  but there's been reason for that.  when i saw posts and reviews and discussions among trusted peers regarding minecraft, i eagerly offered it to diana, thinking she'd love it and jump on board right away.

i was wrong.  she asked why would she want to play a video game (gasp!) when she could play with actual legos instead and not have to worry about being killed by zombie skeletons.  (much as she is fine with zombies and skeletons, she doesn't want to be attacked by either.  or both.)

turns out it's all in the presentation.  it took our friend taryn to show diana that there is a peaceful, creative mode within minecraft.  diana could play within worlds where mobs of hostile creatures could wander around not causing any problem - or not even appear at all.  where she could build houses and tame animals and craft to her heart's content with an endless inventory of materials.  where she could create with very few limits but the parameters of the software.  once she really understood what minecraft was, beyond a survival video game, she was interested.  so we got her an account in december and now it's taken over our household like i had originally thought it would.  she's created so many things - houses and towns and resorts and farms and stores and hot air balloons and on and on and on.  she's tamed ocelots and raised chickens and made sheep turn purple and took me inside falling fireworks.  she asked to build something for me - i now have a new happy place, a large open-space home with lots of windows on top of a mountain where i can watch the sun rise over a waterfall and set over a lava flow, with slimers bouncing quishily all around, adding a contrast to the soothing background music.  our home filled with diana's requests to come and see what she had just made.

she was whitelisted to a friend's server and started interacting with others there every moment she could, getting up and ready early so she could have some time before school, coming right to the computer after school to spend her decompression time in a world where people chatted via texting rather than with noisy voices.

ander, being ander, was quite curious about what his sister was up to.  he watched and listened and gave design directions when diana offered to build him something.  he giggled when diana learned to put a saddle on a pig and ride it.  he urged her to jump in deep pools of water over and over again.  he delighted in her killing the cows to get meat and leather to keep in her chests.  he found a video of someone reviewing another player's massive cruise ship and watched it on repeat for some time, referring to it as his own "playing minecraft."

we were pretty sure ander wasn't ready for playing on a desktop, so when we purchased a kindle fire as a christmas gift to him, i asked steve to install the pocket minecraft app.  even with a new set of controls, it took ander about negative three seconds to figure out what to do, just having watched diana for a couple of weeks.  within days, he created roller coasters with powered tracks and minecarts for cows to ride in.  all on his own.  his original idea, and he created it all.  he actually designed a space where he could spawn several cows to ride in minecarts on closely circling tracks.  when i saw what he was doing, i realized that it looked like the cows were spinning.  just like ander does.  when he got them all going fast enough, he laughed with true, utter happiness.  he had cows to spin with him, and they never tired of it, unlike his family members (i can spin just a few rotations and then get dizzy and fall over.  diana doesn't last much longer.)  no one has his stamina except those cows.  wow.

while enjoyable, he realized fairly quickly that the pocket version was limited, though.  he couldn't do all the same things that diana could on the desktop.  when taryn came over here to play and the girls shared a world over the LAN, he sat between them and watched and directed and asked questions.  both girls, but taryn especially, were patient and gentle with him and showed him how to do what he asked for.

yep, he was ready.

we got him an account and now he's playing on the computer right next to his sister.  she taught him how to fly.  seriously.  in minecraft, he now soars over his domain, examining it from a perspective he cannot often get to in real life.  from above.  big picture.

he knows it's a game.  i was concerned about his understanding at first, because he got scared when diana once got stuck in lava and couldn't get out immediately.  (diana understood the virtual reality of it and was just irritated that the server had a glitchy problem and she had to work and wait it out.)  i unwittingly contributed to ander's concern by expressing my personal displeasure over the kids' killing of mob animals and containing them in close quarters.  that was all about me and my values and applying the rules of reality to the game.  when i finally stepped back and treated the game as what it was, a break from reality, unbound and unrestricted, i could see that actually, he was seeing what happened to creatures as he interacted with them under different conditions, that he was exploring and learning in a safe environment.  he could try something out and nothing would be wrong, nobody would be hurt, it would just produce a result, if anything at all.  oh my goodness, what a fantastic world to play in!  like his beloved legos, he could build and then rebuild if something went awry.  he could try again.  with limitless pieces and more colors and variety than we could ever own in reality.  we talked late at night when he was having trouble falling asleep about how it was a game, how he could jump into lava and be ok, how he could spawn a huge number of mooshrooms, how his cows would not be hurt riding minecarts over cliffs.  we would not do this in real life, of course, but in the game he could do whatever he wanted, including fly.

this is a story of embrace.  of me being open to the possibility that a computer game could be a rich and interactive opportunity for me to connect with my children and foster their personal interests.  of me sighing with relief that there is another place for my children to create and explore and share and try without fear.  we are mindfully into minecraft and loving it.

note: if you don't know about it already, and i'm fairly certain you do if you play minecraft, the minecraft wiki is very helpful if you want to figure something out.  it's a wonderful resource for players in creative mode.


  1. “when i finally stepped back and treated the game as what it was, a break from reality, unbound and unrestricted, i could see that actually, he was seeing what happened to creatures as he interacted with them under different conditions, that he was exploring and learning in a safe environment.”

    lovely :)

  2. Yay! We love Minecraft. I am even making mine-craft inspired gloves for my boys. It's fun to watch them create their worlds together, inspiring each other creating new worlds. We just signed them up for Minecraft Homeschool where they learn history and create the worlds as they learn. There is something wonderful to be said for some video games, this being one of them. Very cool. :)