I first heard about Minecraft sometime last year. Not
being a gamer, I didn't pay too much attention. My kids are 5 and
just-turned-4 so I don't need to worry about video games yet, right? (Cue
laughter.) After a very brief introduction by an older friend, my 5-year-old
is now playing Minecraft like he was born for it and my 4-year-old is
picking it up fast. What is this strange, "addictive," block-building game?
There are dozens of tutorials and how-tos online, but if you
have a preschooler who has just discovered Minecraft, here are some basic
things you need to know:
1. It's like LEGO blocks in
digital form—except there are an unlimited amount of blocks and unlimited space
I didn't get it at first (OK I still don't), but despite the very simple graphics (where "water" and "lava"
also come in blocks), the appeal of Minecraft is in the ability to build anything you can
imagine. As there is no end to the resources a player can collect, elaborate
worlds can be created on the screen.
My son Patrick's boat design
2. It really does teach critical
The goal to Minecraft is
survival: creating housing, procuring weapons and food, avoiding enemies in the
form of Endermen, skeletons, zombie pigmen (seriously), silver fish (known as
"bitey things" to my kids) and other slightly creepy villains. It's intriguing
to watch a 5-year-old determine what he needs to protect himself and his
treasures, then build a fully furnished house to keep the bad guys out.
3.This is pretend play on a video
For non-gamers, Minecraft might
seem like just mindless time in front of a screen, but it's engaging pretend
play that takes "playing house" to an entirely new and creative level. It
doesn't look like much to me, but my kids see the world they're building and
they're very engaged. I'm not a child psychologist, but I'd
rather have them engaged in a video game that is fully of their own creation
than watching TV.
4. For pre-readers who want to
understand the game better, there are video tutorials.
My older son found how-to videos on YouTube that
have helped him figure out what tools he needs to collect and how to build
different structures. He's learning how to listen, watch and follow
instructions while putting his own interesting spin on the world he's creating.
5. There isn't any real violence,
but there is death.
My kids have shown me
how they have to kill the "bad guys" that might attack them or destroy their
stuff, as well as how they raise and kill livestock for food and clothing. I'll
be honest: I find it a little disturbing that they kill cows and pigs, but they
understand that the animals are providing them with resources. While I would
like to protect them from the realities of life and death, we have had several
productive discussions on the topic since they've started playing Minecraft.
6. It opens the door to
conversations on a variety of other topics, too.
We've also had conversations about what makes a "bad guy" and how bad guys in Minecraft are easily identifiable, but that isn't always so in real life.
Since my kids started playing Minecraft, we've talked about everything
from what makes a good house to how to care for animals to how important it is
to take care of our environment. We've also had conversations about what makes
a "bad guy" and how bad guys in Minecraft are easily identifiable, but that
isn't always so in real life. "If all bad guys looked like zombie pigmen, we'd
know who to stay away from," says my oldest. Indeed.
7. The line between real world and
Minecraft can become blurred in a good way.
The lessons they're picking up while playing Minecraft have translated to my
older son wanting to clean his room to make sure all of his "treasures" are
safe, building a "library" in his Minecraft house like our office full of
books, my younger son wanting to learn how sheep's wool makes clothes and bringing his real-life love of gardening into his Minecraft world.
My husband has
started playing Minecraft a bit, just so he can understand what the boys are
doing in their games. My older son often invites me to look at his "lovely
world"—a term I find utterly charming. He takes great pride in his Minecraft
creations and in helping his younger brother navigate the game. My younger son
can take it or leave it at this point, but being able to engage with his older
brother in a game that he has deemed "for big kids" makes him feel good and gives them one more activity to share.
One final personal note: I've seen
the word "addictive" used to describe Minecraft. I dislike the negative connotation of that word. I might joke that I'm "addicted" to watching "The
Walking Dead," reading thrillers and drinking coffee*, but at the end of the day
I understand that there is a whole lot more to life than those three things.
Likewise, I don't think we (the collective we) give kids enough credit. Yes, my
kids can be passionate about playing Minecraft. It's up to me to set the limits
on how long they can play that or any game. But at the end of nearly every day,
they have played outside, engaged in pretend play in ways that don't involve a screen, eaten at least
two meals at home with their family, snuggled up for story time, gotten into at
least four arguments with each other, played with their real-life pets and done
some kind of arts and crafts. And in almost all cases, they are happy to put
down their iPads and walk away from Minecraft when my husband or I declare that it's time for a new activity.
So perhaps it's time to do away with the word
"addiction" as it refers to kids' pursuits and respect that they have interests
and hobbies that are just as strong, and just as important to support and
nurture, as our own.