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If you are a parent of a child elementary school-aged or higher, you may have seen or heard of the video game rage that is Minecraft. Even if your child does not play video games, she’s probably heard her peers discussing it, seen them wearing Minecraft T-shirts and even dressing up as Minecraft “creepers” for Halloween.
As even I enjoy some gaming every once in a while, I allow my son to play for a few hours on weekends. And he’s been sucked into the Minecraft phenomenon. It is kid-friendly, and even known to be used in classrooms as an educational tool. Although I have not played it yet, I have watched my son play it, and I have to admit I don’t get the allure. I sat with my 11-year old, Evan and asked him to help me understand this popular game.
Me: What’s up with this Minecraft business? What’s it all about?
Evan: It’s a first-person game where you start out with nothing and build houses with virtual building blocks and explore in an endless world. You can do anything in this world like gather food and lots of other resources. There is no story to it and no other characters.
Me: Sounds like the American Dream. Starting with nothing and then exploiting resources to build wealth and power. Are there Wal-Marts? Can you build Wal-Marts?
Evan: Not really, Mom.
Me: So, there’s no story? So you don’t rescue Princess Zelda? You and your brother Luigi don’t need to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser?
Evan: Maybe back in 1972.
Me: Easy, Tiger. Those games were from the '80s.
Evan: OK, you know what I mean. The Olden Days.
Me: Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
Evan: OK, Mom. It’s a survival game. I mean, you can kill the Ender Dragon, but that doesn’t necessarily end the game.
Me: What is the goal in Minecraft?
Evan: I guess it is just to survive ... and to have the most resources and biggest, sweetest house. Oh, and to fill your house with cool things like diamonds, gold, iron, cobblestone, wood, pick axes, diamond swords, hose, shovels, cauldrons, enchantment tables, beds, chests, couches, tables ...
Me: THAT’S what our living room is missing, an enchantment table. Does IKEA carry enchantment tables? Also, are you preparing for some kind of apocalypse?
Me: Then what is all that enchantment and battle stuff for?
Evan: To give you better weapons so you can gather obsidian to make portals to the Nether.
Me: What’s the Nether?
Evan: It’s like H-E-double hockey sticks (HELL). It has blazes, zombie pigmen, ghasts (not ghosts?), lava and that’s all.
Me: That’s all?
Evan: Oh, and you have to kill lots of Endermen so that you can make portals to the Ender.
Me: So is the Ender heaven?
Evan: You have to go to Ender to fight the Ender Dragon to kill him and grab his eggs so you can then spawn your own Ender dragon.
It starts to get boring, but then, like, a couple months later, you’ll be all into the game again.
Me: Hmm. That seems super aggressive. Once you’ve killed the Ender Dragon and spawned your own, have you beaten the game?
Evan: No. You don’t beat the game. That’s just a goal. It’s just something cool to do. You never beat the game. It starts to get boring, but then, like, a couple months later, you’ll be all into the game again.
Me: I’m still confused. Why are the graphics so lame? So primitive? Like, I can draw better graphics with magic markers.
Evan: It’s part of the allure of the game. If it were really lifelike graphics, it would be extremely difficult to build houses. The blocks allow you to build more easily.
Me: But the cows are blocks. That doesn’t bother you?
Evan: No. Because when you kill it, you get leather and two pieces of raw steak.
Me: You mean a block of leather and two blocks of raw steak.
Me: Why the tender, emotional piano music?
Evan: I don’t think that’s necessary. That’s just random. I’d rather like Led Zeppelin’s "Kashmir" or something like that. Music that makes you feel powerful, not teary-eyed.
Me: I agree! This music makes me think of John Tesh.
Me: Is there any blood?
Me: Any violence?
Evan: Well, you do kill monsters at night. You can use anything to kill them—swords, your hand, flowers, leaves, hose, axes, wooden blocks, wooden planks, coal, gold blocks.
Me: What do the monsters look like?
Evan: Creepers are green with two legs and they blow up if they get to close to you. Then there are skeletons, spiders, spider jockeys, wolves (if you hit them), silver fish, endermen, zombie pigmen, blazes and ghasts.
Me: What age is this game for, in your opinion?
Evan: I would say 7. Because the graphics are so dull, the monsters won’t scare you. They are just blocks that make weird grunting sounds and when they die, they make farting noises. But even if those things are scary to someone, you can put the game on “peaceful mode” and you’ll never encounter monsters.
Me: Why don’t you just play with Legos, then, and build a cool house and square cows?
Evan: The video game makes it cooler. You can just do more with a video game. Do Legos have diamond Legos or chain mail Legos or leather? And with Legos, you couldn’t put mushrooms on the cows’ backs.