In Defense of Minecraft

On Fridays after school, my little boys run into the house, hurl backpacks into corners, shrug out of a dozen layers, and race each other to the computers. They’re not wasting one second of mommy-sanctioned Minecraft time. As the children are entertained (abducted) by a virtual world, I curse this insidious addiction, and mollify my kids-who-won’t-require-parenting-‘til-bedtime guilt by repeating the mantra of all parents of the Minecraft-obsessed: as far as gaming goes… this one isn’t so bad. And if you fall for that, it really does free up cocktail hour quite nicely.

For those of you who don’t know the value of a diamond pick axe, this is my (complete mis-)understanding of Minecraft: a sort of virtual Lego world with the goal of building large structures, teleporting, avoiding zombie-like creatures, slaughtering animals for food, and digging digging digging for materials in a never-ending game with Frogger-era graphics. But there are plenty of smart people at MIT who say this about it: “Notch (the Swedish programmer and Minecraft creator) hasn’t just built a game. He’s tricked 40 million people into learning to use a computer-aided design program.” So when tiny Teddy explains to my 39-year-old brother how to set up a multi-player server, and outlines the code to play the game, I should feel like he’s actually learned something about computers?

You can be the judge. I found this gem in one of the many emails from Teddy to his now Minecraft-obsessed uncle:

So keep 1 gold and you will be fine.  Later try to find redstone and you can make toilets!  Hahahahahaha!  Well I am a kid so i find it pretty funny that you can die by a toilet.

But then again, he also drafted this email to Uncle Patrick, prefaced with lots of actual Minecraft images that I cannot figure out how to cut and paste:

With lapis block you can make hot tubs and you can dye sheep from the beginning.  Here is how to make sheers so you can instead sheer sheep.  You should also make a farm.  I will show you how to make fence and fence gate.  Wheat attracts sheep and cows.  If you ever find a village you can get carrots to control pigs.  Those are the basics for making a farm.  Bye!

Do all second graders know how to insert graphics into the text of an email? I’m torn between odd pride in my computer savvy son and absolute horror of the sheer amount of mommy-sanctioned screen time that enabled the development of these skills. I guess it’s not a bad thing that my kids know how to forge glass from sand, recognize that bonemeal is nutritive to saplings, or have facility with the verb “to smelt.” But like all things in life, self-control is necessary as too much of anything is probably going to make the kid… weird. Or worse: my parenting… suspect.

The Lee Family rule is no screen time during the school week: no TV, no computers, no iThings of any sort, but Bernie and I allow open access on weekends. And though Teddy is smart enough to follow and write Minecraft code, he does not excel at moderation. If we didn’t force Teddy into fresh air and team sports and Church and mealtimes, he’d sit there from Friday afternoon until bedtime on Sunday, happily right-clicking away to the Netherworld, and cliff diving atop flying pigs (this really is an odd game). So we do these periodic dissections of our boys from their keyboards and encourage them to interact in a world without exploding zombies, even though it would be far, far easier to leave them undisturbed in front of their monitors.

Recently, I found a whole slew of sites serving as soundboards for parents who are similarly concerned. That was a mistake, as “parental concern” inevitably takes the high and mighty turn toward “parental judgment.” Although Moms Against Minecraft Addiction (MAMA) is the attempt of a thoughtful mother to engage other parents in a broader discussion of the influence of screen time on our kiddos, her page often incites broad generalizations about parenting and even ban-worthy filth. Why are we all so quick to judge other parents and their (nerdy) children? Even though she launched MAMA, this mom doesn’t actually believe Minecraft (or any video game) can undermine a family dynamic. In her words (to parents with a strong abhorrence for all things that beep):

Every child is different, every household is different… and your child isn’t going to grow up to be a something awful merely because they spent an hour on the computer every day. Or two hours. Or three hours. Or all day Saturday. We ALL have different values. I, for example, couldn’t care less about sports. But I worship math.

I like her already. Letting your small child happily immerse in a virtual world isn’t evil, but needs to be limited if your kid (like mine) consistently chooses Minecraft over the park with the zipline or licking the beaters or changing out of his jammies. But let’s be honest: an entire weekend forcing the entire family into Monopoly tournaments, arts and crafts, outdoorsy things, and self-betterment pursuits sounds exhausting. Also, I do want my boys to be computer-literate in an ever more electronic world. And at this age, that might just mean letting them decipher the keystrokes necessary to build an exploding toilet. This may be an over-long defense of my guilt-riddled parental laziness. Or maybe kids and parents alike need a little Minecraft time… especially at cocktail hour.

Cheers, friends.

This is a Creeper. I know this because I'm an awesome, engaged parent.

This is a Creeper. I know this because I’m an awesome, engaged parent.