I watch 7 year old Loudboy melt his brain these days while playing the game Minecraft. This is a relatively new phenomenon for us, less than a couple months old, but is all encompassing at this point.
If you don’t know what Minecraft is, it’s like an open world sandbox Lego toybox with graphics straight out of the 1990’s (circa-DOOM):
The boy paid I think $5 with his allowance for the real version that you can play on the iPad and is obsessed. You can build things, mine blocks with a pickaxe, mix different things you collect together to make new things, and even do some RPG-esque things like create new weapons or armor to battle NPC bad guys. His sister isn’t as obsessed, but plays a little and helps. They’re constantly chattering about emeralds or diamonds or obsidian or creepers. I’m not sure when the tidal wave of popularity started gaining steam, but Microsoft recently acquired the Minecraft creator Mojang AB for $2.5 Billion – billion with a “B.” For what looks to me like simple block world. Presumably to access the 33 million users of the game.
So right now we have to keep a close on this addiction or many days that would be all he’d want to do. Melting his brain, as I tell him, but I see there are things he’s learning. Economics, money and resource management, architecture, strategy, creativity, and work sharing (with other people on the multi-player version). When we finally kick him off, we’ll find him watching YouTube Videos of people playing minecraft – for hours if you let him. Or if you go into full electronics lockdown, he reads the minecraft books he bought at the book fair. All encompassing.
So we create boundaries on how much he can play or watch videos, make sure he’s doing his other activities he’s involved with (including playing outside with friends), and let him have fun in bursts. Then we make him get off and play with his dang Legos instead (I say that in jest, but only half so). There are some elements to role playing games with upgrading of armor and healing potions, and I actually think that stuff is pretty cool and I was into those games (including videogames – Final Fantasy anyone?) when I was a kid.
Maybe his strong interest in Legos and Minecraft will lead to something like Google Sketchup (a free CAD program) or programming or engineering? His builds in both Legos and Minecraft are very impressive. There are a lot worse things we could be letting him do, or games he could be playing (Grand Theft Call of Duty Prostitute Killer or whatever) but still, he’s constantly chattering about all sorts of stuff he’s doing in his game. It is often the first thing he talks about waking up, and reading a book on Minecraft is the last thing he sees before bed. Just a phase? Or something to keep an eye on? Either way, hearing about pickaxes and diamond armor is sooo boring. And I never even have to respond since he’s basically carrying on a conversation in train of thought with himself. A few “uh huh” and “yeahs” every now and then will suffice.
Dad?! You know that if you take your pick axe and mine some sandstone and then add coal, you can make TNT… then you can stack the TNT up and then put a torch on it and make a huge explosion!!
Dad?! If you take five leathers and shape them different ways you can make leather pants or armor. and then if you get diamonds, you can make diamond armor. But you need a special pickaxe to mine diamonds because they’re so hard and an iron pickaxe will break. Dad?! Can there be wood pickaxes in real life?
Dad?! Did you know that you can play with other people and then you can both try and kill creepers and zombies. The best sword is a diamond sword. You can build a house with windows, but to do that you have to take sandstone and put it in a furnace and then that becomes windows and then you can put them in your house.
Oh, and Dad?! If you have lava and let it cool and it becomes obsidian and then if you get flint and wood and make a fire you can add obsidian and some other shit and make plastic explosives and it’s really cool. Did you know you can stack them really high and make the creepers blow up in a trap?
So there’s the craze of the day in our world. We’re breaking out the game of LIFE tonight. Minecraft needs a timeout.