In Praise of Minecraft

Two years ago if you said the word “Minecraft” to me, I would have looked at you cross-eyed. Minecraft? Weird, boxy shapes? Survival mode? Ok, whatevs.

Just two years later, Minecraft has announced its’ presence in our home and I can tell it has the staying power of a massively beloved video game that makes Pac-Man look like one of those 80’s one-hit wonder bands. I’m looking at you Men Without Hats (Safety Dance). Minecraft has already begun to dominate a large part of the landscape and conversation with my 5-year-old.

His friends started talking about Minecraft a year ago and my wife and I resisted the temptation to turn him loose on it, already fearful that his amount of screen time was becoming an issue. Suffice to say, we caved and promised to keep close tabs on his usage and curtail it at any sign of obsession. What I came to find is a game that not only engrosses him but challenges him mentally and will probably do as much as anything else to encourage him to pursue a career in computers, if that’s what he wants.

That’s also the upshot of THIS lengthy but fascinating article from The New York Times magazine about the “Minecraft Generation.” Every generation has its’ thing. I came of age in the 80’s and played more crappy video games on my Commodore 128 than I could possibly count. It introduced me to the new world of personal computing, even though I didn’t become a software engineer or sell a multi-billion dollar app (yet).

Minecraft, according to the article, appeals to young people for several critical reasons and, more importantly, could set them up for future success. For instance, my son loves building with Lego’s so Minecraft seems like a natural extension.

“Children,” the social critic Walter Benjamin wrote in 1924, “are particularly fond of haunting any site where things are being visibly worked on. They are irresistibly drawn by the detritus generated by building, gardening, housework, tailoring or carpentry.” That is one of the quotes from the article and it fits my sons perfectly. How many times have I dug out my tools for a home improvement project that I lack the qualifications to perform and my kids want to “help.” I’m sure that one day — in the virtual world or real one — they will.

Out of the entire article this is the money quote for me: “Minecraft is thus an almost perfect game for our current educational moment, in which policy makers are eager to increase kids’ interest in the “STEM” disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math. Schools and governments have spent millions on “let’s get kids coding” initiatives, yet it may well be that Minecraft’s impact will be greater.”

Sounds good. A game that teaches and entertains? Sign me up. Even better, Minecraft appears to teach our kids without them even knowing it. And there are other benefits:

“When you begin, no pop-ups explain what to do; there isn’t even a “help” section. You just have to figure things out yourself.” For my kids, they seem to need help with every single task. I often wonder when/if they sprout the seeds of independence. It’s possible that Minecraft will play a role in that.

Finally, Minecraft touches on large themes that will force our children to confront questions about how they want to live and treat others.

“Seth Frey, a postdoctoral fellow in computational social science at Dartmouth College, has studied the behavior of thousands of youths on Minecraft servers, and he argues that their interactions are, essentially, teaching civic literacy. ‘You’ve got these kids, and they’re creating these worlds, and they think they’re just playing a game, but they have to solve some of the hardest problems facing humanity,’ Frey says. ‘They have to solve the tragedy of the commons.'”

These are the types of issues that my wife and I can discuss with our kids — giving them real-world and hypothetical examples. That’s fine and serves a purpose. But if a game like Minecraft, that they WANT to play, will do that, they will likely be much more invested and they’ll be able to see the outcomes and ramifications of their decisions.


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About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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