I have to start by saying that until recently I’ve been a little smug about how little time my kids spent with screens.  When discussing with other mothers I would just coo, “Oh, my kids just never really got into all that.  They still just love playing outside.”  Amazing that I haven’t been stabbed yet.

Anyway, those days are over. It’s all because of Minecraft

…and I’m okay with it. 

Well, mostly okay.  I do make a point of leaving the room when they play one of those blasted SSundee YouTube videos (that guy make Ed Grimmy sound like he has the voice of an angel).  And, after a few hours, I give into my granola mom side and demand that they unplug and go and read a book.

But overall, I’m cool with it.

Quick overview in case you’re not familiar with the game.  Minecraft is what’s known as a “sandbox game,” meaning that the gamer creates the world.  The game begins with “Steve” spawning in any one of a number of possible settings, and then has to mine for materials to build his surroundings.  You can play in creation mode, which is mostly about building, or in survival mode, which is mostly about killing Creepers and Enderman.  Also, there are barn animal wandering around.  That’s pretty much all I know.  It seems kind of ridiculous, but my kids adore it. 

Why do I not mind them spending hours glued to a screen playing a game that I find (truthfully) kind of stupid?  Because I think it’s awesome for them.  Here’s why.

5 reasons I’m totally (cool) with my kids playing minecraft

the tears

Not to sound like a sadist, but I was really pleased to see my kids crying over this game.  There’s a steep learning curve in Minecraft, and when a player is new there’s tons of opportunity for disaster.  My daughter was devastated when the gigantic house she built entirely out of books was burnt to the grown by lava.  It was horrible.  But then, after several minutes of sobbing, she grabbed the iPad and moaned “I’m just going to have to start over.” Bingo.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that my goal is not raising happy children.  My goal is raising happy adults and that means as children they have to learn how to deal with hard things.  In real life, houses burn down.  The only thing to do is rebuild.  Good lesson.  Proud of my girl for being resilient.

they become the expert

As expressed above, my Minecraft knowledge is seriously limited  — and I plan on keeping it that way.  Minecraft is the first thing in my kids lives that they have had complete control over, and it’s been the first thing that they have been able gain mastery of through their own hard-work.  I’m astounded to admit this, but it’s true.  Every other task they have faced in life has been done so with a loving and supportive adult standing by.  Potty training, learning to read, riding a bike, building a fire, flying a kite — whatever! There has always been an adult on hand.  Learning how to defend themselves against a Creeper is something they have taught themselves how to do.  I love the independence but more so I love that they are figuring out how to figure things out.  When I was in 6th grade, I spent the summer creating an elaborate data collection system about Duran Duran in a Trapper Keeper.  This was a project of epic proportion.   Obviously, there was a section for each member or the band, as well as one about band history and news. But how was I to handle some of the tricker information? Like, if both Simone LaBon and John Taylor had pet cats names “Le Tiger,” how could I be sure to cross reference that information appropriately?  Looking back, the project must have seemed pointless and inane to everyone else. But this is how I learned how to organize things.  Minecraft seems like glorified block-play to me, but I think to my kids there are deeper lessons about how to find the information they need and solve problems on their own. They have to. Because I can’t help them.

thy might become geniuses

Okay, this might be a bit of a stretch, but I’m holding tight to the possibility.  Most kids will spend some time imagining and playing in an imaginary world (e.g. “I’ll be Raphael and you be Michelangelo”). Some kids take this a step farther and instead of imagining being at Hogwarts, or fighting Stormtroopers, they will create their own imaginary world, sometimes with elaborate details and storylines.  These worlds are called pasacosms (didn’t know there was a word for this, did ya?).  Well, some researchers over at  Michigan State University found that a large number of those who earned a MacArthur Fellowship (a.k.a.- the “Genius Award”) had created paracosms in their own childhood minds. I know — correlation isn’t the same as causality — but I’m choosing to believe that anything that encourages my kids to flex their creativity mussels has got to be a good thing. Every time I get called into the living room to see the “new world” that one of my off-spring has created, I sing “genius award” under my breath while I try to keep track of all the turns and twists as I get the virtual tour of the virtual world.  (I should note, I got tipped off to some of this information from the Newsweek article “The Creativity Crisis“).

it’s free-range

Now, this one I find really interesting.  For those who don’t know, when you play Minecraft you can play as an individual 0r you can go on either a private or public server and play in the same world with other people.  I have no idea how this works but my son does.  He will play with his buddies from school, and sometimes… well, sometimes people do nasty things.  Mostly they blow up each other’s houses.  The thing is, there are no adults hanging out in the Minecraft world to see, prevent, or punish such events.  When I was a kid (back in the 1900s as my daughter likes to say), my older brother and I would occasionally go tromping around in the woods behind our suburban home.  Sometimes, we would set up a fort-like creation, only to come back several days later to find it knocked over and surrounded by beer cans left by the local teenagers.  I remember one time being totally furious that this had happened– but what could I do?  We were in the woods. We had no suspect, no proof, no recourse at all (only the hope we might find a hidden pack of smokes someplace nearby that we could destroy to take our revenge).  And there was a certain lesson to be learned in this: people won’t always be nice and leave your stuff alone, and that sometimes unfair things happen and you have to manage it on your own.  I do wish that I could send my kids into the woods more,  but I know that times have changed and that option isn’t as viable as it once was.  I can give them some room to roam in this virtual world and hope that they can learn some 21st century lessons.

my kids are playing together — again

There has been a certain heartache growing in my home for the past 6 months or so, as my daughter (now age 10.5) is starting to become more of a tween than a kid and has decided that her little brother (age 8) is lame.  They use to hold hands while riding in the back seat.  Now she calls him stupid and rolls her eyes at him. But just as I thought the inevitable separation of sibling closeness was nigh, we found Minecraft.  They have found a new way to play together.  Just like my brother and I would go tromping in the woods when we grew too old to play stuffed animals together, my kids have figured out how to go tromping off to “Fart Word” (my son named it).  They prank each other and ride the water slides the other one built. The fights are happening less and less, and there are more and more giggles. 

Thank you Minecraft.  You are welcome to stay.