The Paradox of Minecraft

Being a parent of school-age kids means you have to curb your desire to force them to only do things that are “good” for them. You know what I mean. You don’t want your kids to A)Watch lots of TV B)Use foul language C) Play violent video games D)Eat unhealthy food E)And so on.

But my whole notion of what’s good for my kids has been turned upsidedown by my son’s introduction to the video game Minecraft.

Minecraft is not a violent video game, even though people do get killed and kill others. Apparantly, there’s a game mode called “survival” in which you are placed in danger and… well, get killed a lot, though there must be some ressurection mode since it never seems to cause Nicholas to stop playing.

Over the course of 2-3 months, his devotion to the game has approached obsession. He’s been a very good reader since he was able to read at all, but Nicholas hasn’t read a book in two months. He likes to play Minecraft on my work computer, which is why he meets me at the door when I return home from work. It’s my computer that gets the warm welcome.

He goes outside less. He gets less exercise and seems to spend each free minute in the a room with a computer. Maybe I should be alarmed. But here’s where it gets complicated.

Minecraft is a game of building things. You create a world for yourself with a home, mountains, rivers and farms. In fact, depending on the number of servers you use, you can create multiple realities. To build things you need to gather materials, and there’s a trick to that, of course. It’s not exactly engineering school, but you can imagine the creativity and learning that comes with this thing.

Minecraft has taught my son more about using a computer than I ever thought he’d know by now. Customizing the game requires installation of certain mods, or modifications. We recently saw him investigating and learning ways to add mods by downloading instructional videos from Youtube… again, something he’d never done.

Above all, this has, in a strange way, made my son more social.

A few years ago, a diagnosis landed Nicholas on the autism spectrum. He’s on the upper end. But he’s socially awkward and has few friends.

Minecraft has given him a common language he can use with his peers. It’s something that he can talk about excitedly. Like lots of video games, Minecraft can be a shared experience that people can play on a computer network. He sees his friends online. They help him build stuff and they admire each-other’s creations.

Maybe I would feel better if he and his friends were building stuff out of junk in the backyard. They’d get some sun and exercise. But how can I complain about a computer game that’s brought him out socially, and put him together with other kids like nothing else has done before.

So there he sits at the computer, sometimes for hours. I eventually tell him he’s got to get out and ride his bike or play in the canyon, even though I know that will soon be over and he’ll be back to turn on the computer and re-enter the world of Minecraft.

A summer with computer games is a reality I never knew as a kid. As a parent, I’ve made a negotiated settlement with it. And I’ll assume my son’s next obsession is one I’m more familiar with.

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