Diary of a Minecraft Boy

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl who ate words for her meals and lived off of their sustenance in her imagination.  

She dreamed that one day, her fairytale would unfold as most did; complete with a forest, long swinging hair, a long spinny dress, singing birds and squirrels, a castle, and a handsome knight in shining armor to whisk her away on his mighty stallion.

And they would live happily ever after.

I don’t know all the worlds you live in.

Some days I am confused which ones I exist in.

I’m a writer, occasionally on here and always in my head, a teacher at times, a musician, a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter. But the one realm I am always consciously conscious of is that of being mom.

I have three boys, 13, 10, and 8. It is that eight year old boy whose birthday was October 2, who lives in an imaginary world  that is as vastly dissimilar and comfortingly similar as mine was as a little girl.

To get us all on the same page, or screen shall I say, there is this video game called Minecraft. It is the brainchild of a guy named Markus Persson (his alter-ego is Notch online) who grew up in Sweden, playing first with Legos and as he grew older, video games on his home computer. When he grew up, (super condensed plot line) he created a realm, a world of worlds, called Minecraft. It’s primarily a building game, much like Lego blocks, just in the virtual world. (Also, ironically, Lego now sells Minecraft sets.) 

So Markus’s palace is his company, named Mojang, from the Swedish for “thingamabob or whatchamacalit”.  There are other Swedish things that I quite like. Ikea originated in Sweden, and is a big box filled with all sorts of possibilities, or a never ending maze of hell depending who you are. Spotify, another Swedish export, gives subscribers access to millions of titles of music that keeps me grounded in sound on a daily basis. And I have a real thing for Swedish Fish. Especially the red ones.

There are pieces of memories of my boys that filter through my mind like honeyed sunlight through trees. Some I remember bits of; a look, a laugh, a hug, a place.  And others look like an entire developed picture, the words, scents, faces, feelings all intact.

When each of my boys were young-young, birth to Kindergarten, we would spend much of our time during the days together, running errands, visiting friends, playing at parks, picking up brothers, getting Mommy’s coffee, that kind of thing. 

One particular time of doing some-thing like that, it was just Finn and I, my youngest getting a more patient, calm, better version of who the other two had. (Or possibly just so beyond tired I had no fight left.)

His sweet preschool voice, like his brothers before, would narrate our route, asking questions, pointing out sky, trucks, signs, whatever caught his perceptive eye. 

(It should be noted that most moms are able to find a pretty doable balance of half attentiveness to a child’s running monologue and still appear actively engaged by inserting certain phrases at appropriate times, all while silently creating multiple checklists, mulling over (and over) what someone said to us, and watching traffic like a hawk.)

I was pulled back from one of those times immediately to full attention on Finn when my mind caught up with the vocabulary that he was using to describe his landscape. He was using words like saplings, birch and oak and elements… I would have been unsurprised at more general terms, but the descriptions were so, descriptive.

I naturally assumed being the well read and eloquent person I am,  that Finn had absorbed this new vocabulary from being around his obviously fantastic parent, me. And so, as this story goes, assuming made, what we all know it always does, out of me. 

It only took a short time relaying this story at home to my older boys to realize that it was not me at all who was his brilliant possesser and passer of knowledge, it was Minecraft. His beloved video game. Which I at least comforted myself with the knowledge that I had contributed to him massive uninterrupted playing time.

Sometimes expected change arrives so differently than we imagined that it is a shock to our system. Looking out my window yesterday, I saw brilliant  blue skies and sun, and if I wasn’t aware of the month I was in, I may have mistaken it for a warm summer day and walked outside dressed for 80, expecting warmth, and instead receiving a physical shock as the cold 40 degree fall air hit my uncoveredskin. 

The environment we end up living in often does not at all look or feel like the one we created. We make one world, and then wake up to one that looks kind of like what we planned and created, but doesn’t feel even close to how we imagined it would.

Minecraft is a game of bytes and bits, a game that is based on the look of 1980s computer game technology, but created with 2oth century tools. 

It’s premise looks like one thing, but the real worlds one can create are quite another. 

Growing up, my parents bought my sisters and me an Atari gaming console system. It was the height of video gaming (a concept unimaginable in my parents childhood). My middle sister and I loved it. We had our favorites, Pong, Pole Position, Breakout; but Pac Man (and subsequent Ms. Pac Man, created from the circuitry of Pac) were our definite favorites, most especially on the handheld arcade style game.

But we never had dreams or visions of actually existing through the worlds on our screens. Our world was vibrant colors, ringing sounds, textures and tastes. But the world of my children, in this now, is not only the imaginary living within a screen created world, it’s a virtual reality. 

The player in Minecraft has complete freedom to build and change and develop or destroy their world, no pre-set narrative, only self-directed goals. The story unfolds organically as the player builds his or her world and they can create as elaborate of a scenario as they want.

Minecraft and the open share culture of the game has spawned (that’s a Minecraft joke) spin-offs and riffs all as individual as those who passionately play and share the game. There are books and You Tube videos and Pins all dedicated to the tricks of the trade. 

And new vocabulary has cropped up around the growing gaming industry. I’ve learned in the past six months or so words such as: Hacks, Noobs, Mods, Avatar, Skins. One day, I found out quite by accident while my oldest was starting his own gaming You Tube channel (around Clash of Clans, Clash Royale and some Madden), that my youngest, then 7, had his own You Tube channel.

(Pause as I take a moment to regain my composure.) 

After that, I quickly found, met, and discussed internet safety with my child already obviously light years ahead of me digitally. I watch both boy’s channels to keep an eye on them, (mostly other people) and to enjoy my boys personalities. Haden’s got a great rapport with the camera, and Finn, well, he basically records as he plays a game, hums and makes noises to illustrate what he’s doing. He does the same thing when he plays with his “real” toys.

Minecraft inspires this sort of response. Players create buildings, art, music, YouTube videos, crafts; so it turns out, Minecraft is less a game and more an activity. And when users share the pieces they’ve made, it becomes something more. It becomes community.

And that may well be the part of the technology revolution that some struggle to understand the most. If you decide to write it all off, to cast aside all gaming as time-wasted, brain-cell killing, all the ills of society, and additionally screen time as the downfall of kids these days, and most likely civilization, you miss the point. 

You’re not seeing the Minecraft forest for the Minecraft trees.

I tried to play Minecraft one day, when the boys were first exploring this new world. I sat down, ready to see what they saw. Except I couldn’t. I was so frustrated with my brain’s inability to literally even see the game, that I stopped after less than five minutes; all nauseous and sad and relieved at the same time. I had wanted to connnect with them doing something they really enjoyed doing, that brought and brings them (especially my youngest) such joy. 

There are hidden recipes in Minecraft, like two parts stone + three parts wood=pick axe if arranged on the grid correctly. Elements are made into tools, Survival Mode iswhere you not only live and build but fight off monsters at night bent on destroying all you care about and built during the day, and a Creative Mode where you can spend your digital life in a gaming Eden of sorts.

The boy who loves and lives and breathes Minecraft told his mom very seriously yesterday that he was “more of like a gamer guy than like a sports guy.” 

An his mom replied with a smile and said, “I think that’s awesome that you know that about yourself. Not everyone likes sports, not everyone likes gaming, we are all created so uniquely.” And she thought to herself, how wonderful to both know who you are and still have so much growing and building yet ahead.

So the little girl grew up (super condensed story line) and realized that her world looked a little bit like and quite a bit unlike what she had imagined. There were hidden recipes for things like relationships,and disasters.  Elements made into tools can help you to survive where you not only live and build but fight off monsters bent on destroying all you care about. And those monsters don’t always just stay in the night. 

Most of all she discovered fairytales are just tales, but that if she kept creating, and continued to live on words, that she could build her life in a forest of her choosing, in a castle that holds those she loves.

Swinging hair, a long spinny dress, singing birds and squirrels, well, those were just frosting on her cupcake.

For a fun time and peek into the Minecraft world:  Revenge-CaptainSparkelz