Minecraft is a type of sandbox gaming. Imagine kids playing in a sandbox, occasionally interacting with each other, and sometimes playing alone. There are no rules or structure, just free play. Now imagine an electronic version of that sandbox. This is the game of Minecraft.
The purpose of Minecraft is to build shelters, and gather supplies. It is a Lego style computer-based game. There are 2 modes to this game. One is creative and the other is survival.
In creative mode, you can load up on supplies, build houses and freely walk around without the threat of danger from big spiders, creepers, skeletons with bows and arrows, and zombies. This mode is for beginners. I was most comfortable in this mode.
In survival, there are always threats of danger from encounters with various strange creatures. The best chance of staying alive is to build your shelter during the day. Stay inside at night, whenever possible. When night comes, all of the creepy crawlies come out to roam around. You are NOT safe. In survival, you must keep an eye on your food supply and health levels at the top of the screen (denoted by the hearts and chicken drumstick icons) When your food supply is low, you must gather your own food. There are farm animals to eat when necessary. Luckily, the act of killing a pig for dinner isn’t too graphic.
I played Minecraft with my two kids, ages 6 and 8, for this assignment. The gameplay experience was very fun. We giggled throughout several sessions of play. My kids were thrilled that I had joined them. We sat together and played on our individual iPads. There is something novel about staring at a screen and interacting with the people right next to you. We would message each other things like, “hey, a zombie is behind you” or “hi, mom!”
The game was not very intuitive. When I first started moving around it felt a bit awkward, and I wasn’t sure where to go or how to move. I felt like I had vertigo. After about 30 minutes, I began to get more comfortable. I let myself jump in and play, knowing that my kids would jump in to help me as needed. As explained in Gee’s “Good Video Games & Good Learning, “Players can perform before they are competent, supported by the design of the game, the “smart tools” the game offers, and often, too, the support of other, more advanced players” (p 11). My kids really watched out for me. If a zombie was coming toward me, they rushed in to save me. They would say things like “I’m on my way”, “save mom”, or “leave my mom alone” The whole experience was really endearing.
The kids enjoyed showing off their skills. My six-year old was constantly trying to help. She kept saying, “Mom, follow me”, or “look what I’m doing”. If I did follow her, she would never wait for me to catch up to her. It was the same experience with my son. They didn’t realize that mom wasn’t as skilled as they were at moving around, and had very little patience for my inexperience. If they saw that I was having trouble maneuvering the game, they would grab my iPad from my hands and play me through until they could put me into an easier spot. I laughed because I sounded just like them when I said, “Let me do it myself”.
After getting more comfortable with the game, I played alone several times after the kids went to bed. I had fun building a cobblestone house, putting flooring in and decorating it with the sparse collection of furniture available. I thought I had become proficient at the game, but had a rude awakening when I tried to go outside on my own. I could not figure out how to open the door. I flooded the inside of my house and tried to escape by jumping on the horse my son spawned. When I finally did get to safety, I couldn’t figure out how to dismount the horse. I accidentally killed the poor animal. Luckily I was able to “respawn” (bring him back to life) him. He turned out as good as new. Animals and people can respawn at any time. This respawning scenario enables risk taking, as Gee describes, “Good video games lower the consequences of failure; players can start from the last saved game when they fail. Players are thereby encouraged to take risks, explore, and try new things. In fact, in a game, failure is a good thing.” (p 6) Did you die in Minecraft? It’s okay, respawn. Your horse didn’t survive? Better luck next time. Burned down your house? Build a new one.
As expected, I didn’t have nearly as much fun playing alone. A big part of the fun comes with the interaction. “Playing games can be a solo act, but when you involve friends and family you become more engaged in the play”. (Ito, p 209) I couldn’t wait for the kids to wake up so I could show them what I accomplished.
Playing this game with my kids has made me realize that the interaction is very similar to everyday life. When they want me to see what they’ve built, they show it proudly. If one sibling knocks over the other’s horse, they bicker about it. If one goes into the other’s house uninvited, they start fuming. The sibling rivalry is still there. It’s the video game equivalent to “mom, he’s looking at me!” or “stop copying me!”
When they weren’t arguing, they really enjoyed working as a team. In one of the forests, a fire broke out. My son and daughter rushed to put out the fire, calling themselves firemen. It was very important for them to not let their buildings burn up. They worked together to put it out and save their animals. “Games encourage players to think about relationships, not isolated events, facts, and skills.” (Gee, p 9) My kids knew that they had to work together as a team to save all that they had built. They felt ownership of their creations and tried their best to save them from burning down.
Why do the kids like it? A lot of reasons. They can live however they want. They have control over their own environment. They can build a house, have pets, and jump on a boat and sail. All on their own, without permission from mom or dad. There are no rules.
This game is already used in libraries and schools as a great learning tool, to high acclaim and success. There is even an educational edition that lets teachers incorporate lesson plans into the game. This game teaches problem-solving skills and creativity. It is a highly social game that is also quite enjoyable. I will definitely play this game with my kids again. “Among “gamer parents,” the ESA (2007) says, 80 percent report that they play video games with their children, and two thirds (66 percent) say that playing games has brought their families closer together. Hanging out genres of gaming enable people to bridge different forms of gaming expertise and to cross generational and gender divides” (Ito, p 207) To my very pleasant surprise, this was a fun, relaxing way to spend some time with my kids. They were beyond thrilled that I played with them, and I can’t wait to play with them again.
It’s easy to lose track of time when playing Minecraft. I gained a better appreciation for their dilemma when I tell them to get off of their iPads for the hundredth time. I already know that they pretend they can’t hear me. Maybe next time I’ll give them a little more leeway.
Ito, M. (2009). Hanging out, Messing around, and Geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gee, J. Good video games and learning. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved from: http://www.academiccolab.org/resources/documents/Good_Learning.pdf