The thing about Minecraft

I don’t know exactly what attribute our next generation of engineers and scientists will have. They’ll obviously need exceptional reasoning skills and no small amount of creativity, and likely will need to pair those with a willingness to collaborate. Beyond that? <shrugs>

But if I were a betting man, I’d put fair money on one interest they’ll all have in common: a long-standing love of Minecraft.

(If you haven’t heard of Minecraft, it’s a sandbox game packed with 3-D blocks and tons of objects, tools like axes and fishing poles and creatures like cows, chickens, and exploding monsters. You can play in two modes, “survival” and “creative.” The first is a “game” in the sense that there are goals to achieve and obstacles to overcome toward a final end. In creative mode, you have access to unlimited resources to build whatever the heck you want. If you’re still curious, just search for Minecraft stuff on YouTube, but beware: it’s a slippery slope of awesomeness.)

We first became a Minecraft household after our five-year-old daughter watched a neighbor friend play the Pocket Edition (much the same game but with fewer components). I’d heard of Minecraft but knew nothing about it, so we started with a “Minecraft Lite” for our iPad from Toca. It was a hit, so we moved onto Pocket Edition. That was an even bigger hit, so I sprang for two versions of the full desktop version, one for me and one for my daughter.

And since then, well, there are few things my daughter and I enjoy more. We play it individually and we play it together, which is pretty astounding. I don’t just play it with her in the same way that I watch Octonauts with her, which is to share something with her that only she enjoys, basically. And it’s not me shoving Doctor Who at her, which she enjoys but mainly because we can share it as a family.

No, this is something that we both enjoy. Not always for the same reasons, but enough to matter, and all of those reasons, both mine and hers, are pretty good reasons.

They all essentially boil down to limitless possibility. Placing blocks invariably led our daughter to try to build familiar locations, like our house. Animals and fences led to her creation of wildlife preserves. I would counter with odd sculptures of things like giant black cubes or big yellow smiley faces, and she would counter with fountains and her name etched into the ground and filled with lava. Recently, she discovered a village, automatically created and populated by the game, and she began to interact with the villagers, trading stuff to them for emeralds and spinning a narrative the whole time, including dialogue between herself and the on-screen characters.

If you’re counting analogues, there are about a half dozen: building blocks and LEGOs, action figures and imagination play, the creativity of drawing and coloring … again, limitless possibility. But the game scales from there, particularly once you start tinkering with the game. Want to learn about networks? Set up a Minecraft server. Want to learn about navigating settings and configurations? Play around with mods. It’s quite impressive.

Ok, I gotta get back to my world. Just a couple more obsidian and then I’m building a nether portal.


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