A world of one’s own

One of the reasons I wanted to start a Minecraft blog was to share my experiences with it as a game, a building medium, an adventure, and a platform for particular kinds of social interaction, be it collective, competitive or antagonistic. The game is a unique environment for all of these things.

A couple of weeks back, a friend, who also has a son about Beastie’s age, posted an article from the Atlantic titled “The Overprotected Kid.” It caught my interest because I have long bemoaned the bowdlerization of playgrounds as they went from the monkey bars and elaborate wood, chain and tire structures I remember from my own childhood to the installations of plastic and rubber matting that are more concerned with preventing the lawsuits of parents than challenging their increasingly sheltered offspring.

The article introduces an “adventure playground” -a different sort of play space for children. Instead of the sterile, secure structures we come to associate with playgrounds, the adventure playground is something of a junkyard, littered with discarded furniture and toys. Rather than being trash however, these are provided to give children building materials. A chair and a broken table seem like excellent starting points for a fort. Instead of a structure providing a limited scope of play, an adventure playground is essentially a huge sandbox where children are essentially turned loose to make of it what they will away from the all too omnipresent gaze of parental supervision. (The children are supervised, but in a very hands-off sort of way – kids are left to do what they will, resolve their own conficts and overcome their own challenges.) Over the course of a day, the items provided in an adventure playground may be destroyed, used to build new things, and even set on fire.

This all sounded very familiar.

Even before I started playing I have marveled at the explosive popularity of Minecraft. I have been especially fascinated with its popularity among grammar school-age children, and I believe reading the above article provided a clue as to why kids are drawn to this game: it provides a virtual adventure playground for them. It is a space essentially belonging to them, containing challenges, dangers and obstacles to overcome, where parents can be escaped. In the tightly leashed, stranger-danger influenced, constantly supervised worlds of kids today, there is a lack of this space in reality. Minecraft seems to fill this gap for many kids no longer allowed to leave the safety of their own yards and the line of sight of well-meaning parents.

I have also wondered why I have been so drawn to the game in the year that I have been playing, and I think my motivations are somewhat similar. As grownups, despite what our children think, there is so much within our lives beyond our control that an entire world to escape into and reshape as I see fit is very appealing. Taking out ones frustrations of the day out on a few zombies doesn’t hurt none either.

I don’t have any world shattering conclusions about all of this really, but as a part time parent I find all of this interesting and troubling. It is so easy to blame video games for their influences on children’s behavior and lack of activity when a lot of insight could instead be gained by examining why children are drawn to particular types of games.