Originally published in The Huffington Post on July 29th, 2014
Does your son or daughter play Minecraft? And do you stand before that screen wondering what it’s all about, and how it’s possible that your kid doesn’t get dizzy from moving around this blocky world so quickly? Do you wonder what impact these many hours before Minecraft might have on their brain, on their future? Most would say the game promotes a generation of computer scientists or software engineers. I say, they are telling only part of the story. Here is why.
A few days ago my daughter had two friends over for a play date. I was amused and delighted as I listened to them laugh and cackle. That is, until I heard Ben ask loudly: “Where are you?” And I thought to myself, What do you mean, where are you? Aren’t they right next to you? Then Sara suggested they, “spawn a pig,” and I pulled up the online dictionary: “To produce or lay eggs.” What? And then I heard my own daughter scream: “Run! He’s coming to kill you!” And I came running.
When I came storming into the room yelling “Is everything okay?” here is what I saw: three 10-year-olds looking at me in bemusement, my daughter’s eyes quietly remarking Oh, Mom, really? then going back to building her world and running from creatures. And when I looked again, this time less frantic, I saw three kids sitting in bean bags with computer screens on their laps having a good ol’ time interacting simultaneously in the virtual and real world, building houses and entire villages, developing mechanical contraptions that harvest wheat, making blocks out of clay, using TNT to mine gold, and fighting and surviving those zombies that were attacking my daughter.
I realized right then and there that I was witnessing the beginnings of a new generation of computer scientists and humanists, a powerful synergy of thought and action come to life in a hybrid world of creativity and play.
Minecraft, this contemporary version of Legos for the digital age, is being played on PCs and Macs by over 16 million people, and it has become many of our kids “toy” of choice. Our children will remember their time spent before Minecraft like we remember our time building with Legos and Playmobile, Lincoln Logs or Tinkertoys.
Back then these toys may have indicated the making of a new generation of architects and urban planners. Today, our children’s daily dose of Minecraft encourages programming and logical problem solving skills as much as it furthers imagination and design. For, what’s a well-coded game such as this one without floating buildings made of different materials and colors, a community of players chatting and writing thousands of stories as they treasure hunt and interact with individuals from across the globe, and an oddly chunky look that nevertheless seems to attract millions of players?
Minecraft will not only produce our next generation of technologists but also of humanists. Our kids will not only need to learn how to code, but they will also require a solid background in Classics. How else will they come up with exciting new or remixed heroes and heroines? The world of Theatre will teach them to construct spaces that will captivate players through compelling color and design, light and engineering, human gesture and movement. And there is no other field more powerful than Literature to construct and deconstruct fictional characters, manipulate tone and mood, apply flashbacks, ellipses, and foreshadowing to fully engage players as their avatars move through time and space.
Computer Science and the Arts and Humanities walk hand in hand in the virtual and real worlds in which our kids are building, imagining, and communicating with one another. As such, Minecraft just might encourage Sara to become a software engineer, Ben to become a digital artist, and, my daughter, well, she might want to become both.
It really is a brave new and multidisciplinary world out there.