My 12 year old son loves Minecraft and plays almost every day online either solo or with friends. And when he’s not building or adventuring, he’s watching YouTube videos of others playing and building. Seems like an addiction, right? That depends on your perspective. I have to say that I thought his hours of Minecraft screen time were verging on unhealthy until my husband and I tried it for ourselves.
My husband was the first to give it a go, playing on our PS3 with our son. It seemed to be a great bonding experience but I was even more surprised when I would wander in on my hubby playing the game when my son was nowhere in sight. He took to the game like a fish in water. I held out longer, but when my son gifted me with a Minecraft download for my birthday, I could no longer resist.
Let’s be frank – I’m bad at the game. My son and his friends laughingly call me a “noob” and I have to admit that I’m less into building than chasing virtual bunnies around, but my tween is just thrilled that I’m online with him. He’s even taken to recording our sessions and editing them into his own Minecraft YouTube series he plans to publish about teaching your clueless parents how to play.
But it was more than curiosity about the game that got me to log in and play online with squares of dirt and trees – it was wanting to be closer to a kid that puberty is turning into a “don’t hug me in public” hormonal creature. Here are four reasons to consider investing the $30 and a couple of hours of your time each week to play Minecraft with your kids.
#1 It gets your tween to willingly spend time with you
My sweet little son is growing a pubescent fuzz-stache and is migrating to that stage where he needs me less and less. Logging on gets me dedicated time where I have all his attention. My lack of skill in the game allows him to step into the position of authority and instruct me on how to mine, build and protect myself. He’s proved himself a patient and generous instructor. I sit down with a pledge to play for half an hour and then suddenly realize we’ve been at it for an hour or two. Offline, I get monosyllables. Online, I get quality time. Think of it as a relationship tool.
#2 It’s a great way to stay in touch online when you’re traveling
If you have to travel for work regularly, playing Minecraft is a great way to thoroughly engage with your kids when you can’t be physically present. Minecraft can be played in a variety of way – as a single player, you can play alone on your computer or on a public server with other players. You can even set up your own server and make it invitation only. From wherever you are, you can log on and play with your kids while simultaneously chatting on Skype so it’s a genuine hangout. This can ease the separation pangs that both you and your kids suffer when you have to travel.
#3 You can see who your kids are spending time with online
In addition to playing as a solo player, my son plays on public servers, sometimes with people he doesn’t know and sometimes with a handful of school friends. He and his buddies also Skype chat while playing so it’s like a virtual play date. Minecraft also has a text chat function where you can talk to other players, but my tween sticks to audio chat so he has hands free to build. It’s easy to monitor Skype activity, confirm that your kid is chatting only with friends and family and isn’t in stranger danger. Sometimes players on public servers may start an argument, but mostly it’s pleasant interaction.
#4 It’s fun
I’ll just say it – I don’t care for today’s video games in general. When I was my son’s age, video games came in increments of what a quarter could buy at an arcade. Saga adventure games on the Xbox or PlayStation have never held allure for me. But Minecraft, I have to admit, is fun. I chop down trees, dig holes, chase pigs around and build shacks. My son, by comparison, builds castles and sophisticated machines. But we laugh and he encourages me to evolve my skills. I even invested in a set of Minecraft Essential Handbooks with all the recipes for crafting (two sticks plus three wood planks = one wooden axe) that my adult brain can’t retain without reference material. You can even book your tween a Minecraft birthday party or camp!
What’s infectious about Minecraft is that, no matter how inexperienced you are, you can play and have fun. If you die, you respawn immediately. You can also turn on creative mode (rather than adventure mode) while you’re learning so you can play without worrying about running out of virtual food, being attacked by zombies or running short of building resources.
Even for the least computer game savvy parent, Minecraft is learnable. I highly recommend not only buying it and playing with your kids, but letting them take the lead to teach you the game. This will let you experience an aspect of your child’s personality you may have never seen because they’re in the driver’s seat and you’re the one with the virtual training wheels. Flipping the dynamic can deepen your relationship and bring you closer to kids that are growing up and away from you far too fast.