I do not claim to be an expert in Minecraft. For those of you with social lives, or perhaps with kids too old to succumb to the blocky siren call of this gaming phenomenon, Minecraft is a game where you build shit, and knock shit down. It’s a bit like Lego, but with less knobbly bits and with one distinct advantage: never has a parent stepped on a bit of Minecraft in bare feet and shouted eighteen rude words in one breath, all of which basically mean ‘holy fuck that hurts’.
There are people who have expanded on my pithy definition of Minecraft, calling it a sandbox game. They refer to the fact that the game territory is a blank canvas, on which the player is only limited by his or her imagination (or that of the Minecrafter that they have just watched on YouTube). Again, Minecraft wins hands down over an actual sandbox, seeing as you don’t get sand in your gusset when playing it.
But these are not the only reasons I love Minecraft. Let me clarify: I don’t love Minecraft, with its crude, tessellating building blocks, people with cubiod heads and impossible navigation tools (eight times I tried to walk through that bloody door. It’s ridiculous). But I do love what Minecraft is teaching my 6 year old son, who is an avid fan. I feel a list coming on…
Lesson 1: Hone your skills. E’s first attempt at a dwelling was… well, to his face I think I described it as ‘ooh, interesting…’ and after he left the room as ‘a bit shit’. He was inordinately proud of this shabby hut, with no windows and a single bed inside. Until about three days later, when he went back, knocked in a few windows, added a huge glass extension and a rather elegant chimney. It was like watching a very cubey episode of Grand Designs unfold before my very eyes. Minecraft has taught my son that whilst practise does not always make perfect, it makes you create something much, much better that would sell for around half a million on the open market.
Lesson 2: Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Minecraft is the perfect demonstration that the pursuit of perfection is a somewhat futile exercise. My son learned this as he returned to his des res creation after four days with fresh eyes and the experience of sitting through a really annoying nerd show off his Minecraft palaces on YouTube, and decided it was a bit rubbish. So he knocked it down and started again. To make something perfect. And yes, there is a pattern emerging here.
Lesson 3: The value of research. Watching endless videos of other Minecrafters take you on a tour of their buildings, like a crazed estate agent who has had too many Haribo, may seem like a waste of time. But in fact, this is theoretical research in action. E would never have been able to build that disco room had he not seen another Minecrafter use glow stone to such effect. And what is life without the ability to build a disco room at a moment’s notice?
Lesson 4: Beware of fire. E’s next creation was a huge timber framed house, split over four levels, with over twenty rooms, a loft conversion and a granny annexe. The floors were built of glass, under which E had created a huge lava pool. Already, this is beginning to sound like the opening scenes from an episode of Casualty, and sure enough, the next time he went to play, his lovingly created building was engulfed in flames. He pleaded with me to help, but being a Minecraft virgin, all I could do was stare helplessly at this voracious inferno. I did try and throw a tea towel over his Hudl at one point, but to no avail. Only after E had stopped sobbing, many, many, many minutes after the remaining annexe was swallowed up by pixellated flames, did two lessons get learned. One: don’t play (or build) with lava. Two: timber-framed houses are just bloody asking for trouble.
Lesson 5: If you can’t loop the loop an obstacle, build a slide instead. “I’m going to build a loop-the-loop roller coaster,” E announces as he settles down with Minecraft. I leave him to it and return half an hour later to check on progress. “I can’t do it,” he says glumly. “I don’t know how.” I say something profound and not at all annoying, like ‘ just keep trying’ and disappear. Some time later, I ask him how it’s going. He informs me that despite many attempts, he could not get the roller coaster to loop the loop. “So I built a really long slide, instead.” And there you have it: the answer to pretty much all of life’s problems: a really long slide.