Thursday, November 21, 2013

In Defense of Minecraft

If you have visited the Children’s Library recently you may have noticed quite the furor around the computer station over a game called Minecraft. For months now kids have been practically lining out the door to play the game – it’s not unusual to have a child at every single computer playing Minecraft. I initially was baffled by the game and couldn’t comprehend why it was the hot new thing but after some research have concluded that there are merits to it and there are certainly worse things kids could be spending their time on. While the amount of time kids often dedicate to the game, sometimes in all-day marathon bursts, is staggering, Minecraft challenges kid’s creativity and problem solving in a way few video games do.

Minecraft is a low-budget, online video game in which the player creates and builds the virtual world around them out of 3D cubes. Players can join in to each other’s worlds and play as a team online. In its simplest form, Minecraft is a bit like a virtual Lego world, in which the player stacks and arranges objects around them to construct objects. There are two modes in Minecraft: survival and creative. In survival mode players explore the world to gather resources in order to maintain their health while in creative mode players are free to craft the world around them without any limitations. Both modes offer the signature blend of exploration and constructing central to the game.

I was initially skeptical of the game more as a life-long video game enthusiast than anything else. That is to say I simply thought it looked boring and couldn’t understand why the kids loved it so much. As someone who grew up with Mario fighting through the Mushroom Kingdom and the complex, impressively in-depth worlds of Grand Theft Auto, I just didn’t see any allure in the simplistic game play and ugly, blocky textures of Minecraft. I rolled my eyes at the game while simultaneously feeling sure that I must be missing out on something.
I haven’t figured out what that something is, as I personally still have no desire to play Minecraft, but have been able to conclude that even if I don’t understand why the kids like the game it may not be such a bad thing that they do. With its basic format of exploration and construction, Minecraft is a completely family-friendly, skill based game that challenges kids to solve problems and be creative. I can speak from personal experience to say that there are countless other games on the internet that do not have comparable credentials. Most easily accessible games on the internet boil down to absurdist humor and reaction speed and don’t offer anything approaching the level of depth and challenge in Minecraft. Furthermore, while it wouldn’t be a problem in the Children’s Library where the computers are restricted to age-appropriate content, there are of course many games that are entirely inappropriate on the internet and Minecraft offers a safe, clean environment for kids to be creative in.

While we certainly all wish children today would spend half as much time reading as they do playing games, when you can’t fight against the tide it is best to swim with it. Kids are going to play video games and if they are we can at least hope they choose the ones that are most worthwhile. Minecraft may not look like much fun to you or I but it probably wouldn’t be as popular with kids if it did. The game is at least a challenging, clean, sometimes educational experience and when the next big craze comes along we may end up looking back fondly on it in comparison.

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk