Since its debut in 2009, the indie video game Minecraft has revamped the entertainment industry. With over 144 million copies sold across multiple platforms, the blocky sandbox project of Mojang Studios has become the standard for low-budget ventures. People of all ages gather together from across the world to play or watch others play online. Minecraft is the second-most searched term on Youtube in the past few years and its total views on the website numbers in the tens of billions. Clearly this game has a devoted audience. But what does this audience get in return from Minecraft?
The answer is different for different people. For one journalist at the Guardian, it was the joy at seeing his autistic son open up to the interactive nature of Minecraft. The passive environment of the game gave his son total control, a nearly impossible feat in the real world. Another journalist at Forbes claimed that all children should document their experiences in Minecraft and upload them onto Youtube. He argues that the skills needed to upload said videos, namely, brevity, clarity, and a basic sense of storytelling. For the vast majority of players, the experience that Minecraft provides probably falls within these two points. On the one hand, the sense of power in the virtual world makes us feels stronger, smarter and more creative. Our decisions have ultimate authority. On the other hand, with unlimited power comes a heightened sense of responsibility. We want to do things but we need to prioritize our actions. We have to gather resources before we build our castle. After we gather our resources, we have to plan out where we want our castle, and so on and so forth. The appeal of this dual nature as god-taskmaster is Minecraft’s distinguishing feature. It allows for endless play and endless work. But does this playtime translate over to the real world?
No. No it does not. Why? Because the real world is not passive. There are no god-taskmasters in the real world. Human beings strive to become such a figure for their entire lives. In Minecraft, the monumental task of achieving such a feat is lost as soon as you load up a new world. The skills of brevity, clarity and storytelling in the Minecraftian sense do not carry over either. If someone disagrees with your priorities in the game, then they can move away to some other part of the infinite world or start up an entirely new world on their own. Such a luxury does not present itself to us in our own lives. If we disagree with a coworker, a spouse, or an authority figure, we have to work through it. Sometimes we don’t get what we want. Minecraft always gives us what we want. That’s why it’s so popular.
So what is the alternative? To the parents of autistic children I say look at the big picture. Your child cannot rely on Minecraft for the rest of his/her life. No one can. It provides a skewed version of life to a person who already struggles to make sense of reality. The control they exercise in-game does not translate to their real lives, and one hopes that children never confuse the two. Perhaps Minecraft can serve as a bridge to the wonders of reality. Does your child enjoy exploring? Take them geo-tagging. Do they like building? Get them into Legos or simple engineering projects. Do they like telling stories? Get them to explore other outlets to help them build their worlds, like comics or animation. While our world is increasingly digital, the virtual paradise of Minecraft distracts vulnerable minds from the complexities of reality. We need our children to understand the power they wield as human beings not as avatars.