Dear Parents: Minecraft (and other games) Are Not Your Enemy

As I talked about in my last post, we are traditional schoolers who fully embrace the Project Based Homeschooling philosophy in our home lives. As such, I’m part of a couple Facebook groups and gatherings of Twitter folks that are all trying to see how this PBH “stuff” fits into our lives. Because, at the core, is a knowledge that no two kids are the same, so it’s going to look a little different for every family.

Project Based learning doesn’t happen inside of a bubble. This pinterest-worthy, instagrammable moment, where children are happily researching rocket science and neurosurgery, is not going to be most of our experience. I am by no means an expert, still very much trying to sort out how this works with a daughter who I share custody of, and goes to traditional school. But, I want to share something that I’m seeing crop up again and again in the PBH and homeschooling groups.

Minecraft Is Not The Enemy

I promise, it’s not. If you have a child that would happily spend all day playing with 8-bit blocks and then watching videos about other kids playing with 8-bit blocks, you are not alone. Judging from my daughter’s group of friends… even the kids who don’t play it, know about it and are just a touch obsessed with it. What worries and bothers me, is this “SHUT IT ALL DOWN” approach that many seem to be taking with it. If your goal is PBH, that is not the way to do it. Taking away a genuine, authentic interest, in the hopes to bore your child into taking up an interest you feel is “better” is exactly the most opposite to PBH that I can think of. Minecraft, and other games, are your child’s interest. If they are completely submerged in play the game, you’ve hit the first stage of PBH! Finding out what really gets your child going. Why oh why would you then run away from it? Because Minecraft isn’t on your approved list? If you’re still thinking like that, I urge you, beg you, for your child’s sake, to please go back and rethink for yourself what you mean when you say you want to PBH.

But enough about that, there’s tons of PBH information out there, and as I said I am by no means an expert. What I do love… are video games. Oh yes. Love video games. Our entire household does. And I love it!

I started really playing video games in early university. Not even sure of exactly the reason, but I remember picking up the controller, and battling my way through 70+ hours of Final Fantasy X. So good, the story was amazing, the characters were interesting, and I loved spending time in a world that wasn’t my own. Just writing this makes me want to go upstairs, dust off the PS2, and give it another whirl. It’s that good. Eventually, FFX was done, now I had to look for another game. I picked up Neverwinter Nights, hands down the best game I’ve ever played and I am still sad that the graphics have not held up in a way that I can really enjoy it anymore. NWN opened up a new world for me, as there were books, set in the universe that the game took place. So I started reading those (there are LOTS of them, and they’re still being published today), and then I thought… hey, I should write some books! Writing and storytelling, along with reading and video gaming, are still treasured hobbies of mine today.

Why do I share all this with you? To show you that gaming, and having deeper, greater projects spiral out of gaming, is not something new. And I’ll bet you, it’s not even all that unique either.

Let’s talk about my daughter, and her journey with Minecraft. Because that’s really the only experience I have. She discovered Minecraft, because I was playing it. I’ve been a fan since early Alpha, and even though I don’t play it much anymore, I’m still a giant fan of the game.

At first, all she did was play, creative mode, building, messing around, just getting to know the world. Then someone, probably kids at school, introduced her to the world of Minecraft YouTubers. I have to be honest, I had a few moments during this period where I wondered if taking a stricter approach might be better. But, I let it go eventually, and let her keep watching. Videos turned into, “oh hey… I can build that.” Which was followed up quickly by the release of a series of Minecraft books on construction, basics, combat, and redstone. Friends of ours bought her the books and she absolutely devoured them. Reading, and then constantly commenting on some new thing or tidbit she’d learned. This reading, has since sparked a desire to go out and try a survival world, armed with her combat book. And at the same time, has inspired a huge build of some grand palace, that I think she’s planning to incorporate some redstone wiring into. We’ve also branched out, and as part of an online thing she’s doing, she’s playing on servers with other kids, working on joint builds and whatnot. Finally, she’s writing blog posts about what she’s doing, and what she’s learning.

So, let’s review. She loves Minecraft, wants to play it all the time. As a result she is:

  • reading, LOTS
  • writing, and understanding how to express her opinions
  • working collaboratively, and how to navigate that whole teamwork thing
  • researching what she needs to build/do her ideas
  • etc, etc, etc

Oh hey wait a second… that kind of looks like learning. And she is learning, through her chosen medium. She’s supported, and encouraged, and so we are starting to see the fruits of that. Her next goal is to record and share her own YouTube videos.

Now, how this happens is going to be different for every kid. This whole process, start to where we are now. Has taken a couple years, and that’s ok. It’d probably look different if we home educated full time, and didn’t share custody. But that’s ok. It’s her journey. And yours, and your child’s is going to look different.

My point is, what if we looked at the video game as a real, genuine interest, instead of trying to limit, restrict, and redirect into something we felt was more “acceptable”? I talked a lot about Minecraft because that’s the big one for Minime. However I shared my journey which happened through different games to hopefully show that it can happen elsewhere. Sit down, talk to your kid about what it is they like about the game. You may well be surprised. And of course, we always return to what in my mind is the cornerstone of PBH, the family culture. Games are big in our family, videogames and boardgames. But so is a knowledge that each of our work is important, and valuable. Try starting from that viewpoint, stop seeing electronics as the enemy, and see where that gets you.

Just this mom’s suggestion. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some gaming to do!