Was it really only a month ago that I bought the pocket version of Minecraft for my boys? It feels like an eternity.
See, at first, everything was fine. They were playing in short bursts of time, just trying to navigate the user interface and rules of play. They were also figuring out how they could “connect” – one on his iTouch, one on his Android MG – which was awesome to me. My boys are 5 and 11, and there really isn’t much they enjoy playing together. Minecraft seemed like a great new opportunity for them to interact.
I tried playing with them, but found the Minecraft graphics gave me a headache and the basic play (build, build, build, smash, smash, smash, walk around, etc) was boring. But…my boys seemed to love it, and soon they were playing all. the. time.
I started hearing about monsters and creepers and villagers. My sons became emotionally invested. They downloaded other (free) apps that helped teach them strategy. My 11yo started listening to Minecraft parody songs (“Don’t Mine At Night,” etc). Both boys were watching a steady stream of Minecraft videos on YouTube.
I had downloaded the PC version of Minecraft, and then both boys started to fight over the computer. Our home wifi is often glitchy, and sometimes when they tried to connect, one or the other would get kicked out of the game. My 5yo in particular would start screaming when this happened. Thus began the daily “Minecraft Meltdowns.”
The depth and intensity with which Minecraft became an obsession for my boys was startling.
I am not fundamentally opposed to the game. Neanderthal graphics aside, I believe Minecraft requires a lot of creativity, strategy, engineering skills, and more. And when our wifi is playing nice, I love seeing my boys side-by-side, engaged in something together. It is not overly violent (though in “Survival Mode,” there are creepers to kill), and doesn’t have obnoxious sound effects. As a game – in and of itself – it’s pretty awesome, actually.
What is not awesome is how quickly it became the end-all-be-all for my sons. They complained when it was time to get off the computer, becoming defiant even. They stopped interacting as much with our family outside of the game. My 5yo son woke up one night – twice – insisting that he needed to get on the game to finish building something.
Thus began the Major Minecraft Intervention.
First, I made my boys go cold turkey – no more Minecraft at all. It was not easy. There were tears (from the 5yo) and cold shoulders (from the 11yo).
After about a week of detox from Minecraft, we’ve been slowly reintroducing the game, but with several restrictions. Mainly, that they play for a limited time, take significant breaks, and prove they can become engaged in “analog” (non screen-related) activities.
What has been the hardest part of this Minecraft Intervention? HAVING TO ACTUALLY PARENT.
I’m embarrassed to admit how easy it was to let my boys fall into this mindless screen addiction in the first place. All the things we’re doing now to limit their play time? I should have been doing that from the beginning. And now that we’re telling them DON’T DO THAT? Means I actually have to say DO THIS INSTEAD. The “this” being something I either provide as an option or engage in with them.
For instance, my 5yo’s “analog” time has included a lot of playing with his LEGO Hero Factory toys, setting up and knocking down dominoes, putting puzzles together, and him taking long, bubbly baths.
My house has gotten messier. I’ve had less free time. I’VE HAD TO ACTUALLY PARENT.
Which brings me to a question: when our kids become addicted to video games, who’s to blame? The maker of the game? The kids themselves? Or do we as parents bear some responsibility?
This question could really be about anything our children do (or don’t do) that drive us nuts. While at some point kids must take responsibility for their behavior, I will always want to know: What have I done (or not done) as a parent that may have contributed to this situation? What can I do (or not do) NOW as a parent to correct it, if needs be?
Our story with Minecraft isn’t over, not yet. Even with the restrictions in place, I feel my boys chomping at the bit, wanting to play more and more. I’ll keep steady, though, and make sure that this game maintains its relative position in our list of real life priorities. After all, what’s a parent for?
I’m curious: Do your kids play Minecraft? How is that working out in your home?