Exploring my son’s habitat together; Minecraft!

Ever since I saw the TED talk of Gabe Zichermann in which he encouraged all parents to go and play a games with their children. I was intrigued by this. I like games myself and still play a game now and then. Mostly casual games on my iPhone or iPad. The games that give me pleasure nowadays are easy to get a hold on and can be put aside any time. So called “snack games”. You could say that I have become a “snack game” consumer. They are fun and they keep my mind of things.

It’s rarely that I play a console game with one of my kids. I used to play FIFA the soccer game against them. That seems a very long time ago. I am competitive and when it comes to FIFA -a game about a sport I practice and enjoy in real life- I just have no chance whatsoever to beat them. They simply crush me! Their hand eye coordination, fast thinking and a controller that seems to be a natural extension to their arms, gives me such a disadvantage that I don’t stand a chance!

Gabe’s message kept repeating itself in my head. As a person who is involved in building games I know pretty much what kind of games are out there. It wouldn’t be that much fun to play a familiar game with my son. Question is: “What game should I choose?” The answer was right in front of me, because my 17 years old son Roan plays Minecraft a lot lately. Didn’t play Minecraft myself, know the concept and what it’s about, but that’s it. Makes sense to grab this opportunity and try this one with my son. Convenient as I have a professional interest in this game that stands out for various reasons. I read that the game hasn’t got a real goal, or reward system for that matter. The graphics look pixilated like in the old days. So why is it that this games is so popular, that it has been sold over nine million times! Time to find out and play this game together!

Since Gamification is leaning on reward systems, what can be learned from Minecraft that has none? This journey I took with my son was fun. He liked it to. Entering his world, taking interest, excites him. A situation in which my son knows everything and I, as a parent,  know very little is uncommon. I can tell you, it is an unusual but fun experience!

I have divided our joined visit to the world of Minecraft in three phases.

Phase one: surviving

My son jumps right in the game, finds himself in what seems to be an endless world, no clue what he is going to do next. It doesn’t bother him. It seems he is enjoying his freedom in this undefined world, which invites him to be discovered. He is just wondering around getting familiar with the surroundings. This is his turf, he feels at ease. Just as I drive my car, without thinking when to push the pedal, or turn the steering wheel, he uses his controls. The difference is that he has to operate complicated controls to explore this virtual world. Driving a car looks like kids’ stuff compared to this. While he is deciding what to do next he answers my questions and explains to me what he is doing. He is playing in survivor mode. “That way the game is more challenging to me”, he says. “In challenging mode I need to look out for monsters that come at night! Next to that I need to find food so I won’t starve.” This means we need to build a house for a save night’s sleep. For that purpose he starts to collect wood to build a house by cutting trees. Since we don’t have enough time, we choose to enter an existing house to survive the first night. My son is already used to the fact that the villagers didn’t mind sharing their house with complete strangers for the night. He needs to harvest vegetables to stay alive in the meantime. It is a part of his routine, he doesn’t need to think about it. Minutes pass by in high-speed. Before I realize it 30 minutes were gone. Strange experience, because we didn’t do anything special and didn’t get bored either. The night was a bit boring though, we needed to stay in, creepy sounds outside the house made us stay inside. The game is slightly more violent than I expected.

Phase two: find inspiration

The next day he gathers more wood and found some inspiration along the way. In this case it was probably me that made him decide to build a Gamifier office. By walking around he finds a spot he likes. Normally I think he would explore the environment a bit more. Maybe enjoy the hospitality of the villagers a couple of nights, before he finds his inspiration. That’s the beauty of this game. There is no rush. No rush at all and the sky is literally the limit. He tells me that beautiful Minecraft creations can be found on the internet. My son is someone that finds more joy in extending the game itself by adding mods (modifications) which can enrich or change the game in many ways. One of the things he installed with a mod is called a portal. You need to use them in pairs. Players can drop them anywhere they want. As soon as a player enters the first one, they will appear wherever the second one is dropped. He uses them to touch base quick. He drops one at his base and doesn’t drop the other one until the end of his journey. That way he never runs out of time and he’ll always finds his way home as fast as possible. Smart thinking!

Phase three: start creating

Now we have found a good spot and the build can start. After a small interruption by a Zombie that tried to attack us in daylight, he cut some threes to gather more wood. Time flies when you are having fun, so at the end of the day we needed to rush to finish our build. The Gamifier office in Minecraft was a very simple wooden shack with only one door. Put together in a jiffy. Roughly an hour passed. It was time to wrap it up. For my son this normally would have been the start of his creation. He would spend some nights in this shack and transform it into a beautiful eccentric villa with a view.

“Next time you should play to dad”, he said. “Then we will play a multiplayer version of the game.” I might take him up on his offer.

What amazed me afterwards is that we take everything for granted, we see it as a toy. Not sure if I learned much, but that doesn’t matter, the experience alone is worth it to me. I strongly encourage all moms and dads to play games with their kids, like I did. Look at the things they create, experience their skills, listen to what they tell you about it, be amazed how much they know, how easy they control it and come to the same conclusion as me:

 “the Minecraft genre empowers our creativity, let’s put it to good use!”

This experience still leaves me with questions, matters that need more research. For example: “How can we apply these game-elements to the real world?” That’s enough for now.

If you like to take a look at our joined adventure, please watch the video below.