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How My Toddler And I Bonded Over Minecraft

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Minecraft is an incredible achievement. From alpha to beta to release to every device in your home, Minecraft the platform has created an entire genre of games, inspired an array of (at least at first glance) clones, and become one of the most decorated titles of gaming history. It is simply unarguable that despite its frustrating design shortcomings and glaring glitches, Minecraft is going to stay around for a very long time yet.

I have been playing this game for over 5 years now. I’ve never put it down for a period greater than 6 months. It’s safe to say at this point that I’ve put more time into Minecraft than all Pokemon iterations plus World of Warcraft combined. Never in any other single or multiplayer game have I ever felt so frequently compelled to turn it on just to hang out. Because it became an extension of my real world — my mines, my furnaces, my crops and my livestock end up on my mind whether the game is even on or not. The only other time I ever felt this way was with The Sims, and that never lasted this long.

Minecraft Helped Me Bond With My DaughterFlickr (Marco Arment)

My toddler had never seen me play video games, not really. After she was born I played through Bioshock Infinite for the fourth or fifth time, and I putzed around in Peggle 2 or something from time to time, but eventually she started walking around and pulling controllers out of my hand and shit. Playing games turned into a wrestling match and a test of both of our patience, and at that point she still had no idea why the controller was in my hand. So that’s how the Xbox ended up unhooked for a while, I guess.

When I fired it up last month, a few weeks before the new arrival, I found that the Xbox version now matched the last version that I knew from my PC days of the game, somewhere around 1.8 something. It was actually fresh enough that there was stuff in it that I didn’t know anything about, including horses and changes to enchantment that basically made me love it more than anything ever, I think.

parents and baby in bed
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I started my play sessions late, after Willow had gone to sleep. I found myself having more fun playing than I have had since maybe the very start of the game — for one thing, new biomes and animals were surprising me for the first dozen hours or more. In addition, I found myself playing with a renewed sense of purpose. I focused on steady but quick item collection and relished a deep understanding of my surroundings: documenting ravines, abandoned mine shafts and (seemingly limitless) spider dungeons. Instead of spending hours wasting time on my Xanadu castle, I threw my diamonds and gold in the same chest as my gravel and sticks. I only began organizing my supplies after I already had enough to fill a dozen chests.

Minecraft Helped Me Bond With My DaughterFlickr (downloadsource)

After a week or 2, I took the risk and played in front of her. She took to it faster and more enthusiastically than I could have possibly imagined. The first things were easy: she knew pigs, sheep and cows (calls them moomoos) from other applications, like Old MacDonald. I had all 3 in my yard and she thought this was great. So I’d run around doing Minecraft things, punching trees and such, and then she’d go “Sheep! Sheep!” and then I’d go look at the sheep. Slimes were “Box!” at first, but now she doesn’t know what to call them because I’ve called them slime so often and she doesn’t know that word. Skeletons, ditto. But she definitely understands friendly mobs, hostile mobs, injury, day and night, and a whole lot of other things.

The first things were easy: she knew pigs, sheep and cows (calls them moomoos) from other applications, like Old MacDonald.

Using my experience as a Let’s Play host, I generally narrate most of my activity to Willow. I find it has enriched both our experiences — I end up going out of my way to farm, craft, and build so that I can explain the process to Willow. She shows genuine interest in nearly everything, only getting distracted when she hears a Zombie through a wall. I don’t think she always understands why I am digging to the center of the Earth dodging lava flows and skeleton’s arrows, but she still tends to watch intently, commenting on every action. She can get very anxious when I am battling, crying “oh no!” with every hit I take and celebrating and dancing through my victories.

Through the basic application of the mechanics of the game, I’ve been able to explain and illustrate:

Logging/Lumber — taking down trees and converting to buildings and tools
Cooking/Baking — combining ingredients to make food, cooking meat
Vegetable Farming — wheat, carrots, potatoes
Livestock Farming — cows, pigs, sheep and chickens
Minecarts and track — transportation and storage
“Bad guys” — Zombies, Skeletons, Creepers, Spiders, Endermen

Minecraft Helped Me Bond With My DaughterFlickr (Andrew Beeston)

She’s already picked up some vocabulary from the game and my examples, and shows promise to pick up more. Just like me, I’ve never seen her not get bored of something for so long. The few times I’ve put the controller in her hands she cannot wrap her head around the mechanics of it, and just passes it back to me. Soon, little girl. Soon…

The PC version is already past what I have experienced, so I have that to look forward to in the coming months on the Xbox One. Until then, I’ve found at least 4 spider dungeons within a few chunks that I need to figure out how to wire together to make use of this Bane of Arthropod-enchanted sword I made the other day, plus a toddler who screams and jumps each time a spider bounds its way towards me. Wish me luck.

Shawn V. Martin writes about music, video games, relationships, and parenting. Follow him on twitter @shawnvmartin and check out his podcast This Podcast Broke The Internet.