I started playing Minecraft a few weeks ago, so I haven’t been sleeping much lately. If you are on a first-name basis with anyone under the age of fifteen, I needn’t explain to you what this means. For the benefit of those of you with actual lives: Minecraft is a software gaming environment, the premise being that you, the first-person player, are to construct a virtual habitat within which you are supposed to survive. Assuming you don’t starve to death, drown, or get slain by a zombie, you are free to roam around and smash stuff. It’s basically a dreamy combination of Legos, online gaming, and the horrible realities of adulthood. Besides the certainty of carpal tunnel syndrome, the only downside to this game is that it’s profoundly addictive.
Every junkie needs a pusher, and mine just happen to be my children. It was my eight-year-old son, Parker, who’d talked me into downloading the game onto my phone. His older sister, Emily, sat me down and showed me how to make things out of bricks and subsequently smash them. Within a few minutes I’d managed to build a little hut and spawn a wolf. Things were going pretty well until I tried to tame the wolf, at which point I somehow destroyed my hut and beat the wolf to death with the very bone I’d been offering him. That’s when I realized how great this game is.
Emily and Parker had spent the past year creating a private world together, and they’d invited me in to get myself acclimated to the game. Parker encouraged me to help him build a tower, but after burying myself in a tunnel and flooding the worksite with lava I was relegated to more menial tasks. “Okay, Dad,” said Parker, leading me a good thirty paces from anything I could damage, “maybe you can just stand over here and let me know if any monsters are coming.”
“Got it!” I said, proudly.
Through Emily, whose conscience is forever conspiring against her silence, I learned we’d been playing the game in “Creative Mode,” which meant that monsters would be scarce and completely harmless. Parker had managed the situation with the exact same tactic I used whenever the kids wanted to help me with something important — Stand right here and…uhh…let me know if I’m holding the drill crooked — and the embarrassment burned me up.
With Emily’s help, I created a new world all to myself where I could learn the vast intricacies of the game without inflicting collateral damage upon their village. My name is Sir Plopsalot, a fitting moniker for a thirty-eight-year-old father of two who only finds uninterrupted time for video games in the john. Within a few days, however, I’d taken to working on my world throughout the day while the kids were at school, and then again at night, long after they’d gone to bed. My 11:30 p.m. bedtime was moved out to 2:00 a.m. and later. Bills started going unpaid and meetings would have to be rescheduled — I had a virtual world to perfect and couldn’t be bothered with real life.
In the end, it’ll be worth the trouble. It’s not the traditional portrait of a family bonding together: an unshaven father, his weary eyes dazed and blood-shot, texting a conversation with his son and daughter, the whole lot of them lying on the sofa staring at handheld devices. But in those hours we are creating a whole new world, together.