Sunday, March 31, 2024

A Family That Plays Together, Minecraft Edition

As my kids have gotten older, adjusting to being a family that doesn't all live in the same house has been interesting.

On one level, it's not that hard because we've always been a collection of introverts who like each other's company. Which means we're all very happy to each do our own thing at the same table or in adjoining rooms. So if Aden is hanging out with us over speaker phone on Discord while we're doing other stuff, it kind of feels like she's still here and not so far away at college. Mona doesn't live here anymore, but is close by and has a car, so she pops over to say hi on her way to or from Target. Sometimes she'll stay to watch part of show with us, or help with a chore or two. There are days I see her more than I see Quinn who actually lives here.

One of the things that's nice when we're all together is to occasionally play games. I've written in the past about playing Settlers of Catan, but we also love Concept, Code Names, Cribbage, and when we're at the cottage, the family card game of Spite and Malice.

Quinn and I pair up regularly to play Boggle. We've amassed quite a list of words we know are playable, but struggle to remember what they mean. The ones we do remember we try to find ways to use, but it's difficult. (Some of the words on this list are RET, LAT, UTS, ETAS, COE, HIE, WEN, VUE, EFT, and HOB.) We have a lot of discussions about pluralizing things as they are "said by people in another room." Like, AHS, as in "We heard the Oohs and Ahs from the people in the other room." We've had many a laugh-filled argument about whether we stretching the concept too far, and we wonder periodically about those people in the other room. (I picture them just out of sight behind a ballroom door at a hotel.)

The funniest part about looking up words to see if they are allowed in Scrabble is there are some sites that think nearly everything is a word, some that exclude North America from using them, and one site that usually adds a line about how "This is no one's favorite word" which seems unnecessarily rude. Sometimes the Urban Dictionary pops up in our searches, and my all time favorite description of any word was for MER, which they claimed could be used in situations that were either awkward or not (which would be all situations?) and that when used in an awkward situation would not help. So now when there is an awkward pause I'll say, "Mer!" and then we'll agree it indeed did not help.

We also really enjoy family games like Jackbox, which involves interacting online, so we can include people in different places. (Our favorite Jackbox games are Quiplash and Split The Room.) Jackbox is online, but it's not a video game. My kids do enjoy certain video games, but that's never been a family activity. It's something the siblings do together.

But for many years now, like many people's children, my kids have been playing Minecraft. So much Minecraft. And there must be parents who play it too, but if so they haven't bragged about it to me. So Minecraft has not been a family game, just a thing for the kids.

However, Aden has been trying for years to convince her dad to try it. She thought he'd enjoy playing Minecraft, and got him to help build her her own server. Ian has his own projects, and thought it seemed like a chore for him to have to learn to navigate the Minecraft world, so he would politely demure.

But it turns out when I was talking to Aden when she was home over spring break, that she wasn't trying to get her dad hooked on a new hobby for his sake. She just wanted an activity that she could do with her dad. Even after I explained this to him, he was still reluctant to take on another thing, so I signed up for an account for myself with the idea we could maybe share it.

Mona walked me through how to move, build things, break things.... My only past experience with anything Minecraft was this very old video, and a quote from Rick and Morty describing it as "You're mining stuff to craft with, and crafting stuff to mine with," which about sums it up. 

After establishing a little cobblestone island within sight of the island my three kids had built to plant a garden and store supplies, I handed my laptop off to my husband so he could wander off with Aden to find me a dog. He was much better at navigating that world than I was, and the next day Mona convinced him to simply get his own account rather than share mine. Which turns out to have been a good idea, because he wants to do different things than I do. He's got a big mine with a glass ceiling and lots of safe houses to retreat to at night, etc. I planted flowering trees and make flower pots and feed my dog.

But the lovely thing is for us it is a private virtual world where we can be with our kids. All five of us, regardless of where we actually are, can all hang out and have conversations in the Minecraft server. And the kids are so sweet! I noticed fish in the water, and asked Mona how to catch them. The next thing I knew, she arrived at my place in a boat and put a fishing rod among my supplies. If I say my dog is hungry, one of the kids shows up with meat for me to give it. Once I drowned (I'm still not sure what happened) and I reappeared back at my bed but all the stuff I'd had with me was gone. Aden had been in a nearby boat and collected all my stuff where I died and brought it back to me. The kids make sure I have armor, food, etc. It's amazing to watch them move around in that space so competently, and it's funny to have the roles switched where they have to look out for me.

I love seeing what everyone makes. Mona walked me around her pink island covered with cherry blossoms and a second level that's nothing but torches. It's both hilarious and beautiful. Ian's structures are mostly glass so he can see what's around him. Everyone puts up weird signs.

At one point all of us were on the server at the same time, with Aden talking over speaker phone, and she remarked how nice it was to hear "home sounds" in the background (dog barking, Quinn getting up to get a snack, etc.). And when she left me building my house to go on an adventure with her dad and siblings, she said, "It's the dream!"

I don't know how many parents are lucky enough to have their kids excited to join them in their activities this way, but I don't take it for granted. Every time I log onto the Minecraft server, any kid that's on there greets me happily. They visit my place when I'm not there to see what improvements I've made and restock my supplies. We get to be a little family that mines stuff to craft things, and crafts stuff to mine things. 

If you'd asked me even as recently as a few weeks ago if I would ever play Minecraft, I would have just brushed it off. But I like making things, even in a virtual world, and I love seeing what my kids are up to. I love my family, and finding ways to be together when we can't actually be together is the best game yet. 

And now I'm off to mine sand so I can make more glass, and see what Aden's up to. It's a good night.