At my initial impression of MINECRAFT years ago at launch, I sneered and thought, “What’s the point?” While I’m not a complete graphics snob, I do enjoy realistic graphics in the modern day, even though retro games still have their own charm. This game was an anomaly to me: simplistic look with tons of content, and no real hand-holding. If ever there was a sandbox game, this was it.  I just hadn’t experienced the hook of it at all, something that can never happen with just a glance. Still, even after actually playing a trial on PC, I concluded it wasn’t for me, and I filed it away as something that didn’t click with me. I left it at that for the last several years…until my seven-year-old daughter asked to play a trial on Xbox One a few weeks ago. Immediately after the timer ran out, she went to her room, grabbed her change she’d been saving, dumped it on the living room floor, and said, “Buy it…Buy it now!” Since then, it’s turned into a common shared experience for us both.

Despite being a pastor, my family has been affected by divorce. Because of this, my daughter is with me only part of the time. Still, gaming is one of “our things” when we’re together. The only time my schedule really allows me to play much of anything is when I have her, so let’s just say Disney Infinity, Worms, and LEGO games of every brand get most of the play at my house. Since the divorce almost three and a half years ago, I’ve since remarried, and my daughter is now a sister to a little brother with another on the way. My ex-wife has also remarried, to a man who has two sons. With all the life changes, even though we’ve been in the same home this entire time and her room is still her room, I can tell my daughter wants to spend as much time with me as she can. She wants a special place to be with me, as if there is no one else and nothing else but us. For a year after the proceedings were finalized, she had me all to herself. When we went anywhere, it was just she and I. Despite her age and size, we became quite a team, with her never missing a step. I don’t mean to imply that she and I have since lost touch somehow. No, we still have plenty of daddy-daughter time, to be sure, but growing families have made things slightly different, but in no way worse.

Now, MINECRAFT is whatever you make it. Want to just build with no restrictions but your imagination? Creative Mode lets you go nuts. Want to work for everything you have, watching out for dangers lurking at night? Survival Mode is for you, as it is for she and I. As I said, we went straight from trial to purchase, so we started with the Tutorial level, and we’ve never felt reason to leave. Over time, we’ve definitely made our mark by clearing quite a homestead. She and I have farmed crops, terraformed in big ways, discovered empty communities full of surprises, and found many other things to keep us entranced within the game. As many do, we began building a house. It started small, as most do, but it’s grown and grown as a continual work of progress. We’ve filled it with furniture and art, and somewhere along the line, we’ve grown incredibly fond of it all. I’ve seen peoples’ creations in MINECRAFT, so I know ours wouldn’t impress many looking for finesse or complexity.

Still, the big draw for her and I is that everything we are doing, we are doing together as father and daughter. To me, it’s just like when we tell stories to each other or color: it’s imagination at work. Before we do things, I consult with her, and she consults with me; what you see in our game is our vision, and there is always something new coming down the pipeline. The world we play in seems largely abandoned, but she and I never grow bored together, just the two of us. I’ve never felt or understood the allure of diving deep into virtual worlds, such as MMOs that fully engross players for extended periods of time, but with the homeplace she and I have, I find myself in the time without her longing to be building with her. For the most part, I’ve never played it without her, except when I worked obtaining polished granite to build essentially our own personal ‘Stonehenge’ but styled after our last name and lined with torches to let every creature in the gameworld know exactly where we call home. Boy, did her face light up when I showed her that surprise!

Most of our excursions have been surface level thus far, but after she dug herself too deep into our enclosed mine cut into the hillside by our home, Daddy had to come to the rescue. She found herself at the bottom of a deep vertical shaft with no tools left to get herself out. She didn’t know at the time, but after excavating her out, I found she was only a block or two away from discovering for herself a whole new realm of mine shafts, teeming with spiders and lava. I have since built us a staircase down into it all, and I eagerly await our next expedition that will take us down to hopefully find many precious ores and treasures, the likes of which we haven’t seen yet. Have we gotten really any closer to ‘progressing’ through the game? No, but we’re having a blast, doing our own thing.

Why share all of this? I do it because even though it’s a game I initially rejected for myself, I have since found it to be more than a game, but a shared experience: one that allows my daughter and I to work together, problem solve, and design as we see fit. It’s a world we can fashion our own, despite living in a life that we can’t always control.  We can visit this place together, work together, and accomplish together, and that’s a great thing I’ve found.  Essentially, “What didn’t work for me alone works for us together!” We play it better as a team, I believe, and who knows what comes next for us as we continue? That’s completely OK, as the fun lies in discovering it for ourselves.

If you have a child who enjoys MINECRAFT, grab another controller, and build alongside them.  You might be surprised at how much fun it can be.


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