When I tell people that I play video games with my kids, I almost immediately get asked about what my Fortnite character looks like. If you watch TV at all, you’ve probably seen ads for Fortnight, Grand Theft Auto, and a variety of other video games. Almost all are first person shooters, featuring oversized weapons, gratuitous violence, and at least some partial nudity. Given the number of ads on TV, you might think these games are extremely popular.
I don’t play Fortnite, nor do I let my kids play it. While I like my violent video games (Skyrim belongs to the Nords!), my kids and I play Minecraft. You’ve probably seen it at some point. Blocky graphics. Diamond swords. Green and black monsters called creepers. You might think it looks dumb, but its the best selling video game of all time. Plus, rather than teaching your kids to brainlessly slaughter other people, it provides a lot of lessons about the real world.
A quick Minecraft primer, in case you haven’t played it. It’s a sandbox game, meaning there isn’t really a story or quest to complete. You get dropped into a generated world where you gather blocks (dirt, stone, iron, etc.) and build…whatever you want. There are all sorts of enemies called mobs that can attack you. You can plant farms, cage off and breed animals for food and supplies, and even find villages, where computer controlled villagers will trade with you, using emeralds as the form of currency. There is sort of an end game in that you can find a place called “The End” and fight the Enderdragon, but even after that, the game has no real ending.
The first thing you learn is that the world is a pretty cruel place. Not unlike our actual world, there are monsters that are content to watch the world burn. Homeless zombies poison you and turn friendly villagers into more zombies. Creepers act like ISIS suicide bombers, sneaking up and exploding, both hurting you and destroying whatever you happened to work on. Endermen, giant black creatures that teleport, will suddenly flip out when you look at them scream and attack you like a triggered college student protester. Especially at night, it feels like you might be safer walking down the streets of San Francisco…wait, never mind, its not quite THAT bad, but its still unnerving.
To combat this, you have to care and build defenses. That means you build walls. And you make Minecraft pay for it! You also build a military by creating iron golems, who roam your village and kill attacking bad guys. If you don’t, for some misguided peace loving reason, your villagers will be massacred by either zombies or pillagers, roving bands of characters that destroy any villagers they find. Those walls need gates though, to let in legal immigrants and let you go about your business. Despite threats to the contrary, most of your villagers don’t actually move to Terraria or Canada after you build walls.
Once your village is protected, spurring the economy is key. Farmers are key villagers that get little respect. Not unlike real America, farmers don’t get a lot of love until there is a shortage. Your villagers can’t breed and create new villagers unless they have enough food and beds, and your farmers will constantly hand food to them at various intervals, without you doing anything. My kids caught this once and it started a conversation about how important farming is overall to our country. Not bad for a game with 8 bit graphics!
Now you can go and harvest and build everything yourself. You can mine down and find diamonds, which make the best armor and weapons in the game. But its really time consuming, and as my kids are discovering, its far easier to pay an armorer for a diamond chestplate. But that villager doesn’t just start selling diamond armor from the outset. You have to build that villager’s business, buying and selling with him until he is leveled up sufficiently. Once your villagers are leveled up, it becomes quicker to rebuild after a setback. The first time my character died, it took me an hour to build back all the stuff I had lost. Now, it takes a mere ten minutes of trading to be ready to take on the world again.
There is one final, sad character I’ve discovered in Minecraft: the Nitwit. He wears a green shirt and roams around your village like every other villager. The Nitwit wakes up later than other villagers and stays out at night later than others. Most importantly, he doesn’t do anything. He can’t trade with you. He doesn’t work a field like a farmer. He doesn’t sell leather, or buy paper, or make maps, or build swords. Nope, he literally walks around, breeds, and takes up a bed. If you go to kill him though, you’ll make the other villagers mad, and your iron golems might attack you.
So you tolerate the nitwit. You hope that maybe someday that person will grow up, attend trade school and be a functioning member of society. Sadly, this is where Minecraft departs reality, because while you can stop supporting Bernie Sanders in real life, Minecraft coding prevents nitwits from changing into something useful. They do provide a convenient moniker whenever your kid’s liberal teacher talks about the “greatness” of liberal ideals. Who knew that Minecraft, created in 2011, could be so predictive of America’s future.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, Mojang, Microsoft Corporation, the Enderdragon, or any other government agency.