posted by Joe Anaya on September 24th, 2012

During the summer I suggested to my son, “Let’s go build something.” Some of my favorite times were spent taking the left over pieces of wood from my father’s various house projects and making things. Bird houses (no bird could ever fit in), terrariums (for captured lizards and toads), forts, boats (only by virtue that wood could float) whatever struck my fancy as I gazed at the various shaped scraps of lumber on the side of the house. My son wasn’t interested. He wanted to keep playing his computer game.

My kid has discovered Minecraft. An online game where you explore, gather resources and build. As video games go, it’s a pretty positive use of screen time. (That’s what we call anything that has a screen that we want to track how much time he spends on it, e.g. video games, TV, iPad.) “Why would you want to sit inside and make stuff on the computer when you can go out and make it for real?” He looked at me as if I had spoken heresy, “Because I can make it way better on Minecraft.”

He was right. I actually enjoy playing Minecraft myself. (I’ve built a tree house, a cattle farm, a lava fireplace.) We certainly would not be building a stone bridge across a ravine in real life. And it dawned on me that everything we did as kids is now done with more sophistication in video games. We used to bang crooked nails with rocks so we could build our fort. He can now find a jungle biome, climb the vines to the top of the tallest tree and build a platform with a bed, torches and other amenities all with a 360 degree view of the world. I could only offer an ant infested pepper tree with a view of our neighbor’s driveway.

We used to run through the woods with sticks playing army. “Bang, you’re dead.” “No, I’m not. You missed,” were ubiquitous cries in the neighborhood woods. When we got older, we’d suit up with goggles, batting helmets and winter coats, carrying our BB guns into the woods. Now they play Modern Warfare, with missile launchers, Uzis, and any number of weapons, and the computer keeps track of who shot whom and how much life you have left with no risk of losing an eye.

Sports are also way better online. There’s no climbing the fence of the locked schoolyard, or complaining about fouls, or out of bounds. You get online and find any number of players waiting to play. And you can throw a 50 yard spiral like Peyton Manning or slam-dunk like LeBron James.

It’s no use trying to explain to him the joys of physically doing it yourself or the tactile pleasure of holding something in your hands. It’s like someone trying to tell you how much fun it was reading a sundial versus these fancy digital watches. Or how much better it was trying to find a payphone that wasn’t scented with urine rather than using your cell phone. So, I just close the laptop and declare, “We’re going outside. Get up.” And hope that he eventually finds the fun in smashing his thumb with  a hammer.


File Under Mr. Cool