At my last exhibition a mother and her son came into the show to have a look around, the boy spotted one of my block prints and with huge excitement told his mother it was ‘Minecraft Art’ and that they must buy it… and they did.
I didn't think much of it until a couple of months later when I had succumbed to downloading Minecraft for my children, anything had to be better than ‘crossy road’. And sure enough my girls became obsessed with leaning over the laptop screen for hours on end - I’ll come to that shortly.
After some initial attempts to build a house and fence up hundreds of nomad sheep that seem to get drawn to human habitation in this pixelated world my youngest came to me and said “look mummy I have built you an art gallery”, sure enough there it was a nicely lit pixelated room with a sign saying ‘Abi’s Art Gallery’ and a wall full of pictures just like mine… they really are Minecraft art. This was genius on her part, why would I tell her to get off the machine and go run round the garden or something ‘more productive’ when she was building me the one thing I really would quite like in real life. So instead there was lots of excitement and praise and she got on to build my husband a ‘potions lab’ - he treats and teaches herbal medicine, so potions not far off..
But it brings me onto the bigger question, do I like Minecraft? Do I like any online game, do I wish my children were sewing, making, running and creating their games like Swallows and Amazons in the great outdoors.
TV is passive, able to waste many hours with vacuously absorbing pap, however even that has some gems like Horrible Histories - brilliantly re-enacted, entertaining and educational. And TV also has its uses when I want my children to just be calm, I let the flatscreen nanny have her way for a short time.
But why the animosity of parents towards video games? Would we mind if they sat for 3 hours playing lego, or making a den outside, or drawing and colouring? Yet some computer games are exactly that, it just seems although we as adults are in front of the screens most of the day, it is ‘bad or wrong’ for children.
I feel, like everything, in moderation ‘time’ on the computer is just as beneficial as ‘time outside’, or ‘time playing schools’. Perhaps it is my generation, the last who remember TBF (time before internet), who struggle with this notion. But moderated, I feel that certain computer games are incredibly valuable to the education and growth of our children’s minds. They will after all, live and flourish in a tech world that we at best may find unnatural and intrusive, at worst just won’t understand. So how do we prepare them for this brave new world?
Like everything in this life, some things are better than others, and Minecraft, I believe is actually pretty good for the precious little minds of our children, not too much mind you that they turn to mush, but definitely some.
Why? I believe with the advent of the internet we raised a generation of millennials who took to the internet with gusto, the previous generation struggled through basic coding to get anything on their zx spectrums, but come early noughties code was hidden away and shiny interfaces were presented. Needing something to do they devoured the emerging social media and are incredibly savvy they just ‘get it’ coining the phrase native, but social media didn’t encourage us to look under the bonnet. Somehow we had forgotten, or perhaps didn’t know how, to educate the young on building the future, not just using it. Thankfully not that long after we came full circle and it has never been easier to build on the web, reflected in the boom of tech start ups. However, the wave takes longer to catch up and I worry that for most of us we need to learn to use technology to our benefit and shape the future, harness the power of it, not just become enslaved. And to do this we need to teach our children the building blocks of enhanced computer learning at a young age…. Stage Left - Minecraft.
Started in 2009 by Markus Persson, bought by Microsoft in 2014. It grew exponentially to now over 100 million registered users worldwide - a global platform in which children from all around the world, build create and collaborate - a bit like Swallows and Amazons, but not limited to the Lake District in the rain - having said that it does seem to rain a lot in Minecraft, and I think the spiders are bigger. Akin (almost!) to problem solving in real life Minecraft is already being used in some schools to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths the all important STEM subjects.
Add to that the ‘redstone blocks’ - which allow users to create active circuits with on off switches to trigger devices, such as lighting bulbs, opening doors or if you ask most kids about it... blowing up TNT - and we are really starting to get a little bit of logical learning thrown into the mix, children are learning about the ‘if this then that’ statements of programming and computer logic. So this simple blocky game, is actually a fun, engaging - to the point of obsessive! - way to teach the basics of computer language, computer capacity, human interaction and teamwork, not bad.
Controversial and perhaps not without its flaws now, my belief is that to start to use computers and technology to its best advantage in the future is not to teach children what computers already know - how to spell how to add, how to discover, but to teach them what computers don’t know starting not from scratch but from the running start that a computer gives you. This would further our learning and create jobs that use technology as a crutch to go further, rather than re-inventing the wheel each time and worrying that technology is just taking our jobs.
It does go very much against the grain, what if the internet is hacked, if armageddon happens and there is no electricity, how will we survive. This is all true, but to clutch onto what we know because the future is unknown, is not an option, it will happen whether we prepare for it or not, and our main role as parents is to prepare our children for their future.
But everything in moderation, my main aim for my children is to give them as broad a spectrum as possible of the many facets of life and avenues open to them, on and off line. So like allocated time slots for homework, exercise, drawing and reading, Minecraft slots in quite well.
And in the meantime I thought what better use of my allocated screen time than to recreate Minecraft art of our reminiscence of ‘lost innocence’ and bring Swallows and Amazons, Famous Five and Black Beauty to the modern pixelated world.