Freak Out Pixel Fun

My son, who is 8, has been overwhelmingly smitten with Mine Craft for the last school year.

I, on the other hand, have been annoyed by the entire kid and game playing phenomenon since its beginning. So when he started playing Mine Craft, I did not know much about it other than that I needed to be cautious of how much he played it. My kid disappears into a virtual world. He gets super cranky when he reaches his screen time limit. That is all I really understood.

It is a mom thing, I know. I want him to be a kid and play and learn. I don’t want him to miss important life lessons because he is glued to a screen. Also, I don’t want to rely on games and television as a crutch for a quiet kid so I can get more work done in peace. But I also know from my own experiences that technology is a part of life and you have to learn to live with it in a healthy way. Better learn to use it responsibly when you are a kid than over binge when you are a young adult, away from your parents.

Initially, I thought my kid’s Mine Craft love was just like his character love of other games he loves on the tablet such as Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies. I thought he liked the graphics and moving around and flying. But, unlike those tablet games, the rules to Mine Craft are much more complex. It is a survival game in which you manage resources and survive by mining, fighting off monsters, building and farming. I learned there was a lot to the rules. Knowing about the rules made my mom-attitude-o-meter change a little towards curiosity rather than disdain regarding Mine Craft. Still though, it was not quite in my friendly zone.

Last week, after several requests, I “came along” with my son while he played Mine Craft. I finally got to learn how he feels when he plays this computer game. It is indeed a wide and multi-faceted array of emotions.

First of all, I must explain that there are several modes you can play in Mine Craft. There is a Survival Mode, which I believe is the original intent of the game, and there is a Creative Mode, where you can build and play, not worrying so much about your character’s survival.

My son learned to play through Creative Mode but was afraid to play Survival Mode.

Afraid. I was surprised by this.

He wanted me to play with him in Survival Mode for company.

At first I did not understand that he was really afraid.  My son does have a hard time with grit – working through a problem which is difficult. He often says he does not like hard work, and I thought this is what was going on. I thought he wanted me along to solve the problems for him, which I wasn’t going to do, but I thought I would be a good companion instead. So, as we were going through Survival Mode together for the first time, I encouraged him to think ahead about what he might need (build a shelter before night comes and the monsters come out, don’t get distracted), to push to explore, (you want to build a workbench? Where can you find the materials?), and to fight the monsters so that he could also get materials he needed.

And here’s where I figured it out. He was, indeed afraid of the monstersReally afraid!

This is what was holding him back from doing a lot of stuff in the game, fear of the monsters! At first I was in disbelief and then I remembered feeling exactly the same terror from the pixels.

It made me remember sitting in the basement in the WI summertime when I was 8, (because we did not yet have air conditioning), on our Commodore 64 playing Gateway to Apshai. For those of you who have never played this game, we had the cartridge version of this dungeon delve game. Your little character looked like a white stick figure made of ascii characters. It would march through a dungeon maze on the screen. The areas you hadn’t explored are a yellow pixelated checkerboard that vanish as you walk through a door into a room with…monsters!!

The Gateway to Apshai monsters should not have been scary. I’m sure to most people they were not. They usually looked just like your character, just a different color. But to me, they were scary. Particularly the giants!  They were red and just a little bigger than your character. But they moved fast like a spider! I remember my adrenaline rising and my heart racing as I pushed the little red joystick button for my sword to kill the giant. When you got hit by a monster the whole screen would flicker white and there would be a loud noise in contrast to the low humming soundtrack in the background.

Here’s a link to the game for fun 🙂

When I first started playing the game, I would actually turn the game off when I’d encounter a giant. I’d get up and leave and do something else. It bothered me that much. The game still called to me though and I did play again eventually until I could withstand that jolt of adrenaline I’d feel when I saw a monster. The jolt got to be really fun!

I don’t think I ever beat the game and even now I am considering figuring out getting an emulator downloaded and to find the game again. What happens when you win? Is it as thrilling as fighting the monster? In the back of my mind, I doubt it. I think I liked the game so much because of the jolt and thrill. I never really cared about the winning then I don’t really care now.

When I told my son about this game, he begged me to figure out how to get it on my computer. He was really excited and curious to see how the simple figures could be scary to me. Maybe he also wanted to see if it would be thrilling for him.

So I share this pixel fun freakout as something unexpected but good; I completely forgot that “fun fear” could be a part of the game playing experience. It was neat to find that this is something my son experiences in a visceral way.

And, putting on my mom+nerd hat, I wonder if the “fun fear” part of playing a game can be translated into real life learning. My son is not big on stepping out of his comfort zone. Will playing Mine Craft, pushing through his fear of the witch outside his door, help him to practice pushing through real world fears? I am curious to know.

Yesterday, we played Mine Craft together again. My kid fought a spider with his bare pixel hands and then a werewolf, (it was caught behind a block of dirt). I also noticed that the screen flickers red when he got hit by a monster and that there was also a loud sound contrasting to the calming and meditative soundtrack. Hmmmm….

He got a golden apple for killing the werewolf. He was so happy! Then he got more courage to kill a scorpion with a stone sword. He was still scared, but he didn’t just run away.

It was great to see him push through the fear.


About LornaGovier

Lorna Govier lives in Tucson, AZ.
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2 Responses to Freak Out Pixel Fun

  1. rehfeld3 says:

    Lorna your essay hit home. I have been procrastinating starting my day by listening to Stephen King on U-tube about the craft of writing when I accidentally skipped to an article about the positive affects of young children reading horror fiction. I remember as a middle school educator rejoicing when one of my students graduated from reading R L Stein novels into something I considered more literary, yeah I know, I had a judgmental attitude. The point of the above mentioned article was that the mind of an 8 year old when they first encounter fear in our media is quite different than an adult with our retinue of psychological cause and effect responses, in other words their encounters are felt differently. Another attribute that was mentioned in the article was that the young child newly introduced to this type of fear benefits from “practicing, modeling, role-playing” this emotion and becomes more adept at handling this emotion.

    I enjoy reading your blog.

    • LornaGovier says:

      Thanks, J! It was certainly an unexpected lesson for me – grateful M asked me to sit in his game ! That is really interesting about the positive effects of horror fiction. Thank you for sharing this 🙂

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