The Game: Minecraft
The Theme Song: I don't know, but it's always coming from the laptop, and it takes me a good five minutes to wonder where the hell the music is coming from during dinner, when my kid has let the computer hibernate with the game still on.
The Mythology: Created by Swedish video-game programmer and apparent right-angle enthusiast Markus Persson, Minecraft is an open-source platform game (am I getting that right?) that has become the most popular video game in the universe among small children. Recently, Minecraft's parent company was purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion. That's two and a half billion dollars for one video game. I've gotten my life all wrong. This guy wasn't even looking for a payday. He just liked building digital log cabins, as Swedes are wont to do.
Game Format: If any other parent asks you what Minecraft is, just tell them it's virtual Legos. That's the easiest way to describe a game that strikes me as unfathomably dry and complicated. Basically, it allows you to build "worlds" where you can mine for materials (never dig straight down, because you will die, and your child will scream as if they have just lost a pet) and then build fortresses, minecart rails, houses, farms … anything, really. You can even simulate 9/11 if you want, which a disturbingly large number of people have done. Everyone grieves in their own way.
You can also acquire various pickaxes and diamond swords and diamond armor, and you can mine for rare materials like redstone (I think?) and other shit. You children will explain all of this to you, and you will tune them out after roughly seven seconds. There are four separate handbooks for Minecraft that your children will demand to read in lieu of actual, worthwhile books. I have read sections of the Redstone Handbook to my kid. It's so boring that I want to die. Someone needs to explain to me how a Swedish guy got paid $2.5 billion to hook kids on the digital equivalent of reading through an encyclopedia of Ikea instructions.
* You: The most compelling character of all!
* Creepers: Bad guys. Your neighbor's kid has one on a shirt.
* Endermen: Also bad guys. You can protect yourself from them by wearing a pumpkin on your head. No, I don't understand why, either.
* Ghasts: Fireball-spitting bad guys that, according to one site, "Spawn in the nether." All Minecraft talk sounds like that. But I played D&D as a kid, so I don't really have a leg to stand on here.
* The Ender Dragon: The final villain in a game that has no actual objective. I went to pick up my kid from a playdate, and she asked if she could kill the enderdragon first. I said yes. That was a mistake. She finally left the house an hour later.
* Zombies: Zombies.
* Zombie Pigmen: Zombies who look like pigs.
* Slime: Slime. As with many Minecraft villains, Slimes form into "Mobs" that attack you and stuff. These mobs are still superior to flash mobs.
* Withers: I don't know.
* Pigs and Cows and Sheep: You can spawn these farm animals and then kill them for food and materials. That all makes sense, but it is a touch distressing when your kid runs up to you and is like, "Dad, watch me kill this sheep. I KILLED THE SHEEP!"
Pros: As one guy told me, "I'd rather have the kid playing Minecraft than any other horrible video game," and it's true. Minecraft is clean, and pretty much devoid of graphic violence or language or nudity. In the interactive version, trolls get reported and banned and all that. My kid has yet to stumble upon a child molester searching for fresh victims, although I'm sure that's in the offing. And since the game offers children a blank canvas to work with, it's (ideally) a place where they can build cool shit and really stretch their imaginations. It has been praised by the likes of The New Yorker and The Atlantic for this very reason.
Again, that is the ideal way of looking at Minecraft. But the reality … oh, the reality …
Cons: Fuck Minecraft. Honestly, just fuck it right in its 8-bit ass. This fucking game. My kids don't even really PLAY it. You know what they do? They hit up YouTube and watch videos of other people playing it. In fact, there are Minecraft celebrities out there like Stampy and the Diamond Minecart, and their videos get millions and millions of views. See for yourself:
I can't begin to tell you how fucking annoying these videos are. Imagine watching people playing a video game instead of playing it yourself. Now imagine the people playing it sound like Hot 99.5's morning drive team. Kids can watch these videos for HOURS. How can you like this shit? What is wrong with you?
But it gets worse, because these expert YouTube Minecrafters all use "mods": special custom upgrades that allow them to do cool shit that kids can't do on their own. Of course, this results in my oldest kid demanding, on a daily basis, to download some fucking mod from a totally shady Mediafire site. Minecraft, in itself, is harmless, but it will introduce your children to the darkest, most nefarious parts of the internet. They know NOTHING about phony ads that have download buttons. They know nothing about malware. They have no ability to ascertain which sites look trustworthy and which look like a Czech MySpace page run by opium smugglers. All they know is that they want the mod that turns shit green, and then they want to make their own YouTube videos so they can become "famous" in the least valuable sense of the word.
Even if you download a mod successfully, installing it is still a complete bitch. You have to go deep into the bowels of some fucking folder in the PC and change up some of the code language, all the while terrified that your child just made you implant an NSA bug into the heart of your hard drive. Mods are fucking garbage. Open-source stuff is great if you happen to be an 18-year-old who is WAY TOO OLD to be playing Minecraft. For an 8-year-old, I just want the mods THERE. In the game already. This shouldn't be fucking rocket science.
Did I mention the game exists on various platforms? There is the PC version (it costs $26 and you have to register, which is its own little nightmare), and then there is Pocket Edition for use on iPods and iPhones, and then there is the Xbox version, which can apparently do shit that the other versions cannot. I wouldn't know, because we don't have an Xbox, and my kid keeps begging for one so she can play the Xbox version of Minecraft on it. No, dear. The answer is no. If you have one Minecraft, you should have them all. You're not getting a goddamn Xbox. There has to be some INSTITUTIONAL CONTROL in this house, by God.
All this for a game that looks like it was created in 1986. I have been told that simplicity is the key to Minecraft's success. If that's the case, I'm gonna create my own video game called SPOTCRAFT, and it'll just be a bunch of fucking spots on the screen, and I'll be a zillionaire. And even then, NO XBOX FOR THE KID.
I hate Minecraft. Minecraft will destroy my family. Still beats them playing Call of Duty, though.
Drew Magary writes for Deadspin. He's also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also order Drew's book, Someone Could Get Hurt, through his homepage.
Art by Jim Cooke.
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