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One Man's Meat

Published: Saturday July 25, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday July 25, 2015 MYT 6:49:05 AM

Growing up with Lego on steroids

Minecraft is not just a game but a lesson in problem-solving which helps children mature.

MY seven-year-old daughter spends 20% of her life in a world where she builds a fortress home using blocks and acquires weapons so she can slay zombies and non-hostile animals.

Apsara is a fan of Minecraft – one of the world’s most popular computer games. It allows players – who are limited only by their imagination – to construct a world of their own using textured cubes.

Last September, Microsoft bought Minecraft from Mojang, a Stockholm-based games studio, in a deal that is worth USD$2.5bil (RM9.5 bil). There are more than 100 million people around the globe playing the computer game.

Two months ago, Apsara discovered Minecraft when she stumbled onto a YouTube video called Minecraft Dan.

(You’d be surprised what a seven-year-old girl can find on the Internet on her iPad in the middle of the night. So far I don’t think she has stumbled onto porn. But I’m not certain, as I’m asleep most of the times she’s on the iPad at night.)

Minecraft Dan is a YouTube show that has become a global phenomenon – it has 70 million hits every month. The global viewers are mostly children aged between five and 10. It is produced by 22-year-old Briton Dan Middleton who hosts a video show on which he gives running commentary while playing Minecraft.

Last month, Apsara asked if there were any Minecraft games on iPad. I checked the Apple Apps Store and there was a Minecraft: Pocket Edition.

“Can you download for me, daddy? Pretty please. I’ll be a good girl,” she said, batting her eyelashes.

“Can, baby Apsara,” I said.

And Vera, my loving wife, gave me a stare that meant “There you go again, getting stuff for MY daughter that will turn her into a zombie”.

(My daughter practically doesn’t sleep at night as she’s addicted to her iPad. Plus I cleverly bought a Google Chromecast so that she can watch videos from her iPad on a 52-inch TV.)

“No, no, it is okay to play Minecraft,” I said rather defensively, as I did not want wifey to remain agitated with my parenting skills. “Today I read in the Financial Times that Minecraft is good for kids. Trust me on this.”

Vera raised her eyebrows. Not that I’m a mind reader, but I think she doubted the Financial Times and me.

Coincidentally, on that day I had read an article in the esteemed business newspaper on Minecraft.

“In contrast with other popular games such as Call of Duty, with its focus on bloody violence, or World of Warcraft, which attracts socially awkward obsessives who lock themselves within fantastical avatars, there are few howls of protest about Minecraft rotting the minds of impressionable youth,” it wrote.

“Quite the contrary. Parents play with their offspring. Thousands of schools worldwide have included Minecraft in their curriculum. Psychologists extol its aid in developing a child’s cognitive functions in creativity and problem-solving.”

In her first hours with Minecraft, Apsara was only able to build a rudimentary house and she was so afraid that she’d be eaten by the zombies.

Twenty-four hours later, she was building a four-story house with glass ceiling and she was having zombies for supper.

Perhaps if she puts in more hours playing the video game, she’ll be like other players who can create entire scenes from The Lord of the Rings.

“O M G!” she’ll shout when a zombie explodes.

“Why do you love playing Minecraft?” I asked Apsara.

“Well, it looks cool. I love it very much. You can do a lot of things with it,” she said.

“What can you do?” I said.

“You go on a water slide with no bubbles, build a roller coaster and a princess glass balcony,” she said.

“What have you learnt from Minecraft?” I said.

“I notice that in survival (mode) that I cannot die. In creative (mode), I can die,” she said.

I’ve noticed that Year 1 Apsara is more mature that Year 1 me in 1974. I think this is because she is growing up in the age of touchscreen, whereas I lived in the age of marbles (main guli).

When I was her age, I played Lego. Whereas with Minecraft, Apsara is playing with Lego on steroids.

On Monday, I was touched by a statement Apsara made when I was about to exchange her teddy bear (about 126 cm, which is around my daughter’s height) with a similar product. She had it for less than 24 hours and it had some defect.

I took Princess (that’s the teddy bear’s name) out of the car in a shopping mall in Petaling Jaya and Apsara said she didn’t want to change it.

“Why?” I said. “I’ll exchange it for a better one.”

“I know a stuffed toy doesn’t have a heart. But in my heart, it has a heart. I can’t exchange it as I don’t want to break Princess’ heart,” she said.

I’m sure when I was her age, the only poignant thing I said was, “I don’t want already, too late already!” when I could not get what I wanted.

I do think that Minecraft and other videos and games that she watches and plays on the iPad are only making her cleverer.

One day, when Apsara grows up to be a trillionaire game developer, I’ll wink at my wife and say, “see I was right in getting her that Minecraft game”.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Philip Golingai, columnist

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