My daughter made me watch a 4.5 hour Minecraft “movie” on YouTube. It wasn’t really a movie, it was several videos stitched together by a very talented gamer, Katherine Elizabeth. We came away from that experience with the question: “If we download Minecraft, can we play this game called “StarQuest”? The short answer is no, but we’re now both hooked anyway.

I’m recently returned from the Everything Open conference where I caught the presentation: Crafting Worlds Together: The open source behind Minecraft’s multiplayer universe, and I am convinced by the legitimacy of Minecraft as a fun and educational STEM tool for my six year old (and myself!).

Getting Started

Which version to play? Pretty much all our game play is on iPads, so it was a no-brainer for us to go with Bedrock (pocket edition). The biggest learning curve was how to use the controls - after playing Machinarium and Samorost, working out how to move was full of frustration. She picked it up faster than I did, which presented a good opportunity for her to see me fail. More than once I stomped away in frustration, only for her to gently encourage me that “It just takes practice!” Role-reversal!!

The Joys of Minecraft

So it turns out Minecraft is really fun. Who knew!? 😂 Only about half the population for oh, thirteen years? We’re late to the party. We play in creative mode on the peaceful setting. We started out in different worlds. Eventually I went into my Microsoft account, set her up as a family member, configured all the settings so that we can be friends on the same LAN and now, finally, we can play in the same world.

Being six, she is an enthusiastic, fearless builder and doesn’t skimp on detail. It wasn’t long before she had dug from the river to her home and built an axolotl play area. She also constructed a pen for horses (shaped like an actual horse’s head), a massive glass mushroom, and an underwater pool with double story diving board. Meanwhile I’m faffing around cutting down trees and smashing things at every turn. (It took me a LONG time to learn the controls.)

As our first joint project, we built a bridge across the river. Now I’m starting to build a house on the bank across from her. There is a lot of laughter, trial and error, achievements, and fun. We wave at each other using the character emotes. There is an inexplicable joy in interacting with an avatar version of your friends in a virtual world. I guess that explains the popularity of multi-player games. 🤣

Salutary lesson: The Getting Lost Adventure

During a rare solo-playing session, my daughter decided to go exploring so she flew up really high then went looking around in a few different directions. Next thing I know, she ran to me and in a small voice she spoke into my knees, “I can’t find my way home”. Turns out Minecraft is a big, wide world like any other — if you don’t take note of your surroundings, you can get lost. She had that real-world feeling of dislocation and panic. I had no clue how to help, but got stuck into research and quickly found that it wasn’t going to be an easy task to find the way back home.

At first I was thinking, this will be a good test of disappointment and fortitude. I started counseling her, “I’ll try to find your home but you might have to rebuild from scratch.” She was being pretty stoic about it. Meanwhile I’m devouring forum threads, going down Reddit rabbit holes and scrubbing through YouTube tutorials: “What to do when you get lost in Minecraft”.

Everything I came across started with “Before you get lost, write down your coordinates”. Ha! 🙃

Tips for finding home

Should this happen to you, here is how we found home again.

The basic idea is to die so you can respawn back to a recognizable point. Because we’re in creative mode, you can’t die. One tip was to dig straight down to kill yourself so that you’re forced to respawn. So I spent 5 minutes digging down. I went through the Nether and into the Void…. but didn’t die. Nuts! Now I really am stuck. I’m both lost and I can’t get out of the Void. Hahaha. Okay. So.

My rescue came from a hot tip which was to save and close then set the world to survival mode. When you launch the world, because you’re in the Void, you instantly die and respawn back to your last bed. It worked! Huzzah. Then save and close again, switch back to creative mode and we’re set. Still lost, but at least no longer in the void, and now near a bed so we can sleep the night away.

So what do we do now - randomly fly around A WHOLE WORLD to find her build? That feels like hard work. More googling led me to the website Chunkbase that shows you the map of the world for your seed — cool! At least we can now work systematically.

Next step: hand over to a more patient adult to do a grid search of surroundings. My husband (a non-Minecrafter, but son of a Police Search and Rescue officer) spent almost 20 minutes looking and at dusk on the first day, he spies the familiar glint of a giant glass mushroom, the horse enclosure, axolotls. Happy Days Mate!

Surfing the learning curve

That chaotic getting-lost-and-found experience was actually supremely rewarding (for me, anyway). Getting lost taught me a lot of useful things by having to deep-dive into tutorials, going through configuration settings, and discovering the command console to teleport.

Many of the Minecraft tutorials out there suffer from the curse of knowledge. It’s such an old game, with so many device options now, that a lot of the more granular instructions get glossed over or completely assumed. By facing adversity, I really got a crash-course in Minecraft. (In creative mode, anyway. I still have to face-down a zombie but that’s for later).

Listing a few links here for future reference:

The joys of bonding over creative gaming

I’ve said it before, but digital gameplay is still gameplay, and it is a legitimate outlet for creativity. I can also tell that a big component of why my daughter is in the grip of this current obsession is that we play together. It’s a joint activity, and we talk about it when we’re not playing it. I genuinely love it but I do have to set a strict 1 hour timer because it sucks you (and me, and her) in.