… how Minecraft allowed our kids to maintain and grow their friendships. More than ever we understand the need for socialization and contact...

The value of video games during the pandemic...

… how Minecraft allowed our kids to maintain and grow their friendships.

More than ever we understand the need for socialization and contact with friends and family. In January of 2020 when I introduced Minecraft to my 8 year old daughter and 4 year old son along with Discord so they could play with their aunt and uncle, little did I know the extensive impact it would make on their lives and personal growth throughout the next year.

While our children are homeschooled, that doesn’t mean they lack socialization. Prior to the pandemic they lived very busy lives. On any given day they might be taking classes in gymnastics, dance, or ice skating, having a playdate at a park, going to a 4H club meeting, or attending a co-op program. My wife could put some Uber drivers to shame with the amount of trips they take during the week. Then in comes the pandemic, where rightly so, all that would come to a halt.

As a lifelong gamer and self proclaimed tech geek I’m always trying to introduce my kids to different games, technology, and stem concepts. My daughter did not enjoy video games with any type of fighting but she loves building with Legos. So when I set up a Minecraft server at home in creative/peaceful mode, which gives the players god-like abilities to build the world as they wish without monsters or the fear of their characters getting hurt, she was engulfed in exploring all the ways to build and shape the world to the far reaches of her imagination. Not to mention all the animals to play with, she loves animals and some of her first builds were elaborate zoos and aquariums. Her aunt and uncle helped to show her ways to build and bring her imagination to life.

Little by little their close friends would hear about and become interested in Minecraft, and little by little I would help them and their parents set up Minecraft and Discord to connect to us. It’s important to note, for the kids' safety (their ages ranging from 4 to 11), our Minecraft and Discord servers are whitelisted only for our kids and this small group of friends and family. This means only they can join and all others are denied access to prevent any random people from discovering the servers and joining.

Different world, same experiences

My wife and I sit in wonder with our kids in our home office or listen in from the living room as they play and interact with their friends in this virtual world almost the same as if they were together in the real world. From making up games you might see them play out together on a playground, singing songs together, building elaborate structures and worlds, to getting upset about a broken build, what someone said, or when pranks go too far and learning how to express themselves and work it out. Eventually we introduced the monsters back into Minecraft and the ability for the characters to be put in “survival” mode temporarily which allows their character to get hurt and die. They form bonds and share experiences by going on adventures together fighting zombies, surviving village raids, exploring shipwrecks in the ocean, and teaming up against the End Dragon. 

A quick list of some of the positive outcomes

Socialization - talking about their interests and sharing ideas.

Learning to play together - there’s no leader of the group, which allows everyone to take turns leading their own style of game with everyone participating.

Conflict resolution - broken builds, annoyances, learning to express when something happens that made them mad or sad. They are forced to learn to express themselves through words.

Teamwork - creating large builds together, going on adventures, defeating the End Dragon.

Teaching - when one child learns something new they are eager to teach and share with the rest of the group.

General computer skills - Mouse, keyboard, and typing.

To minimize the possibility of any type of abuse, access to commands are limited to my 8 year old daughter’s account. She has quickly taken to the role of server administrator, switching users between creative and survival modes when they want, teleporting friends to each other, removing over 1,000 turtles with a single command because they accidentally set up a beach full of turtle eggs which continuously spawned turtles and threaten to crash the server. The ensuing teamwork to tear the beach apart and find all the eggs was impressive. 

Our son just turned 4 when he started playing, he can’t read yet and never used a mouse and keyboard. Amazingly within a few sessions he was navigating around a 3D world with ease, clearing landscapes and building his newest castle. Within a few more sessions and with the help of his sister showing him different types of blocks and objects, he memorized what most of the objects in the inventory are, even those that look exactly the same, based on their position in the inventory. I am still amazed by this. What started with him sitting on my lap to help play and navigate the world, quickly turned into him being completely independent and self sufficient in mining, crafting, cooking, and building, with help from his sister here and there to teach him new skills which he quickly commits to memory.

Just this week we introduced pvp (player vs. player) which allows them to battle each other to the death and brings about a whole new set of experiences, conflicts, laughs, and bonding. The pandemic isn’t over but thankfully the social interactions which allow our children to learn and grow emotionally and intellectually continues to flourish thanks to Minecraft.