September 15, 2014

Minecraft and Girls


Minecraft and Girls

Microsoft announced the purchase of Mojang, creator of the wildly popular game Minecraft, and there was a loud sigh in my household. BabyGirl is a Minecraft junkie and it’s a topic of constant conversation with her friends. Interestingly, she’s the one who came home and told me about the rumors of a sale. Minecraft girls

I don’t want to pass judgement on Microsoft, but, to be honest, I’m worried they’ll somehow screw up Minecraft. There’s no real history to support that belief. Sure, most of the companies Microsoft has purchased since it’s inception in 1986 were B2B focused so they were never on my radar. In the last few years, I actually cared because Microsoft bought my beloved Skype as well as the well-loved Nokia. Minecraft girls

But this is a game-changer (pun intended). See, Minecraft did something no game had done before. It attracted girls. One a very large scale. Minecraft could likely be, single-handedly, responsible for the growth of girl gamers.

I grew up with Atari and pong. Back then games weren’t geared toward boys or girls, they were just games. Kids sat around together and played them. Then there was a huge shift and game-makers decided games were for boys. So they created games that left girls out of their killing, destruction, and degradation of women. And then came Minecraft. And things changed.

Minecraft came out in 2009 and was an underground game that used bland-colored and textured cubes to create a 3D world. Very different from the games on the market that were much more realistic, color-intense, violent, and, well, male-oriented. I have a daughter, and there was no way I was going to allow her to be involved with games that incorporate gratuitous violence against women. Minecraft girls

Minecraft changed how I felt about online gaming for kids, girls especially. Yes, Minecraft is very popular among adults. But there is an innocence in the game even though there is plenty of killing and destruction. One of the key concepts of the game I really liked was that it could be a single-player game and you could bypass as much of the killing and destruction that you needed. I also liked that it brought the boys and girls together to talk about something they both enjoyed, since there seemed to be a natural segregation developing when BabyGirl was about 8. Minecraft girls

Minecraft gives kids more than just a game. It taps their creativity. It makes them think strategically. If they’re in survival-mode they have to think about life-saving concepts like building shelter, getting food, and fighting off predators. In creativity mode they’re free to use their imagination and not be hampered by too many restrictions. If they are inclined they can enter multi-player servers and work together with others.

Minecraft is the impetus for many kids learning to program. What better reason to learn JavaScript than to make custom mods, new creatures, or different color worlds? The intersection of learning and play is highly blurred in Minecraft. And as a parent, I don’t mind.

Minecraft welcomes girls! The colors in Minecraft are bland. Even the pink pig is a subdued pink. But you can make pink! But there is not a “girl version” of Minecraft. Everyone plays the same game. Not every girl wants to live in a pink-washed girl. Even my pink-loving, sparkle-wearing, glitter-needing BabyGirl loves that Minecraft is “regular”, as she says. She says it makes it easy to talk to people about Minecraft because it’s a standard game and even though you can add gems and jewels and “girl-ish” things the conversations are usually focused on what’s being built, how something was done, and sharing cool tips and tricks. She even finds that Minecraft is a common ground for talking with older kids.

So why is there so much worry over what Microsoft might do to Minecraft? I’m not sure. So far they haven’t screwed up Skype or Nokia (although I did hear they’re going to drop the Nokia name). That’s not saying much though, is it. Neither have the interactivity and ability to change things like Minecraft, so a lot remains to be seen.

I don’t want Microsoft to change the reason for Minecraft. Markus “Notch” Persson created Minecraft because he loves programming and games and doing things that are fun. The same reasons we want our kids to play this game for hours on end. It’s the perfect intersection of learning and fun in a make-believe world that helps kids (and adults) escape the many pressures of life. For BabyGirl, it’s given her new skills, taught her about architecture, improved her strategic thinking, and provided her a topic that is a great way to meet new people or be friends with classmates she may not have sought out.

This quote from Microsoft creator, Notch, in his open letter about leaving Mojang pretty much sums it all up.

I love you. All of you. Thank you for turning Minecraft into what it has become, but there are too many of you, and I can’t be responsible for something this big. In one sense, it belongs to Microsoft now. In a much bigger sense, it’s belonged to all of you for a long time, and that will never change.

Thank you, Notch, for creating this make-believe online world my daughter loves so much. And to Microsoft, don’t screw it up!


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