HARVARD HERO MOMENT #36: A lockdown ode to Minecraft

Ellie Thompson

29 Jun 2020

Like so many other parents out there, I have been working from home full time since the middle of March while also assuming the role of teacher to my nine-year-old son. It has been the ultimate balancing act for me – a mum working full time who has always preferred to go into the office in order to neatly separate my two roles at work and at home. It has challenged me in so many ways. But before I carry on do not mistake this for a ‘woe is me’ tale. I would like to stress that while there are frantic and fraught days, I also know how lucky we are and it is has been this healthy dose of perspective that has helped us muddle through for three months without wanting to kill each other. But, it hasn’t just been a healthy dose of perspective that has kept us sane – it has also been a healthy dose of parental compromise… And that is where Minecraft comes in. The battle over screen time will be familiar to anyone with or caring for children and like everyone I have always policed this carefully, making sure that it is measured alongside reading books, playing games together and creating something physical (I refer you to my colleague’s blog on Lego from a couple of weeks ago).

Time for change

But as lockdown kicked in it became apparent very quickly that a change in approach was necessary. Daily lessons were being completed while I still had a good chunk of my working day stretching ahead of me and the near constant requests in the first couple of weeks for ‘iPad time’ nearly drove me insane! With Minecraft, my son and I have found a decent compromise for him wanting to spend a chunk of his spare time on his iPad and my reluctance to it.  For those out there not familiar with this hugely successful game Minecraft is a child-friendly computer game that combines exploration and survival skills. In simple terms, it’s like digital LEGO where you can create anything from a small hut to a huge, sprawling metropolis. When you throw in monsters it begins to get really interesting – particularly for my nine-year-old who has to quickly learn how to survive and adapt in the Minecraft world! There are numerous studies on why Minecraft is educational as well as being fun for kids – and I of course read them all – each one outlining benefits like:
  • Boosting imagination and creativity
  • Teaching children about resources and how to manage them
  • Supporting learning in maths and English
  • Nurturing a curious mind

Staying in touch

But I think perhaps the one most important to us has been that it has created a safe way for my son – who does not have a phone - to communicate and play with his friends and family at a time when he is missing them terribly. He can team-up with friends, they can visit each other’s worlds and build whatever they want to do in a safe and secure environment (as long as you put the right parental controls on). We have all had to adapt, compromise and learn while in lockdown in so many ways. For me, it has likely accelerated an introduction to online gaming that I was planning to delay for as long as possible – because like so many things about this pandemic, there will be no going back. But I am at peace with the fact that with the right checks and balances in place – and the right mix of online and offline activities - this is not a bad thing. Now I just need to get in writing my sons promise that he will one day build for me “in real actual life” the house he built for me in his Minecraft world – because it’s lush!