Though my ten-year-old’s obsession with Minecraft first took hold three years ago—back when Minecraft was all the rage—I have to hand it to him. He’s sticking with it, despite the imperialist hegemony of Fortnite. What’s more, he’s not a fan of the newer game. “Too much violence,” he says, despite his affection for Nerf guns and laser tag.
The Minecraft connection began when some of my friends came by with an iPad and a teenager. “While we catch up,” my friends said, “Henry [their kid] can show Gus [my kid] all the stuff he’s building in Minecraft.”
It sounded innocent enough—not like the kind of thing that would destroy the very fabric of our family.
“Hey dad,” Gus asked the next day. “Can I download an app? It’s only $4.99.”
Coincidentally, his aunt had just sent him an iTunes gift card, so who was I to say no?
Five minutes later, he was laughing at the iPad. I felt good. For once I had done the right thing. I had allowed him his freedom. Little did I know that would be the last normal conversation my son and I would share before I lost him forever, literally down a mineshaft.
Hours later, he remained unmoved on the couch, still chuckling at the device.
“What are you watching now?” I asked.
“Still playing Minecraft!” he shouted over the din in his earbuds.
I choked on my coffee. What would my wife do when she caught wind of this? We had not discussed whether or not downloading Minecraft was okay.
I began formulating my arguments. My first line of defense would be to deny culpability: “I didn’t know what he was downloading!” No good. What parent lets his kid download something without knowing what it is?
Better to play the nostalgia card. “Let’s not overreact here,” I’d mansplain. “Don’t forget—you had an Atari 2600 growing up. And when I was seven, I had some weird triangular Coleco thing. I spent my childhood days rotating a giant knob in order to hit a green square with a rectangle. And I turned out fine!”
As is often encouraged in parenting books that I’ve read the jackets of while waiting for my family at the mall, it’s best to show some interest in your children’s activities. So I took a seat next to Gus on the sofa.
“Wow!” I said, “Looks cool. Kind of pixellated and retro-y. Yet futuristic.”
“Want to see my house?” Gus said. “That’s my bed…”
A bed? In a video game? How raunchy does this game get?
“Why do you need a bed?”
“Duh. So I can sleep.”
This explained nothing.
“Do you have to make the bed? Wash the sheets?”
“Of course not, dad!”
That’s when I realized something. Even though this was his first solo game of Minecraft, he seemed to know everything about it.
“Gus,” I asked, not wishing to appear dumber than I already did. “Didn’t you just download Minecraft this morning? How do you know all this stuff?”
“Reading, dad! They have books in the library. Plus, we play it at Noah’s.”
I breathed a big sigh of relief. The fault was not entirely mine! I could pin the rap on the Damaskes—a family so adorable nobody could ever stay mad at them for anything.
“So, what’s your score?” I asked him.
“There is no score.”
“How do you know who’s winning?”
“Nobody wins in creative. You just play.”
“How many lives do you have left?”
“I said I’m in creative!”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means you just build stuff!”
“How many blocks do you get?”
“As many as you want. Want to play?” he asked.
Truth be told, I did want to play. But I held back. Because, like a professional gambler or an obsessive collector (my grandfather and father, respectively), I had stopped playing video games after I flunked out of med school thanks to Prince of Persia (Mac version, 1993).
Friends with similarly addicted children have tried to be reassuring. “It’s not as bad as other games,” they say. “It’s social, at least. Sort of. And… creative!”
Our house is now full of Minecraft paraphernalia—books, Legos, night lights, swords, and stuffed animals. One stuffed animal just looks like a giant green erection, testicles and all. Thousands of years from now, the plastic action figures will be dug up by future archaeologists who will rack their brains trying to unravel their significance.
It’s overwhelming—and I haven’t even mentioned the videos.
One morning, Gus was using the iPad when a new voice filled the room—an Englishman’s voice. I got a creepy feeling.
Enlarge / The horror…
“Guys?” I asked from the kitchen, “Are you, like, playing Minecraft over the Internet?”
“I’m watching a video.”
“A video… of Minecraft?”
“Yeah, this guy’s awesome! His name is DanTDM.”
Actually, DanTDM is apparently so awesome that if you type “Da” in the YouTube Search Bar what you see first is “DanTDM.” I clicked, a sinking feeling rising from my bowels, and read:
“The Diamond Minecart. 1,706 videos. 9,251,825 subscribers.”
“Holy f**k!” I said reflexively. “Minecraft | 5 Secrets About DanTDM!! has 21 MILLION views! How the hell did he get 21 million views?”
“By being awesome, that’s how!”
“Sorry, I just. I can’t. I don’t. I’m not sure how to process this.”
I looked back on everything I’d done and suddenly realized my life was nothing more than a series of thwarted efforts: getting thrown out of medical school, moving to LA, getting laid off by the National Lampoon, then moving back to Boston and finding six years of digital comedy wiped clean from the website, as if it never existed. When all I ever had to do was play video games!
So here’s the big question: is my boy technically “addicted” to Minecraft? Let’s look at the risk factors, as enumerated by Medical News Today.
1. Person takes the substance and cannot stop. Things have gotten so bad that our only effective punishment is withdrawal of Minecraft. Such threats result in everything that occurs with addiction: “moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, a feeling of being depressed and empty, frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment.”
2. Symptoms of insomnia accompany withdrawal. On weekends, Gus wakes up before sunrise to play Minecraft or watch Minecraft videos.
3. Addiction continues despite health problem. Gus’s thumb is blistered and sore as a result of playing. Nevertheless, he chooses to suffer.
4. Social and/or recreational sacrifices accompany addiction. The other night Gus stated he would much rather stay home by himself playing Minecraft than see his sister perform at their school—though this should come as no surprise to anyone.
5. User diligently maintains a good supply. Gus is hyper-vigilant about plugging the iPad in at night to ensure it will be fully charged come morning.
6. User takes risks to acquire substance. The boy frequently steals the iPad, without asking, to sneak in a game of Minecraft.
7. User needs substance to deal with problems. Gus’ happiness is directly proportional to the time spent playing Minecraft.
8. Obsession with substance. It’s all he talks about. He literally counts down the minutes to the time he’s finally allowed to play: “Ten minutes till Minecraft!”
9. User seeks solitude and acts in secrecy. On more than one occasion, Gus has hidden beneath a blanket, secretly indulging in Minecraft. Given a choice, I feel confident he would much rather hang out with Minecraft than with either one of his parents (though, again, this should come as no surprise to anybody).
10. User denies having a problem. Far from being a problem, Gus sees Minecraft as a solution. Perhaps the solution… to boredom, interpersonal relationships, you name it.
In fact, Gus is better equipped to survive in the Minecraft world than in the real one. Which leads me to my latest theory: some sort of higher power is behind all this—some alien presence or non-physical entity who is totally in charge and who knows exactly what’s going on. And these virtual worlds are training camps for the youth, preparing them for the day when the planet becomes uninhabitable. When this time comes, the physical world will be replaced by a virtual one… and everyone will live in individual Life Pods™, where all our basic biological needs will be taken care of: nutrients and water and oxygen in, waste and CO2 out.
Immobility will be the trade-off for immortality. These kids will be the last generation to inhabit the Earth—since no one will be able to have actual sex—but they will live forever, together in their addictive virtual kingdom, just like in Minecraft creative.