Digital Legos

Growing up, I loved playing with Legos. I am of the generation that didn’t have themed Lego sets. We didn’t have Star Wars or Avenger or Friends Lego sets. We actually didn’t have any “insert the most current movie” themed Legos at all. We had the generic starter set and if you were lucky, you might have the advanced set that came with gears and motors.

When I was 12, some friends of the family gave me their kid’s old lego sets. It was the cool kind that had gears and came with a motor and an activator box. This box of legos brought my original legos to a decent amount for a kid that didn’t know any better. From somewhere I had procured a booklet that gave build ideas and instructions. Every once in a while, I would try my hand at building a ship or a car or some other step by step creation. But most of the time, I would just launch out and build a house or some sort of living abode. You would think I would have a solid career in construction or architecture with all of the houses that I built.

As time does its thing and moves forward, my legos dwindled down and ended up in the family room closet of my parent’s house. I haven’t seen them or played with them in years. My kids would drag them out and play with them every once in a while.

But I still play with legos, just the digital kind.

When my kids were smaller, they begged and begged for me to purchase this new computer game called Minecraft. I had no idea what it was but they showed me Youtube after Youtube video to convince me that they NEEDED this game. The final coup de grace of their pitch was that because it was still in beta mode, it could be purchased at a much cheaper price than what it would eventually retail for. At the time, I didn’t see the need to buy them each their own account, so I purchased one for them to share.

For the next few years, they were content watching over each other’s shoulders and taking turns. They would build crazy roller coasters, raid each other’s villages, and other things you do as kids in a game your parents don’t fully understand. But then the inevitable happened.

As time does its thing and keeps moving forward, the kids got older, but their love of Minecraft continued. However, they were not as content playing on my old laptop. For Christmas, one year, they got an Xbox. Of course, we had to get the Minecraft branded Xbox and as fate would have it, my wife discovered Minecraft via the Xbox. The kids thought it was hysterical as she would scream any time zombies were coming toward her or accidentally throwing her diamond pickaxe into the lava, but she persevered and eventually realized that we all needed to play together in one giant realm. I realized that the one computer account the kids shared wasn’t going to cut it anymore. So we pooled all available computers and splurged and bought all six of us our own accounts.

Side note here — I have never been a gamer. I just never mastered the hand eye coordination to control the 3 dimensional views and movement of most modern video games. I was the slowest learner when it came to our family Minecraft realm. I actually made them turn off monsters because I would always end up killing myself or someone else while trying to kill the monsters.

Our family realm lasted for quite a while, but my wife would still always gravitate back to the Xbox to play. Eventually she established quite the colony of villages, mines and even a Nether Transit Authority — a train system in the Nether that connects her biomes that are thousands of bricks apart.

All the time, I would watch her play, support her with ideas, yell as she was trying to not fall into lava, and repartee with appropriate Minecraft commentary. She would often yell for the kids (who are Minecraft professionals at this point) to help her out of sticky situations or to tell her the recipe for Splash Potion of Weakness so that she can cure her Zombie Villagers.

All this time I was watching, thinking about how Minecraft is the new digital Legos. And then one night, when everyone else was doing their thing, I decided I was going to play with the digital Legos. I logged in and started my own world on the Xbox.

I thought I would start bravely and try to learn to fight the monsters, but as I was screaming while being attacked and unable to switch to my sword fast enough, one of my boys said “Dad, you are no less of a man if you have to play in peaceful.” He took my controller, switched it to peaceful and gave it back to me.

As I have slowly learned and developed my own style of playing, I am slower than everyone else and I have no need to really ever go into the nether. I have also discovered something that I’m not sure I’m proud of. I enjoy finding non-functional villages and bringing them back to thriving. I make them even better than what they were — with functional roadways, more jobs, more homes and increased population. Disgustedly joking, my son called me a colonizer. I was initially aghast, but it is what it is.

I have come full circle since I played with Legos. I still build houses, but I do it virtually now. I have become pretty good at building houses for my Minecraft villagers: small cottages, multiple story houses, apartments, work shacks — you name it, I can build it. I could go off and expound on the virtues of Minecraft — how it builds creativity, there is no “end goal”, it encourages higher level thinking. But why? I guess I just like colonizing the helpless digital savages.

I still don’t do monsters, and I’m man enough to admit it.

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