Kids and their games – Danette Schardt-Cordova
I am a gamer. I am completely and unrepentantly a gamer and have been since I was introduced to Atari (long live Pong!) at age 11, personal computers at age 12(does anyone even remember the affectionately nick named TRaSh 80 Color Computer 3 from Radio Shack?) and good ‘ole Dungeons and Dragons at age 14. Now days except for the bi-monthly AD&D game I run for my kids and a couple of their friends I do most of my gaming on the computer and a lot of it online. Even among other gaming people (of all ages) I get many strange looks for actually insisting on doing my gaming on the PC instead of any of the many console systems that can be found. But I do have a real reason for why I prefer it. Games, even open ended games like many RPGs are (that’s Role Playing Games for the unfamiliar) are still fully set and planned out requiring only that you remember two or three key strategies for several different games no matter how different they appear from the outer package. Computer games on the other hand ask for much more.
A few years ago my kids got me into this little indie game they had found. I usually describe it as Lego blocks on the computer since that is the basic premise, you take blocks and you build stuff with it. On the surface this is a game most would dismiss out of hand since in the age of such graphic and programing marvels as World of Warcraft, Skyrim and Halo the environment consists of lots and lots…and lots of blocks and the graphics are very simple eight bit. For those without kids that game was Minecraft, I think even the hermit in the cave has heard of this game by now. No one can really agree on what exactly makes this game so popular and truthfully that’s not the point of this anyway. I will however note that my three kids (19, 15, and 11) who are notorious for binging on a game for a month or two and then abandoning it have come *back* to this game multiple times so it has a stay-ability that a lot of games now days don’t seem to have.
What makes this game so interesting for this though is what it can teach our kids when they play it, even in the dreaded console version. At the most base, straight out of the box level it not only encourages imagination and creativity but planning, requiring not only envisioning the final result but organizing, keeping track of and acquiring the resources necessary for the project that is being worked on. People playing this game have recreated-in block form-everything from the Taj Majal to King’s Landing to a 1 block to one inch recreation of their bedroom to a working computer(only simple math but yes fully working computer within the game restrictions). And we aren’t talking about “oh that kinda, might be it” but true, beautiful, very realistic reproductions.
Another popular use for this is the very common pixel art often used for cross stitch and quilting. These works of detail oriented art have included things so well done as to fool the viewer into thinking it is a drawing or low resolution picture. I’ve seen reproductions of everything from Nyan Cat to well-known Nintendo icons to the iconic Da Vinci painting “The Mona Lisa”
In addition to this there is the versatility of these games. Ever since 1986 when the first Construction Kit was introduced players have been making modifications or ‘mods’. While they have been available for some time it really wasn’t until May 2002 and June 2002 when Bethesda released Morrowind and BioWare released Neverwinter Nights with the Construction Set as part and parcel of the game that the concept really became big. It is so big that the Elder Scrolls series has four different websites where mod content for the games can be found.
In Minecraft the first possible mods are called resource packs (changed from the original texture packs as it now includes the ability to change even the music in the game). A simple Google search for ‘resource packs minecraft’ nets you over 2 million hits in less than a quarter of a second. There are packs that change the art from the original 16×16 format to a simpler 8×8 to allow it to run better on lower computers to a mind boggling(and RAM hogging) 512×512 format. Those of all ages have made these for every reason from “I want it to look prettier” to “I want it to look like this thing there”. A quick scan of one of several sites hosting these show pack that simply clean up the art to packs that are homages to everything from Star Wars to Nintendo’s Link to Candyland. Many of these packs require the author to not only be artistic but familiar with programs such as Paint, Photoshop and GIMP. These packs have been made with everything a simple mouse to drawing tablets.
Another piece of editable work is one that one of my own daughters (who claims she’s not artistic at all) participates in. The term skin or skins is used for the look of the avatar that represents the player. These have also been used to pay homages but have birthed a plethora of original art that have led to the popularity of ‘skin competitions’. The making of these requires the learning of yet another art program as well as an artistic eye.
Not interested in art but still want to build something and don’t think you have enough blocks? Add in the More Blocks mod that adds enough blocks to the game to keep even the busiest, build happy for years. Maybe the next thing you build will have you learning architecture.
Like the farming mechanics? Try your hand at Magical Crops that has recipes for making seeds for every resource available in the program including the metals.
Want to pretend you’re Merlin? Have a look at Thaumcraft or Witchery.
Rather play with some Tech? There’s Applied Energistics or Buildcraft.
Not enough trees? How about Biomes ‘O Plently!
Adding in this content makes the kids playing have to learn more than just how to point and shoot at something. They have to learn mapmaking, accounting, wiring (yes the tech ones can get that fussy), energy creation and consumption, ecology, forestry. And most of the time? They don’t even realize it! Heck they go looking for stuff that teaches this to them themselves!
And the best part of it? Most of the people making these? Had to learn how to make them first. Had to teach themselves or be taught how to use the programs or the programing. At least two of the authors I know for a fact ended up going into the field of programming because of making mods for Minecraft. So the next time your kids ask for a game? If they already have a computer look see if it’s available on the PC with a construction set attached. Who knows you might turn out to have the next ‘Notch’ in your house. Because I can certainly get behind something that just might be the push needed to gel a future career choice for my kid.