Admittedly, I thought my nerdcred has always been on point. After I got over a larger portion of my adolescent angst, I started to hang out with the “smart kids.” I was in more AP classes than I could count my junior and senior year, and even hit the epitome of nerdlife by being in our Calculus Club.
Regardless, when the Minecraft boom hit, I was in the awkward end of my undergraduate, starting my “real life” years and missed the boat. I knew enough to “pass” amongst friends and students who played -- I could catch the pixely references and admire other people’s creations in the game, but never had really dove in myself. I decided over the winter break for the sake of some of my kiddos who happen to also be some of the few I haven’t been able to match books with yet - I’d make the jump. Alas, there I was, a mid-twenties lady buying Minecraft books at Costco days before Christmas Eve (good choice, Brittany!). I got the box set and began.
WOW. That is really all there is to say and all that I have to say. Reading the books, while the lexile is upper elementary middle school, as an “educated” person with several degrees, I was stumped. I constantly bothered my boyfriend… and humbly, have a few reflections to offer:
- Context/Prior Knowledge/Schemas - IT MATTERS - The book begins with a kind intro chapter for those of us without pixelated castles into the sky, helping us dive in -“What is Minecraft?” I thought this would be the perfect place to get my lexicon and move forward, but even then, I was struggling. Servers - how do I understand how the game is played without knowing what a server is? I thought those just stored stuff, how can you play a game on it? And NPCs? Despite the appositive definition (non-player character), I still was lost. How is it a character that doesn’t play, it’s robot-character? Isn’t this a game people play together?
- Writing Matters & Authenticity Matters - The fact that this dad (author, Mark Cheverton) figured out how to teach his son about cyber-bullies by writing a book through Minecraft is just, well, the sweetest thing I could possibly imagine. As he signs his author’s note, his authenticity pours out of the page with his sign-off, “Keep Reading, Be Nice, and watch out for the creepers.”
- Close Reading Matters - Take this paragraph from the authors intro, explaining his motive:
“He [my son] loved playing Minecraft so much that we bought a server for him the next Christmas. He spent months building things on his server: castles, bridges, underwater cities, factories, everything and anything his imagination could conceive. Next he brought in his friends from school to build some really gigantic structures. Of course I helped too, partially to monitor what was going on, but also because I’m a big geek and like playing the game. I was overwhelmed with how proud he about his creations. He made videos showing off his creations and posted them on YouTube. Well, one day, some other kids were able to get onto the server, probably because my son or one of his friends gave out the IP address. These new kids destroyed everything that he’d built, griefed everything until only a crater was left. They leveled everything to the ground, obliterating months of work. The next time my son logged on, he saw his creations destroyed and was crushed. Then to make matters worse, these kids posted the video of their griefing his server on YouTube.”
New things I learned:
A. Servers can be shared with people
B. You have to own servers to build more stuff? or play longer?
C. You access a server via an IP address
D. If you have stuff on a server, others with access can get rid of it
E. Destroying people’s stuff is called griefing
F. Griefing is a word that apparently terrifies gamers, and seems really mean
- Talking About Books is What Makes Them Matter Most -
As I mentioned earlier, I immediately interrupted my boyfriend from his work -- “Ryan, what’s an NPC?...Ryan, how does griefing work?...Ryan, what’s the point of griefing? Why are people so mean if it's just a game?” This led to him showing me the game, and sharing memories of him playing that I’d never heard before. His expertise in the area also helped me understand the book way more clearly than had I been on my own. It's now one of our favorite games to play together (he even planted me a nice flowerbed in front of our Minecraft home).
In class, as I spoke about the first book, Invasion of the Overworld during our “Book Commercials” time (a time where at the end of independent reading, we give short blurbs to market our book to the class) also led to some of my students who rarely get excited to LIGHT UP. Literally, it could have been Ms. G’s book commercial about Minecraft books or their crush finally talking to them and I think the Minecraft books would have won.
- Books Are Magical, and they Can Change the World
Writing a book through a gaming lens to tackle a real-life problem like cyberbullying is incredible.
Writing a book to help kids feel less alone is incredible.
Writing a book to help even more kids feel included, and hook kids into narratives in print - triple incredible.