God and Minecraft
(After reading about Solomon building a temple for God)
Me: The question after this story says, “Where do you feel close to God?”
9 yo: When I’m watching TV or playing Minecraft.
Me: Do you think God is playing Minecraft, too?
6 yo: God doesn’t have time for Minecraft, he has to work.
Me: Oh, what kind of work do you think God is doing?
6 yo: He has to help all those dead people up there with him.
Me: Well, if they’re dead do you think they need help?
6 yo: Yeah because in heaven God’s probably serving them communion and saying all those communion prayers.
9 yo: Nah, I think God’s up there playing Minecraft and eating a bag of Doritos.
I'm going to tell you a secret: my children play Minecraft and I hate it. Okay, that's not exactly true. But I did at first. Let me back up.
I've never really enjoyed video games and, except for a brief Super Mario Brothers stint at a friend's house in the 1990s, I've not played them. Maybe it was because they weren't allowed at our house growing up, or because I never got good enough to save the princess, or maybe it was because I'm not good at sitting still. But I think it's also this: I bought into cultural messages that labeled all video games as a waste of time and a bad habit that leads to real-life violence. That may be true in some circumstances and not in others, but I thought better to avoid the whole enterprise.
So I did. And then I had children.
We successfully avoided kid requests for video games for awhile -- aided by the fact that there were none in the house and a global pandemic that sheltered my kids at an age when peers were already on board. And then they went back to school. And the begging began.
My then-second grader came home with a list of games his friends were playing AND HAVE BEEN SINCE KINDERGARTEN, MOM! At first I deflected. We're not into video games. Your dad and I don't really like them. There are so many other fun things to do! Let's go outside! Play with blocks! Knit a scarf! Your grandma made me do extra chores when I begged like this!
My oldest son kept asking. All his friends were playing. (Would you jump off a cliff if your friends did?) I spoke to a couple of parent friends. One of them told me about Minecraft. It's creative, they build stuff, it's like LEGO on a screen, you can do it with them. I hesitated. I mentioned it to my husband. He downloaded it (or whatever you do). He liked it. He LIKED it? He let our son try it. HE LET OUR SON TRY IT? It was all over. Minecraft today, Grand Theft Auto tomorrow. My kids would be ruined.
It's hard to admit, but a part of me was embarrassed about what this said about me as a parent. I had caved. I'd compromised my values. The mom shame kicked in. Shouldn't my kids kids should be out in nature? Knitting a Waldorf-esque scarf? Playing with Montessori wooden toys? Learning French? Practicing piano? And now they're obsessed with enchanting tables and mobs? They want Minecraft stuffed toys and pajamas? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!
In the end, what happened was that we decided to let the kids play Minecraft in short stints and only on weekends (and disabled the chat feature). Sometimes they play with my husband, sometimes with each other, sometimes alone. They build farms and design villages. They call me in --LOOK MOM-- to see a waterfall or a pen of cows or a three-story house that they built. They seem proud of what they create. They talk about it with their friends at school. They bond with other kids who are also playing Minecraft. They were not ruined, as it turned out. (But we did decide to hold off on all other video games for a bit).
I don't necessary love that they've landed on Minecraft as a hobby (I still think a hike would be more fun) but like pretty much every situation in parenting, as long as there's safety and reasonable limits, I can probably let my personal preferences go and cheer my kids on.
What does this have to do with faith? Well, when my son said that he feels close to God when he's playing Minecraft, I thought at first that he was totally joking. I think he was. Or was he?
Creating is part of God's identity; to create is holy. Does it matter what we're building, or how, if it gives us joy or happiness or satisfaction? Every time I try to put God in a box, God shows me how narrow my imagination really is. Every time I decide where God can show up, should show up or will show up, God pushes me to look again, look deeper, look for more. Do I really believe that God can work in any circumstance, with any medium? I want to.
So, who knows? Maybe you can feel God's presence when you play video games. But those Doritos? Hard pass. I'm drawing the line there. Maybe.