It’s a simple thing, really. Just a matter of philosophy.
I play video games with my four year old daughter. Maybe that makes me a terrible father, but it’s a way to show her what I do for a living and how I have fun. And, well… she loves Minecraft. She calls it her “daddy-daughter game”, something that just the two of us play with sometimes. I believe kids need that, and to be honest, I think parents need it too.
Before Minecraft, though, her favorite was World of Warcraft. She really just loved my Druid in Travel form and making it jump when I was running around. Kids love that sense of control; she could make Daddy’s character change into a cheetah and then make it jump. She also loved to go play in water and change into the Aquatic form, but really, the cheetah is what she loved most.
These days, she still loves to make the character jump, even though the Minecraft avatar is typically first person, not third. And yet, Minecraft gives her another layer of control over the gaming experience. She can go anywhere and do almost anything she wants to in the game world. If there’s a hole in the ground, we can go explore it. If she gets the itch to find some clay to make some bricks which then can be made into red brick building blocks, she tells me to drive to the beach (she’s still learning how to use the WASD steering and is usually content just telling me where to go). She can swim upstream and upwaterfall. She can punch sheep and take their wool. She can plant flowers or dig up snowballs. She’s excited by finding coal to harvest, even though sometimes she still asks why we need it. She can place torches in the dark spaces that she might find scary, or just tell me to wall off the really spooky caves.
I’ve recently started a Dwarven Hunter to share some more time with her, because she loves the pets in WoW. (A Druid/Hunter hybrid would be perfect for her; shapeshifting and the Pokemon itch, all rolled into one.)
So when I took her for a spin through the newly revamped Stormwind on the way to Bloodmyst Isle to tame yet another blue moth (she loves blue, and those BI moths are just so… blue), she naturally spent a fair bit of time looking around for things to do. She asked if we could explore a well we rode past. I had to tell her “no, sweetheart, we can’t do that”. As children are wont to do, she asked “why not?”, to which I had to fall back on the old copout answer of “the designers don’t let us do that, dear”. Naturally, she asked “why?” to that, too, and I had to stifle an insult to the designers and just answer with the unsatisfying “that’s just how they do it, I’m sorry”. She then asked if we could go catch fish in the canals, and when she made my Dwarf jump into the canal, she saw the crabs and naturally wanted to go grab them. Since we didn’t have the fishing skill or a quest to gather crabs, again, we couldn’t do much more than swim around and wish.
She lost interest in the town until she happened to notice an apple tree.
Ah, to see things come full circle. She got excited and wanted to pick the apples. She is truly her father’s daughter, a quirk which is quite heartwarming. When I told her she couldn’t pick the apples, she got quiet for a while. She then announced that she wanted to play Minecraft.
Ah, they grow up so fast.
I hugged her, and we went to go work on our spider trap. We need some more chicken feathers, too, for the arrows she loves to shoot at the spiders. She’s getting the knack of fishing, too, even though she still wishes she could go underwater and look for fish rather than just fish for them.
So, if WoW is going to be lambasted for being on rails, for me and mine, it has nothing to do with overwrought quests, pacing issues or the race to the endgame (though those can certainly be a concern, they are irrelevant to our playstyle). It has to do with the complete inability to go out and change the world or explore wherever you feel like. You can’t dig out a cave and call it home, you can’t just go wherever your whimsy takes you (because the wildlife will eat you). You can’t really partake of the world of WoW and make your own mark in it, you just play on a stage. It’s a marvelous, intricate stage, with plenty of things to do, but it’s just not the same as going and remolding the world with your own hands, digging into something just because it looked interesting.
Minecraft scratches the Explorer and Scientist itches in ways that WoW is flatly unequipped to. They are both fun in their own ways, but for my daughter, all the glitz and dings of WoW, even her beloved blue moths, can’t compare to the simple joy in making the world of Minecraft her own. The best part is that she doesn’t get that from me directly, it’s just how she’s wired and how the games appeal to her. Like daughter, like father, and I couldn’t be happier.
Tomorrow, we’re going to try to make some sound effects. I showed her the DVD extras for WALL-E, and the bit on sound design really intrigued her. There’s just something wonderful about seeing a little one learn and experiment. “Why” and “How” might bug some parents, but they have served us well in our home. We probably won’t be putting lava in buckets any time soon, though.
Ed: I’m actually still having fun with the new Shattered content in WoW, it just doesn’t scratch the same itch that Minecraft does, and it’s not working for my little one. Gaming time together is all Minecraft these days.