On Boundaries & Being a Minecraft Mum

 

Last year, when I finally got to bed on Christmas Eve I had the sudden realization that we had come to the end of an era. You see, waiting under the tree there was a certain present for our children. The certain present had lots of circuits, a screen and a keyboard. And my husband was going to put Minecraft on it. I just knew that from Christmas Day onwards everything would change…

 

Minecraft books, photo by Marija Smits

I’ve read all these books cover to cover. At least 10 times. (Photo, by Marija Smits.)

 

My husband and I had thought long and hard about this gift. For one thing, it was essential to get the kids off my laptop which was full of work stuff. Also, my eldest daughter was being asked to do more and more computer-based homework. Third… well, Minecraft. Although I knew very little about it I could already see the appeal. As a sandbox game it allows you to be creative and build all sorts, but there are also certain challenges/achievements to complete, as well as the chance to play in multiplayer mode with other people. This was going to blow our minds!

 

Creeper, by Marija Smits

A creeper. Not mind-blowing but he does blow stuff up.

 

Four months down the line I can confirm that the Minecraft era is all that I expected it to be: 1) a lot of fun 2) highly creative 3) an educational experience – it’s been a steep learning curve but now myself and my children pretty much know everything there is to know about Minecraft: mining, crafting, mobs, fighting, farming, building, enchanting, potion-making, the Nether, the End. (There’s even some poetry in it! And a creepypasta in the form of the elusive Herobrine.) YouTubers I knew nothing about in the pre-Minecraft era are now household names: Mr Stampy Cat, iBallisticSquid, AmyLee. Stampy’s ‘hic-hic’ laugh is oft-mimicked.

These first 3 expectations are positive. So far, so good. Yet the fourth is not, for it is this: addictive.

So this is where the ‘boundaries’ bit comes in. It would seem that some people have a pre-disposition to addiction – in that they have a more sensitive reward system in place, and this, most likely coupled with a diminished ‘pause-to-check’ instinct, means that they are more vulnerable to addiction. And perhaps more likely to be risk-takers.

Addiction, as a topic, fascinates me, so it’s no wonder that addiction as a theme reoccurs in my short stories (one of these stories is to be published in a litmag this summer. Yay!). But it only feels like something I can view more dispassionately now, since I feel I have a better sense of my own addictive tendencies. (Though in the past [soft] substance addictions were an issue, my addictions are now internal rather than external. I know that I am only ever a few wobbly and perilously short steps away from OCD thoughts – which in the past have stolen hours, days, weeks, months from my life. And person addiction – aka limerence – is the other.) Also, having lived with a gambler for several years and had friends with alcoholic parents (as well as the requisite uni pals most definitely [and yet not] in control of their own chemical addictions) I feel as though I’ve got a bit of a handle on the issue. And TV programmes, branded with trashy titles such as: Help! I’m addicted to sex! (or food or social media or feet or whatever) actually make for an insightful (and fascinating) watch.

Anyway, back to boundaries. Obviously, computer games can be addictive. And I’ve noticed that my son finds it far more difficult to come away from the screen than my daughter. When it’s time to stop he complains and wheedles for just another 5 minutes. I do my best to always give him at least a 10 minute countdown, but still, it can be hard for him to stop. I can empathise. I have memories of playing Tetris over and over in a darkened room while outside the sun shone, and finding it very hard to detach from the screen. (And apparently, my husband, too, was a keen computer gamer in his youth.)

Still… empathy is good. It helps my son to know that I’m on his side. But also, boundaries are good. However, when I’m setting and enforcing boundaries, I always feel as though I’m being a big bad baddie. (Something that I think many women find tricky – saying ‘no’ and ‘enough’.) But I have to remind myself that boundaries are good. I’m actually a goody for imposing boundaries, because boundaries help us to cultivate personal integrity, and create wholeness, and also, they are necessary for healthy relationships: with ourselves, with each other and with our environment. They make for a healthy society.

Many adults already know what their boundaries are. For some it means zero alcohol. For others it means a certain limit on coffee. For those in a committed relationship it means a blanket ban on ‘friending’ exes or past lovers on Facebook. For children who love screen time it can mean making sure that there are time restrictions in place. (We also don’t have phones or screens in our bedrooms – I’m trying to ensure that bedroom = rest in their minds. I’ve also found that making sure that screens are off at least 2 hours before they go to bed is a big help with their sleep and temperament.)

Anyway, so far, Minecraft has been a positive in our life, but as usual, observing, reflecting and setting (and enforcing) boundaries on a day-to-day basis are paramount for something that has, like so many other apparently innocent things, the potential to become addictive.

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5 comments on “On Boundaries & Being a Minecraft Mum

  1. I haven’t dared to try Minecraft! Ionce lost 18 months to Kessen II – mind you, I loved those months, and I learned a little about Chinese history. I was also the only person of my social circle able to win the water battle while playing Liu Bei in hard mode….ah, games. Since I first played Leggit on the Dragon, and then hunchback in arcades, back in the 1980s, I’ve loved them. They’ve brought so much into life. For instance, in Fable II I was able to run through bluebell woods with my dog. In real life I can’t run and I’m allergic to dogs! Most of all, games have taught me persistence. Things might seem impossible or overwhelming at first, but just plugging away at that little interesting bit can lead to great things… thank you for this post. Perhaps if I ever have a couple of years to spare then I’ll let myself play Minecraft!

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Love the names of those games, Cathy. Very intriguing! And running through bluebell woods with a dog sounds fabulous – given the whole not-running-and-allergic-to-dogs thing! But as you say, months can be lost to gaming. However, I’d be fascinated to know if your gaming has ever inspired you to write a certain piece – a poem or a short story? I’m sure it would make for an excellent read.

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  2. Oh yes, I remember those Minecraft days so well. I have to admit that games are just not my thing at all, but I totally understand the appeal and the addiction. It can be a bit of a battle to limit screen time, I know I have had the battle many times, but I think boundaries are completely necessary, as you have said Marija. Happy Minecrafting and Happy Easter to you and your family! xx

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Well I’m glad to hear that you remember the Minecraft days with fondness 🙂 although there were sometimes battles with limiting screen time. I feel strengthened by knowing you underwent the same sort of thing! And (belated) Happy Easter to you too. Hope you had a lovely long weekend and I wish you all the best for the week ahead. xx

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  3. This is so random of me to comment but I have to tell you that I just came across your blog and that I love it! Honestly, you have a lovely website here and I am so happy I have discovered it! I am going to follow you so I can keep up to date with all of your posts. Keep up the great work!

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