I feel pretty lucky to be a parent at this time. Maybe no one else thinks like this, but I remember the first time the boy got a diaper rash and my brain suddenly reeled... "how did people deal with this 100 years ago??" We had a bag of goodies from the hospital with all sorts of cool modern things, like a nasal bulb, baby nail clippers, diaper cream... we didn't even have to buy these things.
After the first year, I came away convinced that babies used to be just disgusting creatures who probably screamed all the time because their butts hurt and there was always junk in their nose. This doesn't even get into the awesomeness of 24 hour nurse helplines, the internet and vaccines.
But I digress. This story is about a much more recent development. Our son discovered Minecraft. At first, he liked to watch Youtube videos of players who basically hosted their own shows. His favorite was Stampycat, a very wholesome, English player who liked to eat virtual cakes with his friends. Eventually, we got him the pocket version which you can play on the iPad. It wasn't on the network, so we weren't worried he would meet pedophiles or constantly get mugged by internet strangers. And he was good at it! It's basically like digital legos. You can play in two modes: survival mode means you have to create your own buildings and weapons and monsters come out at night to fight you. Creative mode lets you fly and you can spawn monsters and other animals, but they're calmer and you really can't die and you don't have to go hunting for resources: all the materials you might need are just in your inventory in infinite amounts.
And it's actually impressing the hell out of me to watch him build. He picked it up really fast and he loves to make things in this expansive, boxy world. And we work hard to make sure that he's not using a ton of screen time, but it feels like Minecraft is creative enough and engaging enough that we can justify a lot of time with it.
He kind of likes to murder animals while he plays.
I'm not talking about hunting animals to get materials to build or food. I'm talking about how, in an utterly peaceful world, where nothing is hunting or hurting him, he'll suddenly spawn a couple dozen virtual squid to die in a meadow. The other day, I heard the strangest sound. I leaned forward and he was hatching cats from eggs (that's how it works), in a cave full of lava pools that he was herding them into. The sound was a hundred or so digital ocelots crying out. And this made me feel all weird. How hard do you come down on a kid who seems perfectly sweet and loves animals unless they're part of this imaginary world where he's essentially a god?
Naturally, I took to the internet, and googled "five year old likes to torture minecraft animals".
It always comforts me when google successfully fills in these worries I'm having with my kids. It's like, ok, there's a few thousand other parents with kids who are doing exactly the same thing. It's comforting, really.
Not much advice though. I kind of like the angry sheep god idea. I don't really think it's a productive road to go down, chastising him for hurting imaginary things. So much of pretend play is based around fighting, whether as a superhero or a knight or as Steve (the avatar available to beginning Minecraft players). Why should I freak out over him killing fake animals if I don't worry about him killing fake super villains instead of giving them their due process rights?
This all happened a few months ago, so there's actually been a new development: we got him the real Minecraft for Christmas. So this means he can play on a much bigger screen, and it's the full version, not just the pocket version. We still don't let him play on the network. But he has been begging us to play with him. A week ago he wanted to watch me kill the Ender Dragon, so I did. And then he wanted to play with me, exploring together. And it was fun, once I got the hang of the controls. Sometimes he would accidentally hit me while we were wandering together, and he would apologize.
And then, he murdered me and took all my stuff.