I remember the December morning many years ago that found an Atari 2600 beneath our Christmas tree next to the fireplace. Today, I would be more enamored by the dancing flames in the hearth. On this day, however, that gaming console was the sole object of my desire. For hours on end, I would play the likes of Asteroids, Pitfall, Dig Dug, and Pole Position. With joystick in hand, I was able to transform my living room into a personal arcade. It was the love of playing these games and understanding how they worked that led to my interest in computer programming and eventually to my current profession as an engineer.
Although difficult to comprehend for the youth of today, the graphics in these games were state of the art and revolutionary for that point in time. We were blown away by the simplest of animations, captivated by the most primitive sound effects. The computer gaming industry has come a long way. Advances in technology have provided consoles such as the Playstation and Xbox. And the improvements in personal computer technology have produced games with mind-blowing levels of detail and virtual reality.
That is why I was perplexed when I learned of my son’s interest in this new game called Minecraft. At first glance, the allure of this game eluded me. The graphics looked on par with technology from the 1980s. The game appeared to center around a block-like character running around an open field with a pickaxe in hand, digging up material from the ground to be used later. I will be the first to admit that it was a shallow interpretation.
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. ~Isaac Asimov
Over the course of the last year, my perceptions have evolved. My windows have been scrubbed clean. Through the amazing creations that my son has authored through this game, I have grown to appreciate the depth of this platform. It has allowed my son to explore scientific principles such as fusion and fission. It has opened his eyes to quantum physics principles such as observational dependency, entanglement, and superposition.
To be quite honest, it has opened my eyes to some of these things also, things that I personally enrolled in college courses to understand. Initially closed minded about the educational value of a computer game, my beliefs were challenged and changed based upon the transformative power I was witnessing.
Each year, the Minecraft developers organize a conference to bring game enthusiasts together from around the world to share their passion for this hobby. With a limit of 7500 attendees, it was the luck of the draw that would determine whether we would be in attendance. Through a carefully choreographed arrangement of computers and web-enabled devices, we incessantly clicked the refresh button in our browsers with the hope of scoring tickets. Luck was on our side, as we were proud owners of two tickets to Minecon 2013.
In today’s complex and fast-moving world, what we need even more than foresight or hindsight is insight. ~Author Unknown
It often seems that the impact of a particular event or occurrence in your life doesn’t become apparent until you have had the opportunity to absorb it, to let it spread and permeate your being. This was one of those times. I had originally agreed to attend the conference with my son since I was the system administrator when things didn’t work as expected in the game. I figured I could learn a few technical skills to help alleviate any future problems. I learned a lot more than I imagined. And it had absolutely nothing to do with technology.
The most impressive observation over the course of the entire weekend was the breadth of influence this game has on its community. It’s not about the game. It’s about the people. Young or old, boy or girl, people from all over the globe were brought together through this one common interest, a video game. The level of cooperation and camaraderie in the name of fostering a healthy community was staggering. It is this abstract piece of software that allows a quantum physicist, computer programmer, musician, and artist to be brought together at one venue and have a common bond that ties them all together. Through an eclectic mixture of art, science, music, and technology, I learned that it is possible for the most unlikely sources to provide a bridge that connects people, both literally and figuratively.
As I watch my son eager to share his new creations in this magical world beyond the computer monitor, I suddenly see a vision of myself from a time when I was the same age. The joystick has been replaced by a mouse. The TV has been replaced by a 24 inch computer monitor. The spark of creativity and imagination, however, are exactly the same. As he explores the new virtual world on his screen, pickaxe in hand, he will mine for the most coveted of diamond ores. He may or may not discover these elusive gems. But, what he has found is a well of pride and a sea of inspiration. And that is infinitely more valuable, a true gem to be sure.