Mining gems

pitfallI 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.

Minecraft-LogoThat 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.

steve-pickaxeAs 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.


19 thoughts on “Mining gems

  1. apartmentwife November 6, 2013 / 9:00 am

    a touching story that reinforces the ‘like father like son’ image. do you think your son will become an engineer? he sounds like a wonderful boy – you must be proud 🙂

    • davecenker November 6, 2013 / 11:01 am

      I’m happy that my pride shines through 😉 We have tried to remain cognizant of interests that my son has and let him pursue them to his heart’s content. From trains to particle physics to chemistry to programming to horse riding, the list is endless. I firmly believe that everyone should experience as much as they can to help hone in on where they can make the most profound difference while following their passion 😉 Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments 🙂

  2. thewritertracy November 6, 2013 / 9:04 am

    My daughter is also a fan of Minecraft and I had the same initial impression. But as I saw her and her friends all building away together (but on their individual electronic devices), I was amazed at their focus and creativity. That is when I really thought about the game and all that it is teaching them. What fun that you were able to go with your son to Minecon, an event I didn’t even know existed (and don’t tell my daughter!).

    • davecenker November 6, 2013 / 11:04 am

      We didn’t know it existed either until someone alerted us that it was occurring less than an hour from our home. After being in Paris and London the past two years (and my son’s deep interest), we were intent on trying to make it happen. I certainly have a renewed appreciation for the gaming community and it opened my eyes to challenge the sometimes misguided beliefs on many different fronts 😉 Thanks so much for stopping by and providing your insightful comments!

  3. Jennifer November 6, 2013 / 9:29 am

    You perfectly explained our little guy’s enthusiasm with this “game”. Each week, he calls me to the computer to show me some new something or other that he built and each week I am amazed at what can be done in this game 🙂 I tried to explain the game to a friend and just did not do a very good description of it – “it’s kind of like virtual legos”. He was absolutely giddy about Minecon and you are a very good daddy for bringing him (even though mommy was very jealous) 🙂

    • davecenker November 6, 2013 / 11:06 am

      We certainly missed you and wish that you could have shared firsthand in the excitement of the weekend. You are an even better Mom for giving up a spot so that the two of us could go 🙂 I am sure that he will continue to amaze us with his ingenuity and creativity, he always does 😉

  4. MRS N, the Author November 6, 2013 / 10:54 am

    I love the title of this post and it reminds me of days gone by. Sometimes you have to open your mind and release your preconceived notions in order to find buried treasure. Life is a lot like that too. I love this bonding story between you and your son. It’s amazing how strong that bond becomes as time goes by. 🙂

    • davecenker November 6, 2013 / 11:07 am

      So true! I love the analogy to burying below the surface of your preconceived notions to find the treasure. That is a gem in itself 😉 Thank you for your always insightful comments and best wishes for an inspired day 🙂

  5. Miriam November 6, 2013 / 11:43 am

    My boys aren’t quite as obsessed with Minecraft as most kids seem to be (although they do play it); but I totally agree with the idea of getting rid of preconceived notions 🙂 My kids have plenty to teach me, when I’m willing to open my mind and listen and learn 🙂

    • davecenker November 6, 2013 / 12:17 pm

      Thank you for thoughtful words Miriam. My son may not have taught me volumes of information. But, the things that he has taught me have been worth volumes 😉 Best wishes for an inspired day!

  6. alyssamichellefrench November 7, 2013 / 12:38 pm

    Well, you certainly mined a gem with this post! Wonderful writing and wonderful message! It has especially made me think about assumptions, and how it can be so hard to recognize when we are assuming things simply because we do it so often. But it is so important to be aware of when we are blocking ourselves from “letting the light in”.

    • davecenker November 10, 2013 / 1:50 pm

      Thank you Alyssa for your very kind and thoughtful comments! You have made me think even deeper about certain things that have become ingrained assumptions in my daily life. More light has certainly been let in, thank you 😉

  7. joannesisco November 8, 2013 / 12:24 pm

    This was fefinitely a reminder for me how we learn from our children as much as they learn from us …. sometimes I would argue we learn more.
    Ever since my boys were young, I have been constantly amazed at how they see and interact with the world around them. They are now men in their 20’s and I think they are far more mature and perceptive than I ever was at their age. I believe their access to technology – and yes, gaming too (even though I still don’t get it) – had no small part in it.
    How wonderful that you accepted that ‘learning moment’ with your son 🙂

    • davecenker November 10, 2013 / 1:55 pm

      Thanks Joanne for your thoughtful comments and insight. And I would certainly agree that my son has taught me so much more than I have taught him 😉 It’s when we open ourselves up to the possibility that a ten year old can open our eyes to what is really important that we truly begin to see the light 🙂 Best wishes for an inspired day!

  8. Marquita Herald (@martyinmaui) November 12, 2013 / 5:03 pm

    Fascinating Dave. I must confess I’ve never been into games and I don’t have children so this is all unknown territory for me, but I am a life-long learner so I can easily see the value the way you’ve explained it. Actually makes me want to give it a try myself! 🙂

    • davecenker November 13, 2013 / 9:15 am

      Thanks for your kind comments Marty! You summed up my sentiments exactly. Although I had never really played this game that had become so important to my son, allowing my eyes to open to all the possibilities has given me a nudge to want to try it myself. And I think that is exactly the ultimate message I carried away from this experience. Give everything a chance, you never know when it will make a profound difference in your life 😉

  9. Amy Lynne Hayes November 15, 2013 / 6:26 pm

    Beautiful!! Again, I love your quotes!! Especially the one about assumptions. They always say to assume makes an “a@$” of “u” and “me”. If only we could all be open to clarification and seek out the truth instead of assuming, think of how much more we would progress as individuals and as a society. Thank you for the reminder! 🙂

    • davecenker November 16, 2013 / 10:19 am

      Thank you once again 😉 I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the same statement about the word “assume” and then lived true to it. They have all been learning experiences (and I continue to have them), but it is moments like these, as you say, that help us to progress as individuals and ultimately as a society. Thanks again and have a great weekend!

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