Minecraft as Livestock Slaughter Simulator

I first tried Minecraft over three years ago, back when the beta was still pretty new. Having taken a good year and a half away from it, I finally got back around to loading it up again this weekend. It remains a great game, even though to an extent I miss the simplicity of the earlier versions compared to the breadth of the game as it is now. My daughter, meanwhile, grew from an infant to a toddler in my time away from the game; along the way, she developed a love for screen time, first with Final Fantasy XIII, and later with Curious George and games on our smartphones and tablets that she's been able to work out, like "Bike Baron" and the Futurama "Head-in-a-Jar" creator.

Now, I'm getting to something here, I swear: this weekend was the first time my daughter really met Minecraft, and that's why I'm writing. Minecraft is, on its surface, an exaggerated world simulator, especially as the software matures. One can build and destroy, grow and harvest, and generally express one's creativity in the way one sees fit. It's interactive LEGO with additional layers to create actual objectives in an environment that reacts to you. Combine that with a toddler, and I ended up with an experience that I didn't really expect but I found delightful. After wandering a new world for a bit, she wandered in after becoming bored with whatever she was playing in the other room; tellingly, I believe it was a tower of blocks she was building and knocking down on her own. In fact, she also loves her LEGO Duplo blocks, so perhaps she was primed for Minecraft anyway. Upon seeing me playing a game, she walked closer to inspect further, and not long after that she was crawling into my lap to get a better view. As I explored, she began to call out what she was seeing - now, for those who haven't played, we're not talking about a photorealistic game here.

Minecraft is one of the first games to really hit it big executing a voxel look-and-feel, which in many cases results in visuals that resemble 3D versions of games produced twenty or more years back. Because of that, there's a slight learning curve to recognizing objects, and that's where my surprise came in. For a two-year-old who is still working to learn how to recognize real objects around her, she immediately took to the objects on screen. "Look, daddy, you found a tree!" "Daddy, a red flower!" "Daddy, you make that door? Open door!" "Daddy, it's raining here! Here it's snowning!" [sic] How she was able to piece together the relationship to some of those objects on screen to ones in her real life, I don't understand. As a first-time parent, that kind of thing still seems more miracle to me than science. It surprised me less, though, by the time we found our first meadow full of animals. Minecraft now has a large handful of different animals with which a player can interact: cows, pigs, sheep, horses, bats, even squid - all represented in the blocky forms common to the game. Caillen, being the animal lover that it seems all kids her age are, fell in love with the game at this point, asking me over and over to go inspect one animal after another. She wanted to see each cow and pig up close, even though they all look identical in-game. She was shocked to see that the horses had variety in their markings, pointing out each "different horse!" And then the time came where I had to sate my character's hunger, and the only options in front of me were the very animals she was enjoying watching, and that is when things took a turn for the dark.

I chose a single pig to... convert to nutritive value, as I tend to play the game in a way that would be, in reality, called "sustainable." Always plant new trees when you cut down their forebears, don't strip-mine, things like that. In this case, though, I punched a pig to death out of necessity. And she loved it. The pig oinked when punched, as pigs will do, and eventually fell over, poofed into a cloud of smoke, and left behind some porkchops for me - again, as pigs will do? This brought my daughter to a fit of giggles, and the game became a livestock slaughter simulator for her. "Daddy, get pig! Get cow!" She doesn't seem to understand, at least I rather hope she doesn't yet, that I am in fact murdering these animals for their raw materials. I choose to think that she just likes hearing them moo and oink and bleat. It became harder to think that once she started becoming selective. Eventually, when presented the option of one species versus another, or two identical specimen of the same species, she began choosing which would be "gotten" by Daddy, much the way you'd picture a stereotypical Roman emperor would. Who among these peasants lives, and who becomes the example for the absolute power wielded by the God-king? This sweet, friendly two-year-old became infatuated with the concept disturbingly quickly. And now, even as someone who has never subscribed to the notion that virtual violence is tied to real-life violent tendencies, I worry whether it shall be me or my wife who survive the night of the first culling. I'm aiming to make sure that my wife is the one who plays all the pretend barnyard games with our daughter, just in case.

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