The Zombies Have My Boys

This is how my boys spend their computer time.

My house has been taken over by Creepers, Zombies, and Endermen. Just three months after the Skylanders invaded our home, they are out and Minecraft is in. Our neighbor’s son, helpful kid that he is, turned our boys onto Minecraft just two weeks ago. Now, they are obsessed. (Minecraft, in case you are not game savvy, is one of the hottest games out there right now with over 41 million registered users and about 7.5 million games sold.) In just two weeks, we’ve already threatened to take the game away from them no less than 10 times. It’s that powerful.

When Joe convinced me to download it to his iPad using the last little bit of the iTunes gift card he got for his birthday back in June, I had no idea that this would become the new “thing” in our house. But, sure enough, the $7 app for his iPad became the $27 computer version so both boys could play. The first night Joe tried out the online game on his Mac, he made me sit and watch.

“What do you do in this game?” I asked.

“You try to survive,” Joe said. “See? Look…I am swimming. It’s daytime. When night falls, the Zombies come out. They can kill you so I have to try to find a village for safety. I’m looking for land so I can find a house.”

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. When you told me about this game, you told me it was a game where you build stuff in another world. Now suddenly you’re killing Zombies?”

“And Creepers too,” he went on.

“So, if you’re in a house, the Zombies can’t get you?”

“No. They can break down the door. Then you have to find a way to kill them,” he said.

“Oh, holy hell,” I said under my breath to no one in particular since he was already absorbed back into the game.

Just hearing about Minecraft began to stress me out. Fearing I might start dreaming about killing Zombies, I stopped asking. Today though, after weeks of denial, I finally accepted that it is not going away. I asked Luke to describe it to me so I could better understand their new favorite activity. This is what I found out. The Creepers can’t really kill you, but for some reason they can explode so if you’re near them when they explode you die. There are four game modes (Creative, Adventure, Survival, and Hardcore), but Joe only likes Survival and Luke only likes Creative. According to Luke, at night the Creepers are “highly aggressive” and in the day they are “semi-aggressive.” You cannot kill Endermen with a bow and arrow because they “just teleport away.” You can revive Endermen, Creepers, and Zombies, although I have no idea why you would want to revive something that is trying to kill you. In Creative mode you can’t die and in Survival mode you can revive yourself if you are killed, but in Hardcore mode when you die you’re done. Creepers and Zombies are both green but Endermen are black with pink eyes. You can keep Creepers in a zoo. There are all kinds of animals in this world, including cows that grow mushrooms out of their backs. (Somebody was tripping when they came up with that animal.)

Luke confidently and competently explained to me how he was able to build a fortress that included rollercoaster tracks that run right through the house. He described how you survive your first night in the game. He told me how you can smash bricks and turn them into other things. My 9 year old son talked for 7 minutes to the Voice Memos app on my iPhone, explaining this new obsession in ridiculous detail. When he was done talking, I asked him how to spell “blare,” one of the words on his spelling list that he has written down no less than 16 times in the past four days. He got it wrong. I shook my head. Apparently, the Minecraft Zombies have already eaten my sons’ brains.

Rediscovering Our Offscreen Personas

My offscreen persona likes hanging out in hammocks, sipping cold piña coladas, and playing cards with my three boys.

We’ve been home from our trip for 18 hours. As I worked my way through eight loads of dirty laundry today, I was reflecting on what made last week so special. Certainly a large part of the joy found in the Galapagos Islands was attributable to creatures we had never before seen, landscapes that were harsh and yet strikingly beautiful, and new endeavors we were just trying on for size. But, what is more important is not what we found but instead what we were lacking. Last week, we were devoid of television, video games, Netflix, and Apple TV. We didn’t have shows waiting for us on our DVR. The boys weren’t glued to YouTube videos on their computer or busy mentally purchasing new action figures on Without his Legos, Luke sat with other kids in the Kids’ Corner of the ship’s lounge for hours playing Monopoly and working out his chess skills. Joe got lost in the ship’s library looking at nature books. As a family, we played cards, listened to lectures, and spent time outdoors. Without my iPhone, I wasn’t absorbed in Words With Friends or Mind Feud or texting. Life without screens was as miraculous of a new world as the Galapagos Islands were.

So, I’ve been thinking about some changes I can make in our household lives that might bring us some of the peace and simplicity we enjoyed last week. I’m considering some type of family enrichment program. Nothing too extraordinary, mind you. I don’t want to send my children into culture shock. But, there must be a way to bring things down a notch while still staying connected. Perhaps I put a moratorium on iPhone usage between 5-9 p.m. when we’re all together. Maybe I limit the boys with regard to screen time. A couple hours a week of games and cards rather than television could be beneficial. And, we could make a nightly family walk a ritual rather than a rarity.

A week ago, my sons were present in my life. They were plugged into life and not screens. They woke up early and went to bed early. They weren’t talking to us about things they wanted but instead told us about things they learned. As much as I already miss the islands, I miss the people we were while on the islands more. I’m giving them a down day today. I’m letting them catch up on Ninjago and their Superhero Squad videos. We all needed a break after two consecutive travel days, colds we’re trying to beat, and the chaos that ensues when you return home after 10 days away. But, I’m going to do some research. Maybe we can’t make any big trips like the one we just took again anytime soon. But, I can go to the library, find some videos on far away locations, and take us out of our insular lives occasionally. I mean, I’m never giving up my iPhone. But, I can put it down once in a while and remember what life is like offscreen. Maybe I’ll take the boys outside to stargaze or get a book on local plants and see how many we can scout out during a hike. I’d love to have the boys pick out a recipe we could make together. We’ll still have family movie nights, but maybe I’ll let them teach me chess or challenge them to write a comic book they can share with me. I need to get back to reading to them because we loved that and it got lost. To find ourselves again, I think it’s best that we turn off our screens more often because the reflections we get from them aren’t as true as the reflections we get from each other.