Every evening, after homework's done and dinner's eaten, the call invariably comes. Whether it comes from Hester, who's five, or Jack, who's eight, it goes, "Can we play Minecraft?"
And most nights, the answer's yes, if only for half an hour. After Jack boots the Xbox 360, they play side-by-side in front of the TV in split-screen - Jack at the top with the black controller and Hester underneath with the green one.Attachment 13682Creative mode is king because they can build at will, sometimes starting out together, visiting each other's works or blowing mountains away with clods of dynamite. Then they'll peel away to do their own things. Jack will experiment with mob-crushing piston mechanisms or build portals he found out about on YouTube. Hester builds houses out of glowstone and diamonds and fills them with ocelots.
Their world, Land of Monkeys, is packed with their multicoloured constructions, such as insane skyscrapers teetering next to craters boiling with lava. Towers of trees that grow on top of trees stretch up into the clouds. At their feet stand cages containing villagers.
My kids aren't kind to villagers. Villagers are deemed annoying, shuffling into their way, looking stupidly out of the screen. Of course, if Jack and Hester didn't spawn so many entire families at a time, perhaps they wouldn't be so irritating, but my kids rarely listen to me - unless I'm letting them play Minecraft. Because Minecraft is their world: they've learned and built it together.Attachment 13683They both perfected first-person controls playing it, and Jack helped Hester understand its menus and crafting systems. It's helped them become fast friends as a result. They share little rituals, like at nightfall they always go to bed - the game won't let players sleep until morning unless everyone is tucked up - and every home they make includes at least two beds, marked with coloured blocks to show whose is whose.
Hester's been too terrified of Survival mode because you can die in it, but Jack and I recently talked her into playing a new world with us. Initially reluctant and frustrated that she couldn't immediately start building a giant statue out of green wool, she quickly became completely absorbed by a game in which we had a single day to build a shelter and needed to hunt for food.
She took on the role of hunter with relish, confidently striding out into the woods to slay animals. It makes me proud to see her so independent, though I guess I'm also just a little relieved that I still get to rescue her from skeletons when she gets lost at dusk.