Why Minecraft is really cool

What’s so cool about Minecraft? On The Verge, Ben Popper explains why parents and kids are hooked on the game.

In Minecraft, users move around a virtual world, harvesting resources like wood, gold, and iron ore that they can use to build whatever they like. Everything is made of textured 3D cubes. The graphics are extremely low-fi. There are bad guys to watch out for and defeat, and technically a dragon you can slay to beat the game, but what has captivated millions is the total freedom Minecraft offers to wander around and build, often collaboratively, a huge world of you own.

Steven Sorka, a 36-year-old software developer from Toronto, plays with his 20-year-old stepson and 11-year-old daughter. “Minecraft seems to be a perfect storm of Lego and adventure,” Sorka says.

Parents see Minecraft as a teaching tool. Players learn about architecture and use “redstone circuits” to create “simple mechanical devices, even entire computers.”

. . .  the incredible variety of worlds to explore and items you can build comes from “mods”, modified software created by the community that can be installed on a server to reshape that world or the rules that govern it. For many young players, mods become a gateway to the world of computer programming . . .

Minecraft is “more than a game,” writes Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post.  “Minecraft is also an ecosystem of dedicated fans who play, create and share within and beyond the game’s open world.”

Last week, Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for Mojang, which crafted Minecraft.

The family that dines together . . .

The family that dines together gets along fine together, reports The Week.

As Bruce Feiler writes in his book, The Secrets of Happy Families:

A recent wave of research shows that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders. Additional research found that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem.

. . . a University of Michigan report . . . discovered that the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.

Knowing family history predicts a child’s emotional well-being, according to an Emory study. Children who know the family stories — including “natural ups and downs” —  are more confident and more convinced they can “control their world,” says Feiler.

Boys to brothers to men

The Rule shows how Benedictine monks in Newark are preparing black and Latino boys to succeed in college and life.

The documentary opens in (selected) theaters today.

St. Benedict Prep creates a stable, supportive community for boys from chaotic neighborhoods, writes City Journal‘s Steven Malanga, who went to the school when it was “white working man’s prep.”

Some come to the school angry at the world, haunted by memories of living in motels or moving from relative to relative, lacking fathers, and surrounded by violence. Sometimes they don’t know what’s expected of them because no one has ever told them.

. . . Students refer to one another as brothers and chant, as they make their way through the halls, “What hurts my brother hurts me.” They spend 11 months a year in school and hike the Appalachian Trail together. Freshmen complete a five-day orientation, in which they bunk in sleeping bags on the gym floor.

“The monks are serious about building men,” writes Malanga. Though all graduates get into college and 85 percent earn a degree, that’s not how a counselor defines success.  “You’re able to graduate St. Benedict’s, have a mortgage, deal with your marriage, deal with your family, stick it out. How do I measure success? I got a father working with his son, in his son’s life.”

Poverty casts a long shadow

Poor kids usually grow up to be poor adults, concludes The Long Shadow. Johns Hopkins researchers followed 790 Baltimore first-graders until their late twenties. Nearly half had the same income status as their parents; only a third of the poorest moved out of poverty.

Four percent of those from low-income families had a college degree at 28, compared to 45 percent of their higher-income peers.

Baltimore’s low-income blacks do worse than low-income whites, writes Michelle Gininger.

Forty percent of blacks who dropped out of high school were now working, compared to 89 percent of white high school dropouts, the study found.

Black and white women both earned less than their male counterparts, but white women tended to be better off financially with the benefit of marriage or a live-in partner. Black women earned less than white women and were less likely to be in stable relationships.

Growing up poor affects adults’ sense of control, concludes a new study. Even those who’ve reached the middle class may be more likely to make impulsive decisions and “quickly give up on challenging tasks in uncertain situations,” according to lead author Chiraag Mittal, MS, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota.

Showing participants a photo or news story about economic uncertainty decreased persistence for those who’d grown up poor. So did asking them to recall feeling uncertain about their own finances.

Participants were more likely to persist — even if they’d grown up poor –when asked to recall a time when they were in control of a situation.

“Persistence is directly tied to myriad important outcomes, including self-control, academic achievement, substance abuse, criminal behavior, healthy eating and overspending,” said study co-author Vladas Griskevicius, PhD, also of the University of Minnesota.

However, persistence at an impossible task isn’t necessarily a good thing, the researchers concede. “Time and energy are limited resources, and sometimes it is adaptive to stop expending effort on an endeavor one cannot control in order to pursue more promising opportunities.”

Boyhood

Richard Linklater's Boyhood.A scene from Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

Boyhood, which was shot over 12 years to show a boy growing from six to 18, is brilliantly realized, (New York Times), transcendent (Slate), indescribably moving (Roger Ebert) and thrilling (Time).

Why teens drop out — and come back

Abusive or absent parents, unsafe schools, gangs, homelessness and teen pregnancy make school a low priority for some high school students, concludes a GradNation report, Don’t Call Them Dropouts. Many of the “interrupted-enrollment students” interviewed in 16 cities said “nobody cared” if they stayed in school.

A “caring connection” with an adult who can help with problem solving could keep many of these teens on track, the report said. It also recommended “fewer exit ramps” from school and easier re-entry.

Mommy and Daddy are tired

Modern middle-class parenting is All Joy and No Fun writes Jennifer Senior. Deeply invested in their children’s happiness and success, parents invest less energy in their marriages.

The book is No Ode to Joy, notes Abby W. Schachter in Commentary Magazine.

I am not a great believer in our style of parenting,” Jerry Seinfeld said recently. “What I mean is our generation…I just think we’re too into it…The bedtime routine for my kids is like this royal coronation, jubilee centennial of rinsing and plaque and dental appliances and a stuffed animal semi-circle of emotional support.”

Senior offers portraits of mothers and fathers trying to figure out what skills, sports, classes, and aptitudes would be best for future success, even as they acknowledge the economy is so complex and confusing that it is nearly impossible to have a guaranteed path. They are exhausted by all the effort, the driving and the scheduling, but not one seems willing to push their kids out the front door and let them figure it out for themselves.

“Almost all middle-class parents” believe  that “whatever they are doing is for the child’s sake, and the child’s alone,” Senior writes. “Parents no longer raise children for the family’s sake or that of the broader world.”

These “exhausted parents” are raising ” children who are less independent, less resilient, and more disrespectful,” Schachter writes. And they’re putting their own marriages at risk — if they’re married at all.

OK, I’ve checked my privilege

“Check your privilege”is used to silence white male college students, writes Tal Fortgang in the Princeton Tory.

“Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.

The phrase judges people based on their skin color and attributes their success “to some invisible patron saint of white maleness,” writes Fortgang, a first-year student who plans to major in history or political science.

As it happens, Fortgang’s grandfather and brother fled the Nazi invasion of Poland and spent World War II laboring in a Siberian camp.  Their mother and five younger were shot and dumped into an open grave.

His grandmother survived — barely — a death march to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

They came to America.

It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.

His grandfather started a wicker business and prospered. They educated their children and taught them their values.

I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad. It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education—from mathematics to morality—cannot be overstated.

The values we pass on perpetuate privilege, Fortgang writes. And it’s not something we need to apologize for.

Critics say he doesn’t understand white privilege.

In the Columbia Spectator students Dunni Oduyemi and Parul Guliani wrote that Fortgang shouldn’t take “check your privilege” personally. “Recognizing the fact that white men benefit from the kinds of racist and sexist structures on which American society is built isn’t meant to diminish his accomplishments,” they write. “It’s meant to remind us that white men don’t have an inherent predilection for success — the odds have just been stacked in their favor.”

I think those two sentences contradict each other.  If the odds were stacked in his favor that diminishes his accomplishments.

And it ignores the real privileges he enjoyed: He was born in the U.S., healthy and intelligent, and raised by loving and supportive parents. That’s a huge advantage in life, but not one reserved for white males.

Why dads matter

Dad isn’t dispensable, write Lois M. Collins and Marjorie Cortez in The Atlantic. A third of American children are growing up without their biological father. It’s not just a benign “alternative family.” It’s bad for kids.

More than half of babies of mothers under 30 are born to unmarried parents, they write. Forty percent of married couples divorce.

Father-absent families are four times more likely to be poor, the Census reports.

When couples split, Dad usually moves out. Often a new man comes in. And then leaves. Children in such homes experience an average of more than five “partnership transitions,” one study found.

Most children deal with “family churn” and end up OK, said Andrew J. Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round and director of John Hopkins’ Population Center. But the more transitions a child endures, the worse off he or she typically is, Cherlin said.

“Dad also helps with impulse control and memory and enhances a child’s ability to respond effectively to new or ambiguous situations, for boys and girls,” said Warren Farrell, author of Father and Child Reunion. Children who are close to their fathers tend to achieve more academically, while kids with absent fathers are more likely to drop out. Fathers are the biggest factor in preventing drug use, Farrell said.

The time a father spends with his child predicts how empathetic a child will become, according to a proposal for a White House Council on Boys and Men.

Children who lack contact with fathers are more likely to be treated for emotional or behavioral problems. Girls with absent or indifferent fathers are more prone to hyperactivity.

When fathers are involved, girls are less likely to become pregnant as teens and boys are less likely to become teen fathers.

Simply improving the job market for young adults, especially men, would do wonders to stabilize families—particularly those just starting out, Cherlin said. Experts have been surprised by the real drop in divorce among the college-educated, who still can get good jobs. He said young people need more job training opportunities and apprenticeships, especially if they’re not college-bound. Making sure tax policy doesn’t discourage marriage and providing a modest earned income tax credit for disadvantaged childless young adults would also encourage formation of stable relationships, he added.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” President Obama said as he announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to help young black males. “And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

Parenting aid is popular — and ineffective

 Close to a billion dollars have been spent to provide relationship counseling to low-income parents writes Tom Bartlett in The Great Mom & Dad Experiment in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The hope is that “better partners make better parents.” 

Couples with babies in tow arrive for dinner one evening at a red brick office building in downtown Oklahoma City.  . . . Seated at one table is a touchingly earnest couple, still in high school, who didn’t plan to have a baby but now want to be the best possible parents. Nearby is a 23-year-old in a baseball cap, pulled low over his eyes, who admits he was dragged here by his girlfriend. There are older couples, too, including a forty-something dad who laughs and says he wants to get fatherhood right this time around. The group is racially mixed: black, white, Asian. Some are married, some not. . . .  They’ve come for the first session of a 13-week program that promises to teach them skills that will strengthen their relationships so that they can provide more stable homes for those babies.

However, it doesn’t work, according to a three-year study of eight programs in different states.

 The programs, the study concluded, did not make couples more likely to stay together or get married. They did not increase the amount of time fathers spent with children. The parents were not more financially stable. Their children were not more emotionally secure.

Family Expectations, which grew out of welfare reform, enjoys broad bipartisan support, writes Bartlett. “Plus it just feels right. Spend time with these couples—the teenage mother with a newborn on her shoulder, the middle-aged dad dangling his keys just beyond his infant’s reach—and you can’t help but root for them and for relationship education.”

Family instability is terrible for kids. But this doesn’t seem to work.