Sunday, July 27, 2014

Speaking the language

I never thought of myself as bilingual until recently.

Ok, perhaps “bilingual” is pushing it a bit.

It's more as if I have acquired a comfortable fluency in certain variants of a branch of American English that pertains to certain visual representations and other manifestations of an always evolving platform of digital information, which is specifically contained in the electronic game, Minecraft.

I'm not sure what I said just now, but it sounded impressive. Kinda like when I sing a Mexican song my mother used to sing to me … and my children think I understand Spanish.

Honestly, Minecraft has been something of an immersion experience, and I still don't know what any of it means.

In a nutshell, players in this blocky realm can build, farm, experiment, battle and coexist in a variety of modes along the ether.

As my kids -- elbowing each other and seeding copious amounts of cracker crumbs into my laptop keyboard -- take turns creating intricate, imaginary worlds out of this deceptively simple game of breaking and placing pixilated blocks into a virtual landscape, I pickup little bits of what it is they're doing.

I know there is a Survival mode in which monsters attack.
I know there is a Creative mode where you can fly.
I know the difference between a Creeper and a Griefer.
I know that a Mob doesn't adhere to the same definition as Websters.
I know what mob spawners do. In theory.
I know that the nether is a texture, not unlike cobblestone and that Zombie-pigman are an abomination.

You probably know more about this than I do.

After all, more than 16 million folks have already purchased this game and are playing it morning, noon, and night.

A pair of them live in my house. And when they aren't herding dogs or training horses or making pumpkin snow creatures they are watching videos on YouTube of other people building in their own worlds.

“It's a phase,” said one of my friends. “They go down the rabbit hole for a while, but they'll come back.”

I must admit, I'm a bit skeptical.

Perhaps that was true when they were playing the game. Fighting Creepers, shearing sheep, and building impossible skyscrapers that require switches, circuits as well as and ladders to enter, but something has changed.

They discovered other worlds out there and have become virtual tourists.

Lately, when I come downstairs in the morning, a bright chipper voice with an English accent greets me over the rapt silence of the kids, who are hunkered down in front of my computer shoveling yogurt into their mouths as they watch a character called “Stampy Cat” show them around his world.

“What's this on the floor? … Oh, it's cake …. everywhere the eye can see. Cake!!! Woooooooo!!!”

Turns out this cat – a 23-year-old former bartender named Joseph Garrett – started playing Minecraft about 20 months ago, recording his play and uploading it to YouTube under the name Stampylonghead. When his channel started to become wildly popular (in part for its clean, good-natured humor as well as his playing tips) he quit his job to manage the channel full-time.

Now he's got nearly more than 3 million subscribers. Two of them live here and tune in daily to see his latest video and backtrack through the hundreds they've missed.

Their own Minecraft worlds have been laying fallow.

I'm not sure that's such a good thing.

Especially if my kids start using English accents.

No comments: