For the past few months, one of the greatest sources of smiles for my two boys (now ages 12 and 9) has been a Computer game called Minecraft. The game is basically a computerized 3D lego world, and playing it clearly gets my kids’ creative juices flowing. Strangely, my boys both spend far more time talking about the game (with each other and with their friends) than actually playing it.
Whenever my kids are really into something like this, I always try to make an effort to learn a little bit about it so that I can understand their conversations and perhaps offer some suggestions. A few weeks ago, I sat down and watched them play the game for half an hour and I was mortified to see how much trouble my home PC was having running the game. Minecraft is certainly not a very demanding game, as the graphics are very simple and retro, but my system clearly couldn’t handle it. The amount of lag and crashes that the boys were having to deal with in order to play the game was just painful for me to watch (full disclosure: I do work on computers for a living).
When I was the same age as my boys, computers and video games were already a big part of my life. This was back when home computers were just coming into the mainstream, and I was immediately drawn to them. Within a few months of my parents purchasing the first family PC, I had already learned how to write batch scripts to accomplish repeatable tasks, and had started creating small games in BASIC. This passion eventually led to my choosing to get a computer science degree in college, and launched me into a career where I am able to earn a fairly decent salary that allows for me to take care of my family.
As such, I certainly encourage my kids to learn everything they can about computers, and I wouldn’t discourage them from one day using these skills to craft a living for themselves (see what I did there?). About once a month, I give my kids a “daddy computer lesson” where I dig into either the hardware or software side of computers, and pour some of my experience into their brains. Previous lessons have included setting up a new router, understanding file compression, and replacing a power supply.
After watching them struggle through trying to run a modern game on a five year old system, I realized that their feelings about computers were likely going to be centered around utter frustration, unless I did something. Since my middle son’s birthday was coming up, I made the pitch to upgrade the home PC as a birthday present to him this year. Since he loves Minecraft as much as anyone, he was immediately on board with the idea. We packed the family up and went up the local Microcenter to pick up some components to build a new system.
I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to purchase before setting foot in the store, but the staff was extremely helpful with making sure that all of the parts were compatible. If you don’t have one in your area, Microcenter basically to computer techies what IKEA is to the HGTV crowd, a true nerd candy land. When the day was done, we took all of the parts home and I began the best daddy computer lesson yet, building a computer from scratch. Part by part, I put the system together and explained what each part did and why it was important. My kids asked a lot of questions, which I was thrilled to see, and I think they enjoyed the process.
In the end, the new system blows the old one of out of the water. The polygon 3D worlds now render quickly and effortlessly. and the system should be able to handle anything we throw at it for the next few years. I don’t think my kids realize that I was secretly trying to plant seeds for a potential career down the road, but at the same time, I was clearly crafting some smiles in the process.