(for Part I, click here)
“Won’t I suffocate?” I ask my sixteen-year-old son, whilst standing in a three-block-deep hole and trying to remember the super-secret Xbox handshake for laying sod. It isn’t enough to promise your son a day of Minecraft. You also have to survive it. And not just in the physical sense.
“But I’ll be completely sealed in!”
“Exactly. Minecraft monsters have no concept of object permanence. If you seal the hole, they’ll wander off.” [Like some adolescents, whenever chores start.]
“Are you sure that’s my best strategy?”
“Yes.” He doesn’t look at me, deftly maneuvering his character for the greater good of Minecraft. He avoids directly mentioning my crappy grasp of avatar control. “That’s the best you can do ‘til morning.”
I throw a block of freshly mined dirt into the air as instructed, but it does not seal the opening above me as promised but falls back into the hole and bounces around by my feet.
“Not the B button, Dad. The left trigger.”
“Very sound advice. Thanks.”
I consider again the possibility of slipping the controller to my daughter (the youngest) and incrementally teleporting myself to the home office. I have other, very real holes to dig out of, and burying myself alive (virtually) hits a little close to home. But somehow, at Christmas, leaving feels wrong. Welch on this promise and I might as well douse the Christmas tree in gasoline and light a match.
“That’s the right bumper, Dad,” he corrects me again. “Use the trigger. No. . . No. . . the left trigger.”
Dirt sails ineffectually through the air again. “Crap!” In terms of advice, I can confirm that it is much easier to give than receive.
I can hear monster sounds: grunts, groans, and creepy music that promise all sorts of impending doom. One split-screen over, my son is halfway through turning his own sod-tomb into a hobbit mansion.
A mottled-green monster plops into my unfinished hole, sizzling like fuse.
“Ope!” My son says. “That’s a creeper.”
My son’s avatar stops digging and face-palms.
My tiny effort is now a giant, smoking crater. The few, pitiful treasures I’ve painstakingly gathered are splattered across an empty grassy plain, glittering like dewdrops of pain beneath the night sky.
The screen fades from red to gray. (Well, my half of the screen fades. My son’s half is fine.)
After a few seconds my avatar reincarnates again, alone and unequipped in a field full of monsters, including the green explody kind.
“Dig!” my son commands. “Dig, you fool!” [Insert Gandalf link.]
I dig. Miraculously I manage to seal myself in the sod tomb, hands shaking on the controller. A happy little accident, as Bob Ross would say.
I am never going to survive a day of this, I think. I ready my ‘dig/punch’ function, determined to land at least one hit before getting detonated.
“Good job, Dad.”
Wait, what? Was that positive reinforcement?
Gradually the thrill of not dying is replaced with the dissatisfaction of sitting in a crummy hole. “This is boring. When do I get some payback?”
“Stay there,” my son says. “We’ll get to that.”
I look over at his side of the screen: he’s sprinting across the monster-laden plain recovering my lost goodies. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
And suddenly, it’s my son, the wise, old mentor.
“We’ll talk about retribution, after you make some armor.”