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From Minecraft to Fortnite: The Common Language of Video Games

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I grew up between the United States and Nicaragua – the school year in the U.S. and summers in Nicaragua. In the 80s, I would bring my cousins packs of blank tapes and a selection of my favorite tapes so that we could make mix tapes. I would also bring old toys, such as my Intellivision game system with all it’s games (where it got an extra 6+ years of play).

I recall one summer leaving The Who’s “The Kids Are All Right” tape because one of my younger cousins – Oscar absolutely loved it. When I returned the next summer, Oscar could sin every song on that tape perfectly. I was floored! Oscar was young as he was born in 1976 and this is the mid 80s – sometime between 1984 and 1987, so at most he was 11 years old (I am five years older than Oscar). He had never taken an English class and yet, there he was signing perfect renditions of “My Generation,” “Happy Jack” and “Pinball Wizard“. Oscar has never lived in an English speaking country and he never attended an English speaking school, however today his English is amongst the strongest of those cousins who have remained in Nicaragua. For nearly a century now, popular culture has been a bridge amongst people divided by distance. Oscar and I continued for years asking one another what we are listening to and playing upon seeing each other. Music and video games are a common language that we share.

In 2015, I travelled to Nicaragua with my 7 year old – Iggy as my mom wanted to spend Christmas and New Years in her native country amongst her siblings. I have spoken in Spanish to Iggy since day one, but I have not forced him to use it – a big mistake. He understands Spanish very well, but he is not comfortable speaking it. Although Iggy has many second cousins in Nicaragua who are bilingual, the one cousin that is the same age, does not attend a bilingual school and does not speak English, so I wondered how they would get along. Of course, they are kids and speak the universal language of play, so after a brief awkward period of silence and observation they engage. They both play soccer and and are competitive about it. The ball and the grass were instantly a common space as was a mutual admiration for Messi, Barcelona and La Liga.

Tired and sweaty they sought reprieve from the sun indoors where I discovered another common space – Minecraft. This I did not expect. I knew that Minecraft was huge amongst 7 year olds in the States, but I did not consider its global reach. Once I set my kid’s device to my cousin’s wifi, it only took them a minute to start playing together on a local area network. And there they were, sitting next to one another, interfacing through a screen, laughing, teaching each other skills, trading devices, building structures, killing zombies and doing whatever else one does in Minecraft. Eventually, they needed to be cut off, but common languages and happy bonds were established.

A couple weeks later, we all went to see “The Force Awakens” and another common bond was established. As the boys went on and on about the movie, my cousin and I recalled our mutual love for “Return of the Jedi” – another soundtrack that I had left with him back in the early 80s. We both loved that celebratory Ewok “Yub Nub” song!

It is summer 2018 and due to the murders committed by Ortega and his regime following April protests against the pilfering of Nicaragua’s social security by the Ortegas, many of my cousins’ kids are States-side. Once again my son Iggy, now 10 years old was about to meet two cousins who do not speak English – the twins Franco and Diego who are 12 years old. And again, I wondered how they’d communicate and get along. A brief awkward period of observation and listening soon became play.

My son had just received a drone from his grandmother for his birthday. He pulled it out, walked his cousins through the interface and they took turns flying the drone around the living room. As the adults sat at the table in conversation, the twins’ mother lamented about how many hours she allows them to play video games as she doesn’t have a car or is comfortable using public transportation. Then Franco chimed in on how much they love Fortnite and immediately Iggy started telling them about what level he’s at, his favorite weapons, number of kills and favorite dances… Soon the three were sharing two devices and playing as a team. And yes, they needed to be cut off and pulled away from the devices, but the ice was broken and they spent the rest of the day playing and interacting device free.

It’s been over 35 years since I taught my cousins how to use the Intellivision controllers and play games like Pitfall, Nightstalker and Utopia. Today the interfaces are much more intuitive and it’s pointless to make any comparison regarding the graphics, but video games are a global language amongst children and it’s always surprising to me how some titles cross all cultural differences to establish common environments of virtual play and exchange.

Written by ricardo

August 5th, 2018 at 10:48 pm