MINE: Maiko Yamamoto and Hokuto sit on a table with laptops. They are wearing head mics and smiling. The screen behind them shows a pixelated rainy landscape.

Guest Blog: Maiko Yamamoto on standing at the edge of a chasm

| Wed 6 Mar 2019

Maiko Yamamoto is the Artistic Director of Theatre Replacement and Director of MINE. MINE is at artsdepot Thu 21 - Sat 23 Mar, and at Cambridge Junction Fri 29 - Sun 31 Mar.

When my son HokutoMac was 8 years old, he started playing Minecraft on an iPad. It’s called Pocket Edition on the iPad, because it’s the mobile version of the game, and I suppose it’s very easy to carry it along ‘in your pocket.’ He had started playing some other apps on the iPad at the same time, but none of them seized hold of him like Minecraft. I would ask him to stop playing and he wouldn’t hear me. I would ask him again. And again. I would pull the iPad away from him, and he would grasp on, tightly. I would tell him he was done, and that because he wasn’t listening, he wouldn’t be allowed to play for 2 whole weeks.

He would scream. He would cry. I would feel terrible, and hide away in the bathroom and cry too. I would ask him about his day and he would talk only of zombies and pigs and cows and creepers and digging for diamonds. I would remind him that it wasn’t real - Minecraft wasn’t the real world; it wasn’t what was truly important. He would look at me very suspiciously. During this time, he often asked me to play with him. I would say no. He would beg me to play with him. I would say absolutely not. More and more, I felt like the game was causing a rift - a huge Grand Canyon-sized rift - between us.

I didn’t want to be so divided from my own child, so I did what came very naturally to me as a contemporary theatre artist: I did some research. I started to read articles about Minecraft and in particular, its specific appeal to children. I visited blogs, and I found a great program in Vancouver run by McKids Academy, where a woman named Anna Belluz, A.K.A. Momibelle, had started game-based learning camps for kids, exclusively using Minecraft. I registered HokutoMac for an afterschool session. Things got a bit better. He asked me to play again, and this time, I said: Sure. I’ll try.

I couldn’t do much of anything at first. I walked into corners a lot, I broke blocks when I meant to place them, and I couldn’t survive very long once it got dark. But what I did notice in the game is how much my son took care of me. He would tell me to follow him if I got lost, he would protect me from monsters, he would feed me if my health got too low, and he would give me tools and weapons, and tell me how to use them. He was essentially parenting me in Minecraft. I found this flip of our dynamic absolutely fascinating.

The theatre maker in me struck again, and I decided to pursue this new found territory in our relationship a bit further, and here we are today, performing this show in many different places. And using it to not only talk about our own story, but other stories about moms and sons, which all fit very nicely into the container of Minecraft. Of course, we still have conflict around how much time he spends playing video games. But we’ve developed a much healthier way of talking about it — especially around when it’s time to stop playing.

I started playing Minecraft with my son over 2 years ago, and if you had of asked me back then if I ever thought I would be able to do anything in the game, I would have said: not likely. But directing my learning through a creative process meant that I quickly became adept at things I never thought possible. And I believe my son thinks it’s pretty cool that I can play, and I can answer his questions, and make things out of Redstone.

He is still a way more accomplished player than me, but we can be in the game together as mother and son, and have a fun, reasonable time. No more crying. Now, it’s just the two of us, standing on the edge of a chasm, wondering what we’re going to find. And when it’s time to SAVE AND QUIT TO TITLE, well that’s pretty reasonable now, too. At least for now. My ultimate quest is to try and stay in dialogue with him about these digital territories we’re both navigating for as long as I possibly can.