Crap My Nephew Watches #1: Minecraft Videos

When you become a parent, you will watch the shows your kid watches. You may swear up and down that you won’t, but you will. And furthermore, you’ll start to develop opinions on them—on characters, on the world they live in, on their backstory, etc.—and pay much closer attention to them than your child will. Crap My Nephew Watches is my outlet for getting all those thoughts out of my head and into yours.

I’ve never been so overwhelmed with parental commiseration that I wanted to cry tears of joy as I was after reading Drew Magary’s rant about Minecraft published on The Concourse. It must be a topic that parents desperately need to decompress and unpack their feelings about, because it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Facebook link to a non-sports-related Deadspin piece where none of the comments told the site to “stick to sports”.

The most resonant part of the article for me is when Magary says his kids don’t even play Minecraft, they just watch other people play it on YouTube. It’s absolutely true, and he even names specific YouTube “celebrities” my nephew Jonathan watches, like Stampylongnose (hereafter, Stampy) and The Diamond Minecart (Dan). He and a lot of commenting parents appear to be mystified that anyone would prefer to watch people play video games rather than play them themselves, but I both watch and create Let’s Plays myself, so this is actually the easiest part for me to grasp. I’m going to go out on a limb, give Magary and these other parents the benefit of the doubt, and say I think they know, deep down, that it’s not about the game being played, but rather the person watching it. There aren’t many people’s Let’s Plays I watch on a regular basis, but the ones that I like I treat just as much like appointment television as I do actual television shows. Familiarity with the game being played can be part of the draw, but if you’re really buying into the character or persona the presenter chooses to project, you’ll follow them through just about any game.

With the exception of a few Nickelodeon sitcoms, Minecraft videos have all but supplanted regular television for Jonathan. Left unchecked, he will follow a chain of similar recommendations for Minecraft (among other games) from the time he gets home from school to the time he goes to bed, unless he accidentally happens upon Five Nights at Freddy’s, which gives him nightmares and necessitates an extended break. His obsession is definitely problematic in some ways; he sometimes becomes volatile if we take it away as a consequence for poor behavioral choices, and there’s the worry that he’s content to be merely impressed by these creations rather than inspired. For the most part though, I’m okay with it, even though it means having to listen to it for sometimes literally one-fourth of a 24-hour cycle.

And make no mistake—these people are annoying as hell.[1] For starters, they’re English Let’s Players, and for some reason I’ve observed but never been able to comprehend, English people are the absolute WORST at Let’s Play.[2] Let’s Plays can be a lot of things—they can be informative, funny, instructive, or a combination thereof. English people do none of those things. They all affect the same loopy daffy nature. They laugh constantly at things that aren’t jokes. It’s easy to see, especially in Stampy’s videos[3], the through-line to shows like Teletubbies and Boohbah, programs with not even the tiniest shred of educational value or redeeming quality whatsoever. As cathartic as it is to rant about how terrible the videos are, however, I realize they’re not for me, and they do have a couple of things going for them besides.

My favorite thing I’ve gotten out of the experience is that it’s lovely to watch your child become a fan of something they discovered themselves, even if it’s something you don’t get. One day a Diamond Minecart video started up and Dan said his usual hello, whatever wording that entails (they always open a video the same way, so that your child can memorize their intro and blurt it to confused people in restaurants, church, etc.), and Jon replied, in that angelic voice children use when they don’t know you’re observing them, “Hey, Dan.” It seems important to me not to interfere with his fledgling fandom despite whatever feelings I may have about its quality. He’ll reminisce about it in 10 or 20 years, and it will bring him a kind of joy that’s important to have.

The other thing is that not only are the Minecraft videos we found for him G-rated, but also blessedly free of the mean-spiritedness that seems to infect all corners of both gaming and children’s television these days. I’ll definitely talk about this sort of thing when we get to the Nickelodeon shows, but I think we kind of lucked out. We didn’t do any particular research when Jon said he wanted to start watching Minecraft videos, but as we gradually realized the gentler nature of what we’d found, we gained a grateful appreciation for it. Actually, finding the G-rated stuff is not hard; what I get more concerned about as Jon gets older is how hard it is to find entertainment geared toward people beyond a certain age—let’s say five—where the conflict isn’t generated solely by people being awful to each other.

So for now we apprehensively wave our white flag at the silly Minecraft people. As a parent, you constantly surprise yourself at what you find yourself willing to tolerate when your child likes it. Minecraft is merely the latest entrant in a long tradition in our family of things like Chuck E. Cheese and Dan Schneider sitcoms and late-era Power Rangers and DVD-centric board games—things we would never have exposed ourselves to without a kid in our life. It could be worse, though.

[1] Especially the incredibly aptly titled Annoying Orange. I hate Annoying Orange so much that I refuse to provide a link to it. Whether or not it’s banned in our house depends on how much energy we’re willing to put into that battle on a given day. I’ll say this though, if all our products delivered on their names as much as Annoying Orange does, America would be a titan of innovation and industry in a way they haven’t been since World War II.

[2] The best, strangely enough? Canadians. A lot of my topmost favorites hail from the Great White North.

[3] Many parents who are familiar with Stampy bring the hammer down on him for his strange laugh. I realized just yesterday, much to my consternation, that it sounds a lot like Jimmy Carr’s, which will ruin a number of British game shows for me. Jimmy’s laugh is admittedly an acquired taste, but it does have a distinct edge over Stampy’s in that it is an actual expression of genuine joy caused directly by a thing another person has said or done that can be considered humorous.

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