During our philosophy seminar this week, we were talking about John Locke’s theory that at birth the human mind is like a blank slate (tabula rasa) upon which sensory experience writes when the issue of fear of the dark arose. Is it learned or innate? You know, the ol’ nurture/nature argument. One student, holding to the Lockean position, mentioned that fear of “night predators” was learned from parents. “Night predators!” That phrase grabbed me. The discussion continued awhile in a hypothetical mode (“what if?”), but “night predators” wouldn’t let me go.
It was near the end of class in the late afternoon of a long day that began early, so I simply couldn’t help myself. I blurted out: “Minecraft, that’s what happens when it gets dark. Night predators come after you! Zombies, skeletons, creepers.” A split second of class shock, followed by pockets of laughter and bright eyes upon me: She plays Minecraft! The game, as I mentioned to the class, seems to play on our fear of the dark; yet it gives children and other players the means to deal with this fear by killing and sometimes being rewarded for killing “night predators” – as well as the means to fend off monsters, for example, lighting one’s shelter with torches (like nightlights many children use).
It may be that Minecraft offers children cathartic experiences in ways similar to Grimm’s fairy tales, as Bruno Bettelheim has argued. For instance, Hansel and Gretel (children in poverty), abandoned in the forest by their step-mother (like being left alone in one’s bedroom at night) and captured by a cannibalistic witch (similar to a “night predator” or boogeyman), emerge triumphant. Not only does Gretel kill the witch and release her caged brother (siblings helping each other), the two find a cache of treasures (a reward for courage and cleverness); return home to their delighted, now widowed, father; and live happily ever after with the wealth from the witch’s treasure (children’s success in overcoming fear improves family relations).
I didn’t go so far as to spout this theory in class; rather, in the five minutes remaining, students wanted to know why I’ve started playing Minecraft. I told them a bit about the “Video Games and Learning” MOOC I’m auditing and about my Minecraft experiences so far, including why I fled to “Difficulty: Peaceful” (my “nightlight”). Also I learned that all but a handful of these college students know about Minecraft and that three or four are avid players. After class, one of my struggling young philosophers, a Minecraft enthusiast, told me that my coolness quotient had, in her view, just soared. Achievement!
*Note1: You might enjoy this infographic called “Why are we Afraid of the Dark?”
*Note2: There ought to be screenshots of Minecraft “night predators” in this post, but there aren’t any in Peaceful, where I suspect I’ll remain until I feel more comfortable with the game mechanics. If only I had the courage and cleverness of a six-year-old 🙂.