Now that my 9-year-old son Calvin has learned how to type and use word prediction software, he has been doing his writing projects on a computer. (It has also given his parents a break from “scribing” his writing homework as we had been doing last school year due to his dyslexia.)
He has also discovered Minecraft. In its very basic form, Minecraft is a computer program that allows players to build things using textured cubes in a 3D world. An article in a gaming magazine says about Minecraft: “But most impressive of all are the creations themselves: stupefying feats of digital engineering created from simple low-res cubes.” http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/02/15/10-incredible-minecraft-creations/
In addition to creating elaborate and intricate worlds, Calvin has also created for me a custom home glass block roof. (This has become my mental “happy place” where I visualize being teleported to whenever the need arises during a busy day :))
Sadly, a persistent, yet well-meaning, ogre named Dad plagued his worlds. You see, we only had one computer powerful enough to handle the heavy processing load such imaginative worlds demand, what with their functioning roller-coasters, transporters, pig powered justice-system and giant golden sheep. And that one computer is Dad’s.
And while he tried to accommodate Calvin’s world-building needs, as a writer with deadlines, the Ogre…er…Dad, could sometime get grumpy to find his office chair serving as a chariot in the online melees that often ensued in Minecraft. The challenge for this mother lay in how to appease the benevolent Ogre and the angelic child, simultaneously.
It seemed easy enough. Get a new computer. As an Apple family to the core, considering bringing a PC into our home was no easy task. But since the space faring, building games and other programs Calvin was venturing into were available mostly on PCs, we decided one PC wouldn’t knock over the Apple cart.
While in Germany a few months back, Calvin’s Opa generously offered Calvin his old computer. This has worked really well for the most part, but it tended to “lag” when playing Minecraft and other games.
So being the obsessive researcher that I am, I began to look into why. One thing led to another and next thing I knew, I was knee deep into the world of Minecraft and the world of people who adore it. I was excited to find that I could go to a website and find what type of computational power it would take to make Minecraft work optimally. This is what I learned:
- • CPU : Intel Pentium D or AMD Athlon 64 (K8) 2.6 GHz
- • RAM : 4GB
- • GPU : GeForce 6xxx or ATI Radeon 9xxx and up with OpenGL 2 Support (Excluding Integrated Chipsets)
- • HDD : 150MB
Well. That was about as useful to me as if someone were speaking Martian.
Then I stumbled upon an on-line Minecraft forum. As a veteran of gardening forums and “mommy-boards” where you post questions and exchange ideas, I am well accustomed to the wealth of tips, creative ideas and problems solving help available in such communities. So I signed up to become a member of http://www.minecraftforum.net
I didn’t think much of it, really. I came up with a user name and password. Then I struggled to figure out which of the many forum topics I should post under. Again, much of the terminology was a bit Martian to me and I had troubles navigating where my question would fit.
So I found a generic one called question and answer. That seemed okay to me. So I explained that I was a mom, had a 9 year old who loved Minecraft and asked if anyone could suggest what type of PC to buy and where? I needed one that would run Minecraft without lagging and then would also be an all around computer for school and Internet use.
Then I waited. No immediate replies. Then I felt that awkward period where you wonder if you did something wrong and was getting shunned by the community. You know, kind of the modern-day version of not knowing the community rules or lingo and then the existing community members rolling their eyes and figuring you are just too stupid to try to teach.
So I went to bed. The next morning, I checked my query and I had a slew of replies. My dejection the night before went to elation, as I was “worthy” of getting advice. I quickly found out that I had in fact technically posted under the wrong forum topic but by a twist of fate, it ended up being the perfect forum topic to make that mistake. I had posted on the Q and A forum topic geared for people who have questions or technical problems about the entire website itself.
But the people who answered my question were a few former moderators and other members with a lot of experience. So I was getting some really top-level advice. They apparently took pity on my mom-computer-ignorant-self and answered my question.
I was asked a few questions about what the computer would be used for and my budget. The responders were commenting and replying to each other as they put their heads together to answer me.
One person suggesting that my son and I build the computer ourselves. He said that would be best as no “big box” store could provide a custom configuration to fit our needs. More importantly, he suggested that it would be a bonding experience with my son. Well, that sounded kind of cool. So I replied that this sounded like a great idea (not letting on that I was petrified at the thought but figured Calvin and his dad could figure it out with me just smiling and providing appropriate bonding support, whatever that might be.)
Next thing I knew, I was getting even more help. They began to post ideas on configurations, debating with each other about it. Then, one of responders actually went onto another website called http://www.pcpartpicker.com and created a computer for me with each part priced out from the cheapest source and all I had to do was go in and order each part.
Then one person posted tutorial videos that we could follow when building the computer. Then another gave a bunch of do’s and don’ts and suggestions on building your first computer without blowing it up or getting electrocuted.
Then another person suggested a tweak to the original configuration that had been recommended as it included capacity that we probably did not really need since my son was into building type games and not the video games that require more of something else. They all decided this change in configuration would save us money.
All this help from the forum’s volunteer members was extraordinary. So I thanked them again profusely and said I would order the computer components they came up with.
All in all, there were about eight or more people involved in this process that was completed entirely on-line through the forum with everyone posting over a period of about two days.
Naturally, I was curious about these very kind and high-level experts who made up this cool, smart and totally kind and helpful community. As I clicked on each of their individual profiles, I was blown away. I had been dealing mostly with kids. One was a 14 year old from Ireland, another, a 14 year old from the UK. Another was an 18 year old from New York and a yet another was a 17 year old from Finland. The oldest of the bunch was 22 years old and has his own computer programming business that he is working to get off the ground.
They were articulate, open and friendly. I particularly loved one part of the back and forth where they digressed into a techie discussion that I could not begin to follow. One reminded the group that they may scare of the OP (original poster: me) so they should take care to keep things in my zone. And they did. The high level of discussion and courtesy they gave to each other as they debated (and sometimes disagreed with) could be a model for many of us adults these days. They were all working toward a purpose (helping this non-tech mom of a 9 year old get a computer for her son). They kept their eye on solving a problem and did so together, with respect to each other and me.
With kids like this in the world, I have hope for a peaceful world.
So the computer components are ordered……a few have already arrived, so let the building begin!