Finding Middle Ground in MineCraft vs. Geocaching

Getting my pre-teens to go for a hike in the woods during the summertime is about as easy as teaching a cat to swim. The desire to walk amongst the towering Douglas firs is completely lost on my boys until we are actually immersed in the woods. Creating that desire to walk in the woods is like trying to play networked Halo Reach on 1990’s modem.

“Boys, get your shoes on! Let’s go find a Jeffrey pine! I hear its bark smells like vanilla!” I declare with singsong optimism.

A desperate voice replies, “Mom, can’t go right now. A griefer just threw my diamond pickaxe into the lava bed!”

“Well, perfect timing then!” I respond, instantly immersed in the cubist’s drama of Minecraft.

“No, not perfect timing! Couldn’t be worse. I have to go mining so I can get three more diamonds. Then I can make another pickaxe.”

“Wouldn’t you need diamonds to mine for diamonds?! And since you don’t have any diamonds…And won’t griefers assault you while you’re mining? Oh never mind! Just get your shoes on!” Close call there. I almost got sucked in to the drama of the Lego-esque video game that’s enslaved my children this summer. It causes them to speak in staccato about Tale of Kingdom mods, enchantments, and pumpkins as a renewable resource.

I continue my parry with what’s called an Equivalent Exchange, (see alchemy-based mod that adds the mother of all end-game items) and assert, “How about we find that Geocache at Beaver Lake!” After twenty more minutes of static and grief about griefers we’re standing at the baseball diamonds in Sammamish; a party of two disgruntled gamers and an overenthusiastic mom ready for some nature action.

I whip out my iPhone version some-number-with-a-G-thrown-in-for-good-measure and launch my Geocache app. If only they had this scavenger hunt game in the early 80’s! It’s so much more engaging than running around town fulfilling a list that calls for three clothes pins, two cocktail napkins and a discarded movie ticket. It’s after five minutes of a death grip on my mobile that I come to my senses and pass this GPS device to one of my offspring so it looks like we’re out here for their inquisitive engagement and not mine.

We close in on our target, an Eagle Scout submission to the game of hunting hidden “treasure”, tracked with waypoints provided in the smart phone application. I am breathing down the neck of my 12-year-old who is holding the phone compass-style to determine which direction we’re supposed to be going.

Trying not to be a helicopter mom…or maybe AH-64 Apache mom, I inquire casually, “Are you sure the cache is within 20 feet of us?”

“Yes mom, the phone ‘bing-bonged’ which means we’re really close.” This statement accompanied by exasperated eye-rolling and a quick burst of expelled breath.

“What were the clues again? Something about the roots of a spruce…” I ask, powering through with determination.

“Mom, I already read it three times. It’s next to a tree or something.” (Sheesh.)

“Tree. Next to. Okay. Where?”

Meanwhile my 10-year-old doesn’t even feign interest in the quest and lags back up on the trail while we tromp around “off-roading” a few feet from the trail. Doesn’t he know there’s treasure and untold wealth in the form of triumph and accomplishment if we find this Geocache? Fame, (amongst cache subscribers), fortune, (of the non-tangible moral victory sort) and satisfaction, (that I got my kids to stomp around in the woods for a couple hours), are the mission on this quest.

How does this stand up to Minecraft? From my perspective we’ve got the classic modern parenting battle of outdoors activity vs. indoors sedentary moss growth, physical challenges vs. feeble fingers clicking mouse and keyboard, extrinsic stimulation vs. multi-pack add-ons. Sadly, my offspring doesn’t see my opposition to spending countless hours building castles, riding virtual roller coasters and descending into the ear-popping depths of a mining underworld. For them, this video game is a transcendent experience that transports them beyond banality.

You may ask, “Why Geocaching?” when a non-diluted form of beauty is out there, ready for full immersion. Sammamish and Issaquah are rife with trails ready for aimless wandering. Why would I bother with this dumbed-down nature pursuit that involves the use of electronics and a hidden box as the mission? What’s so great about unveiling a waterproof notebook and plastic trinkets? Well, in the attempt to extract fully-immersed gamers from their online obsession, I’ll take any carrot I can get my hands on.

I’m willing to compromise with this middle ground – any situation involving dirt, trees and trails is better than keyboard, chair and glowing computer monitor. But, what’s wrong with nature for nature’s sake? Nothing. It simply requires an attentive receptiveness to appreciate the breeze’s effects on the maples, and the shady calm that surrounds pink bleeding hearts that protrude beneath evergreens. It takes some people years to tune in to the great subtlety that is the forest. I don’t mind if my children begin that journey with iPhone in hand and hidden Tupperware as their quarry.