How A Popular Video Game Taught My Son to be Patient

By Gina Gardner, Steppes of Faith

Keep Calm and Problem Solve On

My oldest son is a passionate young man. He’s generally lazy about most aspects of life, unfortunately, but when something really matters he’s all in, heart and soul. He creates a master plan and, usually, everything goes accordingly. He’s careful to make sure that every detail is considered and accounted for. But recently something amazing happened in the happenstance of playing Minecraft where he got a good lesson in being patient and forgiving of yourself.

If you’re not familiar, Minecraft is a game that was originally designed to be a building game, one where you create stores, houses, banks, and entire towns. If you’re of a certain age, you may remember Sim City. It’s a lot like that, only very rudimentary in design. Everything is a block. Even the animals. There’s really no point to it except to stay alive while trying to be a master architect.

Like any game, of course, the subsequent editions from the original made it more violent and it lost its allure of simply building something. The topic came up over family dinner one night and my husband and I reminded our boys of this disturbing trend. Our oldest agreed, so instead of battling bad guys he decided to build a tower that would not only defend the town but also give his character a place to live.

Patient Planning

He sat in thought for hours planning things out, figuring out where each block would go to create a big, beautiful, livable tower. When he actually got to start creating it (after completing his chores), he discovered a few flaws in his design and he worked hard to make corrections. He wasn’t finished yet when he was told it was time to turn the game off. He was okay with that. He would finish it later. Or so he expected.

The next day, he was helping his younger brother with something in the game. He was given the choice to delete one thing expecting that it would “undo” something else. But what unfortunately happened was he accidentally deleted his own tower. The one he had stayed awake in bed until 11:00 p.m. to plan out the night before. The one he had drifted away in a sort of daydream at certain multiple moments about. This tower and its design mattered to him like an engineer worries that his bridge will safely carry people from one side to another and no one gets hurt. This Minecraft tower was a big deal.

The thinking. The planning. The care. The mental investment. And now it was all gone. Gone with the touch of a digital button. Gone with a minor misstep. Gone by his own hand.  And there was no way to “undo” it. He was devastated.

It’s More Than Just a Game

As an adult, it’s easy to see that it’s just a video game. And to my son’s credit, he recognized this too (which sadly only made him even more upset, poor sweetie). But most kids don’t recognize the reality of such things and the game becomes everything. The result is that if something goes wrong, some kids don’t know how to handle it. This is when character building comes in.

Life is all about patience. It’s a required trait for almost everything, from doctor’s offices to rush hour traffic to the grocery store checkout lines. Even, perhaps especially, in our jobs. We need patience with coworkers and meetings and project hold-ups. Without learning how to be patient, life becomes a string of one frustrating, maddening moment after another. Tempers would flare and chaos would ensue without any foreseeable solution anywhere in sight. This is where my son was heading when his tower was deleted.

He threw himself on his bed in a heap and he was crying his eyes out. I gave him a minute to get some emotion out and then I stepped in. At first, I just held him and let him cry. I wanted him to remember that he could trust me with his feelings. And after a few minutes, I got him to calm down enough to talk to me. It’s amazing how kids will open up to you if you just take the time to listen. It’s a beautiful thing.

Of course, he was angry with himself for his mistake. I can understand that, but that’s where it had to end. He needed to know that all was not lost and that he can rebuild. But it wasn’t enough to tell him, “You can build it again, honey.” That’s too obvious and much too daunting.

“But Mom, I spent so much time building it! I wasn’t even finished yet. And now it’s gone! GONE!”

He was heartbroken.

Stay Calm and Problem Solve On

In his mind, there was no way he could ever build again. How could he when all of his chores were finished and he had already redeemed all of his game time reward? Even if he could try again, how could he possibly do it all in one hour (the allotted amount of weekly game time)? And there was no way I would allow him to just rebuild the tower without doing some chores. Right?

He was right and he was wrong at the same time. Yes, he had to do more chores to get game time. Yes, the house was practically sparkling from all the cleaning he and his brothers had been doing to earn extra game time this Christmas break. What he didn’t understand is that I was willing to help him. But first, he needed to learn the values of patience and forgiveness of himself.

We talked about how we have to be able to handle setbacks and foibles. Because, as we all know, stuff happens. After all, Jesus warned us that we would have trouble. There’s no way around it. So the issue isn’t about the situation at hand, it’s about how we respond to it. If we don’t know how to respond with patience and forgiveness when we mess up, it’s going to get ugly because we blind ourselves from seeing any way forward. But if we can stay calm and slow down, solutions suddenly begin to appear.

Who knew that Minecraft could help my son be patient?

Forgiveness and Patience Go Together

Forgiveness of yourself when you’ve messed up goes hand-in-hand with patience. They’re completely intertwined. Many of us struggle with this. We remember that Jesus forgives us when we mess up, so why can’t we forgive ourselves? The same forgiveness Jesus showed on the cross is the same one you have to have in your daily life, whether you’re forgiving others or yourself. Forgiveness is for us all. It frees us from guilt and embarrassment so we can move forward, try again, and give our best effort in a more conscientious way.

I reminded my son of this. I also told him that he’s never alone if he can just take the time to look around him. And after a few moments, he asked if I would help him. Of course, I said yes. He’s my sweetie, after all.

We worked out a plan for him to do extra work, including doing some extra school work, to earn a little game time. And in the spirit of Christmas, I gave him whatever extra time he needed to finish his new tower, which ended up being only about 15 minutes. I wish you could have seen the look on his face as he worked. Pure determination!

I could understand why he was so upset when I saw the finished tower. It was very creative and well thought out. It was the kind of design that any parent would feel amazed that their ten-year-old had that kind of imagination. It was truly impressive, and he was very proud of himself.

It was then he fully understood what I had tried to tell him. Because he chose to be patient and forgive himself of his blunder, he was able to think clearly and develop a way forward. He learned that there is an answer if we can just stay calm. I’d also like to think that he more fully understood my love for him too.

Keep Your Head About You

There’s an incredible poem that was written by the famous poet Rudyard Kipling in 1910 called “If.” You may know a few lines from it since it is often used in graduation ceremonies. Though it was originally written as a political commentary of the day, it can also easily apply to parenting as we try to give good advice to our kids. In my son’s case, here’s the part that I’m reminded of:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.”

It’s important to keep your head about you. It’s important to stay calm, patient, and forgiving. Patience and forgiveness are godly attributes. Rudyard Kipling says you will have the Earth and all that’s in it. God has something even better than that.

Blessings for a lifetime.

Your Turn

Helping our children to be patient and forgiving can be very hard to do for some parents. How do you teach these godly attributes to your kids? What advice can you offer? Let’s share how God builds up our kids to have hearts of love for others and for themselves.

Further Reading

The entire poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling, is truly lovely. Consider sharing it with your son.If you would like to read it in its entirety online at the Poetry Foundation, click here. Or, as my gift to you and your family, you can simply download it by clicking on the link below.

If” by Rudyard Kipling

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