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Minecraft, architecture and the trouble with children

From the archive: A tale of trouble and Le Corbusier.

Every week we bring you an article from our archive, either for you to read again or discover for the first time. This week, with news circling of Microsoft buying Mojang, we bring you a reminder of the power of Minecraft via Keith Stuart's excellent article, first published in November 2012.

Here is a valuable lesson I have learned about parenting: never tell your children not to touch your Minecraft save file.

Of course, this should always have been obvious - children are irrevocably drawn to anything placed enticingly out of reach, especially if it involves video games. My two sons, aged four and six, are obsessed with Minecraft - it's pretty much all they talk or think about. While they used to enjoy playing all the Lego titles, now they just want to load up Mojang's creative masterpiece and batter zombies with pickaxes. They were always going to take a peek at my saved world, eventually. I sort of knew that - I just didn't realise what they'd do when they got there.

There's a reason I was being protective. Being a complete nerd and a fan of modern architecture I had spent around 12 hours of game time building a scale replica of Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier's seminal modernist show home, built in the town of Poissy, France in 1929. It turns out the game's large, uncompromising blocks and its insistence on angular design, make it a perfect palette for the sort of severe construction the Swiss pioneer was famed for. I'd looked jealously at the architectural marvels that others had produced in the PC version of the game, but without a creative mode on my Xbox edition I decided to try something reasonably modest, yet still recognisable. So I got out my Le Corbusier book (as you do), picked a building and got to work. For two days.

Corbusier's five points are no match for one of earth's four elements, it turns out.

And then I had to go off for a week on a press trip. My wife said, "is it okay if the boys play Minecraft on your Xbox while you're away?" I don't often let them play alone, because they're small - and also because they are irresponsible idiots. But I figured it would give my wife a bit of respite while I was away, and I was feeling generous. "Just don't let them go on my world," I said. "Riiiight," replied my wife. I turned to my sons: "please don't go into my save file." "We won't daddy," was their angelic response.

The day I got back, I loaded up Minecraft with my sons because they wanted to show me something they had built on one of their own maps, which was, of course, called Poo. All their maps are scatalogically themed. Because they are irresponsible idiots. We were browsing the list of saved games and they were telling me what they had done in each. When we passed my world, they went quiet and glanced at each other. "What?" I asked. "Have you been in my world?"

A moment's silence passed. "Zac had a look," said my younger son, Albie.

I loaded up the map. The map I didn't want them to go in. The one with my Le Corbusier villa.

The game world appeared on screen. I looked around - I knew I was in the right place, because I recognised the jagged mountains in the distance to the far left of my building. But something was wrong. Ah yes, that was it - there was no building. As the initial fog of confusion parted, I noticed that my character was standing on a small tower of cobblestone, about six blocks high. That was it; that was all that remained of my imposing brutalist construction.

"I looked around - I knew I was in the right place, because I recognised the jagged mountains in the distance to the far left of my building. But something was wrong."

Here's an attempt at Villa Savoye from Kallooka Black that hasn't been razed just yet.

And the devastation didn't end there. Everything around me, all the land in the immediate vicinity and all the blocks left littered about the place, was on fire. On actual fire. My sons clearly didn't think it was enough to simply dismantle my home; they had decided, in perhaps the same spirit of defiance that led Saddam Hussein to ignite the oil wells while pulling out of Kuwait, to pursue a scorched earth policy. Nobody was salvaging anything from this.

What really annoyed me, what really stuck, was that I didn't even know how to make fire. It was something they'd discovered themselves, ahead of me. They had found flint. And they had used this arcane knowledge to incinerate my house.

"Wha… why?" I managed to ask. My sons shrugged, already bored of being expected to feel guilty and keen to get on with their next assault on Persson's creative universe. I decided to get down off the pedestal and have one last sullen look around before deleting the file. But I couldn't; and this really was the pièce de résistance. I couldn't get down, because I was surrounded by angry wolves.

"Zac was throwing things at them," said Albie. "They are cross now."

Image courtesy of Kallooka Black.

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