Do you have kids at home who love to play Minecraft? Our (now) 12 year daughter definitely fits into that category. This past summer we paid for her to participate in Connected Camps’ “Summer of Minecraft,” and Rachel really enjoyed it. Last night we recorded a 20 minute podcast, in which she reflected on her camp experiences and what she enjoyed the most about the experience.

As a result of that podcast, I made a Twitter and email connection today with one of the camp organizers, who provided me with the server access statistics for Rachel at Minecraft Camp this past July.

As you can see in the data screenshot below, over the course of 18 days Rachel spent 36 hours playing Minecraft. She connected 46 times, averaging 47 minutes per connection, and her longest connection was almost 2.5 hours in length. That’s a lot of Minecraft!

The question of “How much Minecraft is too much Minecraft” is an important and relevant one. Our family is certainly not alone in facing it. The issue isn’t just about Minecraft, it’s also about screentime, and the trade-offs we make when we choose on-screen activities instead of other alternatives.

It’s become routine for me to hear people in different contexts berate social media and, in perhaps less strident terms, condemn it as the work of the Devil. While social media and other types of digital technologies ARE used for malicious purposes, they are also used for transcendent, inspiring, and empowering purposes every day as well. Unfortunately, many of the people I hear lambasting social media either choose to ignore these positive uses or are unaware of them, because they choose not to utilize and therefore learn more about the positive potentials of interactive media.

Now that school has resumed, Rachel’s time with Minecraft and on Minecraft is FAR less than it was this summer. Her screentime is still significant, however. I’m thankful for the metrics provided by Connected Camps about how much Rachel played Minecraft on their servers in July, and it makes me want similar metrics for all members of our family (myself included) like those provided via software like RescueTime. Since screentime for all members of our family involves Internet connectivity 99.9% of the time, it might be possible to gather that data by analyzing an access log for our Airport router. Rather than start with setting access time limits, I’d rather have a spreadsheet of current access statistics broken down by family member. That data set (which hopefully would include utilization graphs) would be a helpful conversation starter about screentime. This is an issue we face as parents too.

There does not appear to be a way to gather and analyze individual user access statistics on an Apple Time Capsule Router. I’ve considered pushing my home geek quotient and buying/configuring a router with DD-WRT firmware, but I’d rather spend my time in other ways and just buy a solution that provides this functionality in an easy-to-use GUI. Skydog was a commercially available router designed for family use, and it might have provided the type of per-user Internet access logging that I’m wanting. Unfortunately, Comcast acquired their parent company in the summer of 2014 and I’m not aware of a similar project. If you know of commercially available routers which provide this logging functionality… or better yet, a way we can readily get these statistics using our current Apple Router, please leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter. (@wfryer)

We’ve used OpenDNS at home for years, and while it provides some aggregated traffic access metrics it doesn’t break these down by user. It would be nice if a tool like Fiddler could provide this kind of functionality, but I’m not sure if this is possible. If I do, I’ll update this post with the info.

So how much Minecraft is too much Minecraft? The best answer likely involves balance and a comparison to other activities. These may help… and they are questions we’ll discuss together as a family in upcoming days.

  1. How much time am I spending outside enjoying nature and physical activities?
  2. How much time am I spending reading for fun?
  3. How often am I spending more than an hour uninterrupted with my screen?
  4. How much sleep am I getting each night?

We are living in a time when our screens and the interactions they make possible with people and with information are becoming integral parts of our identities as human beings. See my April 2014 post, “Book Review: “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” by danah boyd,” for more reflections on these issues. We need to define and negotiate, for ourselves as well as our children, limits and boundaries for our uses of digital screens.

For now, I’m wanting more metrics about our family’s Internet-connected screentime.

Cross-posted on Medium.


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