Anyone who’s a parent of a preteen boy is well-acquainted with the wild, blocky world of Minecraft. Now Theatre Replacement artistic director Maiko Yamamoto’s new theatre work MINE takes inspiration from her own experiences playing the popular construction video game with her 11-year-old son. Using the game to build the fantasy universe of the theatre space, the resulting work puts a group of gamer-performers between the ages of 10 and 45 into different live story lines. It debuts at Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre for the Arts from Wednesday to Saturday (November 14 to 17) and will tour to London and Cambridge in the U.K. in March 2019. Here’s what Yamamoto had to say about it:
Q. How and why did you start playing Minecraft with your son, Hokuto?
A. I started playing Minecraft with him about two years ago. I really resisted playing at first because I felt conflicted about how much he wanted to play and how hard it was for him to walk away from it. It caused a lot of fights between us. We did some research and read about a kids’ camp around town called MCKids Academy. This made a huge difference; he had a space and a community to play with, and the best thing about the camp was a code of conduct that they developed, with really useful rules about how to play positively with other people. We started playing together and I really enjoyed him teaching me how to do things; how to build, how to run and fly, and how to survive through the night, when the zombies and creepers come! I also learned why it was hard for him to leave the game, and how to approach him leaving in a productive way. If he was building a house, I knew how to approach him about stopping that worked with the flow of that way better.
Q. You’ve said the dynamic between you two changed within the Minecraft world. How so?
A. It’s not that it changed so much—it shifted. I was still his mom and he was still my son, but because he is way more proficient at the game than myself, he was the expert. So I noticed this shift immediately. We still cared for each other in the same way; I was still parenting him (i.e., he’d ask permission from me to “tame” a dog that would live with us before doing it), but he was taking on the role of the parent in-game—keeping me safe and giving me things to help me, like potions that make me run faster, or see in the dark, or heal me.
Q. What do you think MINE says about the relationships between parents and kids in the age of technology?
A. We’re really focusing on the mother-son relationship in the show, but undeniably it pokes at the fears we all have as parents about technology. For me, it’s really about the fear of not being able to parent him inside these new relationships. He’s really on the cusp of all this, and it’s terrifying. I think it’s super important that I try and stay in dialogue with him as much as possible about it. I can say that the conversation we’re having now around gaming is in a way better place. At the same time, we’re not trying to offer any concrete answers about what to do, because that would be impossible. Every kid is different. We’re merely talking about our own experiences inside ever-changing terrain. And we’re using found narratives to explore what it might mean in a broader sense, and we take the audience with us as we tell these stories, all through playing Minecraft!