Gabe, my firstborn, is nearly 3 and a half years old.
He started playing Minecraft (Pocket Edition) about two months ago.
He is now competent enough at interacting with the game that he can place mud and stone (with guidance, in a local multiplayer game) such that he can create a level ground. He knows how to mine (using a pickaxe). He knows how to shovel dirt (with a shovel). He knows how to chop down trees (utilising an axe).
He knows how to construct these tools. He's beginning to understand the resource chain. He is starting to apply his limited arithmetic knowledge to resource management. He's recently learned how to plant saplings and how to smelt ores.
He knows what iron and coal look like in the ground.
In short, he's becoming a competent player of what some would say is the best existing sandbox simulation of forestry, animal husbandry and crafted tool use.
I have no idea whether this is normal for a kid of his age, but it totally floors me that he's capable of doing things like making his own set of shears and hunting down a sheep to fleece. Today, he demanded that I help him find some iron ore, which he then took, smelted into ingots and made himself a pair of boots and a shiny helmet. He was very proud of his new helmet, and I was very proud of him.
He's still scared silly of zombies and creepers, and while he brandishes a sword his KDR is pretty abysmal. Still, he's trying.
When I was a child (and a young adult), a game like Minecraft would have been absolutely mindblowing. Sure, I played plenty of gather-buy-trade-craft games in my youth, but I'm pretty sure at 3 years old I was just about coming to terms with Legos, let alone figuring out sustainable resource production techniques. He doesn't know it yet but he's learning some fundamental lessons about how the world works, and what's more he loves it. The first thing he says when I see him in the evening is "Daddy, can we play Minecraft now?"
One thing that really scares me (more than my child becoming a video game addict, natch) is the sheer velocity imposed by the game rules upon every interaction chain. Day and night cycles roll around every 15 minutes or so. Trees grow in under an hour. Sheep spawn as lambs and become full size within a few cycles. Pickaxes wear out with a few minutes of use. The real world has a much longer sustainability loop (and no respawns). I wonder if the expectation of quick gratification will have a tangible impact on his temperament and boredom threshold.
If you have kids, and they play games - what's your rule for imposing time constraints on play? Have you seen an impact on real world interactions, for better or worse? Do you believe, as I do, that there's value to be had in kids being exposed to these kind of interactions?