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Sunday, August 23, 2015

It’s like there’s someone else living in our house lately.

My younger son invokes him constantly. “Mr. Paul said this” or “Mr. Paul said that” … all delivered with an air of seriousness that suggests that Mr. Paul knows everything.

Mr. Paul said this is the best way to build a house.

Mr. Paul said this vehicle is fastest.

Mr. Paul knows how to care for all the animals.

Mr. Paul said this is the best way to defeat monsters.

It might be extremely annoying if Mr. Paul’s authority wasn’t completely limited to the world of video games … especially Sam’s beloved Minecraft. And while Sam hangs on his every word with the devotion of the true fan, the relationship only goes one way … through the TV scene, via YouTube.

We’ve discovered the wide world of Internet videos here, particularly those devoted to the aforementioned Minecraft. It started as a way to educate both Sam and I on what we were supposed to do in this strange blocky world full of exploding green monsters and giant spiders. (I taught myself to play Minecraft before handing it over to him, so I could be sure I had an idea what he was getting into. Perhaps a mistake, because I got a bit hooked, too.)

As he’s not allowed to watch anything online that one or both of his parents doesn’t vet and approve, that meant some time spent on my part slogging online. There is a lot of Minecraft on the Internet … and lots of it is either not kid-friendly, utterly unhelpful for the level I needed, or both.

Imagine my glee to find a series dubbed “Survive & Thrive” that was just what we needed.

We watched our way through it. It grew, for Sam, as a way to see what more advanced practitioners of the game could do with it, and feats of derring-do he wasn’t yet capable of. He watched and rewatched them. He started calling the creator of all these videos “Mr. Paul,” just like he refers to family friends. He watched all the different incarnations. (The one where Mr. Paul played Minecraft with his family was a huge hit. “Mom, can we do that?”) Then he branched out.

“Mom, can I see what Mr. Paul says about ‘Lego Worlds?’” “ ‘Mom, Mr. Paul played ‘Jurassic World!’ Can I watch it?”

I’m learning this about being a parent in the digital age: It’s surreal when your children don’t fixate on the people you remember as being larger-than-life “heroes” when you were little (such as actors, musicians, athletes or, in my case, authors), but on otherwise normal human beings with the simple abilities to record video and a gift for holding an audience.

It’s a bit disconcerting, really. But it’s not a bad thing. Sam gets that Mr. Paul has a family, has a job just like Mom and Dad, has a life beyond those videos he loves so much. He likes that. He wants to do it himself, someday. He sees no reason why he can’t. And from there … well, who knows where it will go?

“Mom? How do you make video games? How do you write movies? Could I do that?”

So, Mr. Paul, if you ever see this, through the oh-so-strange conduit that is the Internet today: Thank you. You have a fan in Western New York. He eagerly awaits more Minecraft videos, he knows all your “in” jokes (spy chickens!) and he thinks you’re awesome.

And as his mom, so do I.

+Jill Keppeler hopes +Paul Soares Jr sees this … as a virtual fan letter from one hero-worshipping, Minecraft-loving 7-year-old in Western New York who plays video games with his mom. Follow her on Twitter @JillKeppeler or email her at

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