Mojang’s Cruel Minecraft April Fool’s Prank or Why We Need More Moms in Tech

I’m livid, truly livid, at Mojang’s decision to launch a cruel April Fool’s prank that had my 9-year-old Minecraft super-fan daughter in hysterical tears and hyperventilating from anxiety for nearly 2 hours — on Easter no less. I’m also enraged because I just lost 2 hours of my busy, single-mom life to trying to troubleshoot what was wrong — 2 hours I will never get back.

We had just had a lovely Easter morning — egg hunt around the house, happy child and mom. One of the things in her Easter basket was a pair of Minecraft wolf earrings; this is how much she loves Minecraft.

A lazy holiday Sunday means some Minecraft time. My daughter had recently installed a few new mods and spent hours over the past week building some exciting new worlds that she was incredibly proud of (and rightfully so — they are amazing). She was excited to get back to them.

I went out to walk the dog. I came back to a child curled up under her covers on her bed sobbing.

I also had gotten this Skype message from her.

(No parent should have to receive a message like that because of a juvenile prank.)

Her experience of this prank turned out to be extra bad timing. While I was walking the dog, my daughter had decided to install a new mod and thought that the new mod had corrupted all of her precious worlds she had so carefully crafted. She deleted the mod, restarted Minecraft, and it still looked awful. Through tears, she showed me what was wrong. “Mom, the grass looks weird and the wood looks rotten. Everything looks awful. It’s all messed up!” I calmed her down and stepped in to try to troubleshoot. She was literally hyperventilating while I started trying to find a solution to the problem, sitting next to me in front of the computer, clutching her two favorite stuffed animals for support.

Because she had just installed a new mod, that’s where we started, thinking that was the cause. We lost a bunch of time looking at forums to see if anyone else had had the same problem with this mod. I backed up her worlds and tried them out on a different computer that hadn’t had the suspect mod installed. Everything looked awful. I was baffled at how this could alter Minecraft on both computers.

We reset every setting we could. We reinstalled Minecraft. Finally after reinstalling Minecraft the “Java Editions textures finally perfected” news item caught my eye and clicked on it. I saw the April 1 date and a lightbulb finally went off. A final Google search on “Minecraft April Fool’s 2018” revealed the prank. NOT OKAY. So many children play Minecraft. How on Earth could the development team not realize this would cause tears?

No way is this enough for most people to figure out an April Fool’s joke, much less for a child to get the joke.

This unfortunate prank serves as an excellent example of why we need more moms in tech, particularly on the engineering and product side of things. We also need more empathetic people: people who can use broad critical thinking to consider the variety of users for a product, people who can contemplate how a feature “upgrade” (in this case, a prank) might negatively impact certain user groups. I certainly hope the Mojang staff who brainstormed and launched this mean trick are not the kind of people who consider it okay to make children cry. I’ll guess that this was the product of a non-diverse team with junior-high-bully-level humor, typical “tech bro” stuff.

I looked at the staff listing for Mojang on LinkedIn to confirm my hunch that the vast majority of people who work for the company are young-adult men, and my suspicions were confirmed. Fewer than 25 of those listed employees were female, and of those, only a few were in engineering or product. Diversity might have gone a long way toward preventing children having meltdowns…

My daughter and I had a discussion about this prank, and had she been on Mojang’s tech team, she could have offered some great suggestions of how to do something prank-y like this in a less mean way. She offered the idea of a pop-up notification that would reveal the joke after a little bit. What a great way to have the prank but also allay people’s frustration after a while. (She also suggested that the computer could detect when someone was crying and fix things, but we’re not quite there with that technology yet! Maybe this little coder will make that a reality some day.)

I’m not the only parent who was appalled with this prank and who had crying children. (I’ll also note that many adults were also peeved at losing a bunch of time to troubleshooting and having their rare downtime disrupted.) A scan through the Minecraft Twitter feed revealed other livid parents, including this particularly awful prank result:

Here’s another pointed parent critique:

I’ll try to…wait for it…mine some upsides (I’m always one to try to make some sort of lemonade out of lemons): my 9 year old’s tech troubleshooting skills are now more honed (I was proud to see all her attempted Google searches on how to fix this before I jumped in to help). I’ll now have a solid, personal-experience example to remind her about if she ever tries to set up a mean prank. That’s about a sip of lemonade, but I guess better than nothing constructive.

Now I’ll brace myself for an onslaught of comments that I just have no sense of humor. But I’ll leave you with our gentle April Fool’s/Easter joke that started our day with laughs to prove that I’m not a total curmudgeon — this is what April Fool’s should be: innocent, lighthearted, and easy to understand when you’ve had your leg pulled, not mean-spirited.

Anna Felicity Friedman

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