In June, a mother posted a plea for help on the Nextdoor neighborhood social media app. How was she to plan a 10th birthday party for her son in the middle of a pandemic?
She noted her kid’s love for Minecraft, a sandbox video game in which players can mine, build on, and create on an infinite 3D terrain.
After reading this, Jennifer Stanley approached her children, Harrison and Sophie, to see if they had any ideas. They did, and three months later they are running a business called Digicraft, a virtual startup with 10 percent of profits going to a local food bank.
At a time when there are constant think-piece articles and Instagram trends focused on adults tapping into their creativity during COVID quarantine, you don’t hear much about kids. But they too are trying to gain back what has been taken away, including the ability to socialize safely.
“I think it’s one of those things that lets you forget what’s going on in the world, which I think a lot of people need. It gets you out of the work and lets you focus on just creating something new,” Harrison said.
After their mother asked, Harrison, 17, and Sophie, 14, put their Minecraft building skills to work. Over the course of a few weekends, they created an interactive “realm” on the Minecraft video game server that multiple players could log into together and enjoy.
The two split up the construction work. Their first world was zombie-themed. Players could “spawn” there and read a sign explaining that zombies had invaded the place and villagers needed players to make it safe again. They built a scavenger hunt for the players, ending with fireworks, music and birthday cake.
After testing each other’s sections and checking with the kid’s parents, they opened the world to their client, and watched him and his friends explore.
“It was so cool watching this kid and his friends interact with, and love this thing that we made,” Sophie said. “And it was so special that we just wanted to keep doing it.”
Thus, the two decided to build a business. Over the past two and a half months, they have created eight worlds for birthday parties, for kids ages 7 to 12 years old in Orange and Durham counties and out of state.
Every weekend, the two would huddle around the desktop in the bonus room at home and plan, spitballing ideas and using teamwork to fashion new and unique worlds for each party.
“The cool thing is that we don’t really have any specific plans. We just sit together and shoot off ideas of what looks cool and seems like it will be a fun experience,” Harrison said.
Using their respective strengths and creativity, they divide the business-side and creative-side of planning for each party. And of course, as with all siblings, collaborating brings its own challenges.
“There’s some bickering, of course, and they have different creative visions. And so, there have been a couple of times where I’ve had to say, ‘you guys need to learn how to critique each other’,” Stanley said.
At the same time, Digicraft provides a space for Harrison and Sophie to learn about cooperation, creativity and self-discipline, the sort of things they’d normally be getting in non-virtual school.
“I think that as a parent you see video games as purely an escape,” Stanley said. “Suddenly, this was an opportunity for kids who have been socially distanced to get together virtually, and for my kids to see themselves as mentors for them.”
The two charge $100 for one hour of playtime in their Minecraft worlds, with 10 percent of the profits going to Feeding the Carolinas, a nonprofit network of food banks in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Though the two started (virtual) school at East Chapel Hill High School in August, they still run their business, even with honors classes, college applications, and extracurriculars. Where for some this might be an added stressor, for Harrison and Sophie, it’s a needed refuge.
“Kids aren’t meant to stay home all the time; they’re meant to scream and shout and chase and flirt and all that stuff and it’s like they can’t do any of that,” their mother said. “We need something to replace what we’ve lost. And if we can create it ourselves, there’s a sense of accomplishment and it’s therapeutic.”
9th Street reporter Rebecca Schneid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At top: Sophie and Harrison Stanley sit side by side at a desk in front of a TV while they work. Photo by Henry Haggart