But at least Minecraft is interactive, rather than the mindless act of watching of other people playing. I remind myself of this while my son talks insistently about diamond blocks and iron blocks and stone blocks and…nether regions or some such.
It’s 9pm and we are Googling axolotls. I tell my 10 and 9 year olds that I don’t think they actually exist. We scroll pages of images of smiling amphibians – cloudy pink and adorable.
As with most gaming-related details, I’m 100% wrong. Not only do they exist, but thanks to MineCraft and TikToK videos, axolotls are the hot new pet that are now undergoing such a boom that the pet shelters are overrun with their grinning lizardy faces.
In fact, their hashtag has already accumulated over 2.6bn views on the video-sharing platform alone.
Axie Infinity, an online game where players battle cartoon axolotls, peaked at about 2.7m users in November last year. Perhaps the greatest contributor to the axolotl renaissance, however, might be Minecraft, the world-building game, where the amphibians were introduced as a companion creature in 2021.
Google trend reports indicate that searches for axolotl peaked when Minecraft introduced them in July 2021, but have remained elevated since.
It’s 9.30pm and I still have to walk the dogs. I snap the computer shut, squishing the hundreds of grinning faces. ‘No, we are not getting an axolotl,’ I sigh.
Later, I think about all the bizarre new influences my children are being exposed to. Not only through what they see on TV (we’ve a reasonably strict screen policy) but through what they are also hearing their friends talk about.
Jo-Jo bows are the BIG thing in my daughter’s class for example. Inspired by Jojo Siwa, one of the dancers from Dance Moms, the bigger the better. In fact, this Halloween, the bows have inspired my almost 8-year-old to dress up as a dead cheerleader.
‘It’s gonna be EPIC,’ she deadpans and I vow to unplug the WiFI.
We are viewing schools for my eldest daughter who goes to secondary school next month. The topic of future careers comes up and the children end up laughing at me. ‘We’ll just be YouTubers and earn millions’ my son reassures. It’s depressing how wealthy the mind-numbing online zombie’s they sometimes listen to are. But now, you don’t have to be ‘discovered’ to make it to the big screen. It’s no longer a one in a million chance of getting a big break. Everyone has a phone. People want to connect and see how others live their lives – so technically it’s never been more accessible to ‘go viral’.
In Ofcom’s 2019 ‘Media Use and Attitudes’ most recent support which focused on children between the ages of three and 15, results showed that almost half of 12 to 15-year-olds, and more than a third of eight to 11-year-olds watch vloggers or influencers.
Alongside this, a 2019 report from Morning Consult discovered that 86% of Gen Z and millennials surveyed would post sponsored content for money, and 54% would become an influencer given the opportunity.
We are becoming increasingly aware of the money that can be earned from being a YouTube influencer. Fitness YouTuber, MattDoesFitness, who has 2.3 million subscribers, posted a video in January this year where he was completely transparent about his YouTube earnings in 2020 – which totalled $402,000. Looking at figures like this, it’s no wonder that children are aspiring to follow in similar footsteps.
Even more interestingly, a survey of 3,000 childcare providers and teachers Childcare UK, an online platform for childcare providers, parents, schools and tutors, recently found that a quarter of primary school teachers are now familiar with the “YouTube accent” phenomenon – when children adopt an American accent or slang as a result of watching YouTube videos and television shows during lockdown.
Then again, young people have always leaned towards whatever is deemed attractive and ‘cool’ at the time. Be that American culture, Jamaican culture, hip-hop culture, Japanese culture or K-pop culture or my adoration of Bros.
The next day, I show them my latest post on Instagram. It’s a picture of my book which has just been published. I’m delighted with myself. Lots of people seem to enjoy it.
‘400 views?’ They slap their hands over their eyes and shake their heads in amusement. ‘Mr Beast gets like 400 million views, mum’.
But, I’ve shadowed their exposure without realising it too. I’ve the Peppa Pig themetune bunt into recesses of my brain that will never fade. In The Night Garden haunts my nightmares.
‘That’s a sick burn,’ I retort, and maybe it’s my imagination but they seem to look at me differently. I’ve bought a ticket into their world.
Two can play that game, you see.