Archive for March 10th, 2011


The Joy of Minecraft

For my recent birthday my lil sister decided to give me a copy of this game.  Now after two days of playing it I can’t decide whether to curse her for the gift or to give her a huge hug accompanied by a very large glass of something that tastes deceptively nonalcoholic.  The reason you see is that Minecraft has turned out to be the gaming equivalent of crack cocaine.

So what is Minecraft?  Well the best description I can give of it is this.  Minecraft is digital LEGO with added cows, chickens, pigs and monsters.  In the single player mode you play what seems to be the sole inhabitant of your own world.  All around you are hills and plains which are made up of hundreds of individual blocks of resources.  You can interact with most of these blocks and it’s up to you to create the world you want from them.

Playing Minecraft is a little odd at first.  You start with literally nothing but the clothes on your back.  No tools or anything else useful.  The daylight is running out and soon monsters will stalk the land.  The monsters are held back by light and solid walls.  So in your first moments of play you find yourself in a race for survival.  Speaking for myself I died eight times before I finally worked out how to make the most basic pickaxe and torches.  It took another three deaths before I figured out that I needed strong walls and a roof over my head to be truly safe at night.

The survival aspect of Minecraft is genuinely challenging and not just at the beginning.  Even later as you plunge deep into the earth to mine for iron, coal or even diamonds, you will suddenly dig through the roof of a pit and plunge to your death.  If you’re lucky.  If you’re unlucky you’ll survive, now you have to find a way back out of the dark.  And whether it’s day or night on the surface, the dark below is never your friend.  It crawls with spiders, zombies and some weird creature that explodes when you get too close.

The good news is that you can apparently make armor and weapons.  Though right now I have to admit that I have yet to discover how.

The most enjoyable and satisfying part of Minecraft though is building.  There is very little as satisfying as deciding what you want to build and then spending hours not just personally building it, but actually making your own tools and gathering all the resources to build it as well. It really does remind me of playing with LEGO when I was a child.  Though this LEGO set is essentially infinitely large and has very few limitations.  My first building was a tower that literally finished when my characters head touched the clouds.  Around it lies a moat, with a pit beyond that for trapping animals.  Beneath the tower is a huge complex of mines and tunnels.  Basically I did the simplest construction imaginable in Minecraft as a learning exercise, but I came away with a huge sense of accomplishment.

There is a multiplayer option but I have to admit I haven’t yet taken part in it.  Simply because I want to learn how to play well before I join others.  But having chatted with people who do play on the multiplayer servers I can tentatively report that they are fun and well worth a look.  When I take part in the servers myself, I will write-up something extra about them.

Minecraft is still in Beta testing, so there will end up being extra features, such as an end game added at some point.  This also means that some features won’t necessarily work when you download the client.

As a game Minecraft  seems to have been made with the intention of  giving adults the sort of freedom to create that LEGO and plasticine gives to children.  But without the mess or the screams released when you step on a random piece, barefoot in the armpit of a dark night.

If you need evidence that Minecraft has become a force for creativity just Google “minecraft” someday and look through the images that come up.  A quick search last night ended with me looking at everything from huge models of the Battlestar Galactica to a truly incredible model of all three pyramids in Giza.

It should also appeal to players of all ages.  My partners granddaughter aged 4 is already addicted to walking around the world’s Minecraft creates.  She’s also addicted to punching the chickens and picking the flowers scattered on the hillsides.

All that said what are my conclusions?  Minecraft has in the last few days consumed all of my gaming time.  I haven’t even loaded any of my other games, because by the time I think of them I’ve run out of time.  It is addictive in the same way that cigarettes, chocolate and NCIS are addictive.  Play this game and you will lose entire evenings.  But you’ll find yourself more than happy to have lost those hours and with a little luck and a lot of work you might even have built something you can be proud of.  For me, my next project is to build a model of the Space Battleship Yamato.  Just for giggles.

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