About a year ago, a little game by the name Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition dropped onto the marketplace. Now, having never played the PC version I was intrigued. I had seen all the craziness that could happen there, with everything from tiny villages being created to entire worlds, a simple train track to scale replicas of the USS Enterprise. And, like most, it was these possibilities that drew me in.
However I could see myself hitting a snag; normally when games come out that offer so much creative freedom I go in full of excitement and bravado thinking that I would be able to make all manner of wonders (see the variety of “boxes with wheels” I created for Banjo Kazooie N&B), followed by me sheepishly skulking off or “borrowing” ideas from other people. Minecraft, however, was different. When released into that world building things seemed so inherently natural that within the hour I had set to work on a wooden, three-storey house with bay windows and a roof top garden. Everything just came together nicely.
Following this I thought that a castle was in order, so on a fine hill overlooking my new abode I erected a stone goliath that even Ned Stark would be proud of. From here I built myself a train station, as you do, and with the help of hundreds of metres of track a system that allowed me to easily ferry my hard mined prizes back to my homes. About now is where I discovered the multiplayer aspect of the whole set-up. Pulling my brother into my own unique world and showing him everything I had been working hard (wasting my time) on gave the same enjoyment as when you got a nice new Lego set as a kid, but then totally ignored the instructions and made what kind of looks like a T-Rex.
Exploring the epic caverns also takes on a whole new life when there’s two or more of you sharing the experience. Not knowing what’s hidden behind the next block meant that a simple trip to grab a couple of bits of stone usually would end up with both of us being drawn deeper and deeper into the ground as we unearthed more precious minerals or, even better, the holy grail for us at the time a pre-existing cave! Or lava, there’s always lava. And then the panic. It was actually amazing to me back then, how much of an emotional effect that the game could have on you as you were playing. This is none more apparent than when you’re stuck deep underground with no idea from where you have come. The feeling of how lost you are can genuinely make you feel uncomfortable… so don’t forget those torches.
The act of building also took on a new lease if life with the arrival of an extra set of hands, no longer content with building just common surface dwellings we set about constructing glass topped lairs of both the under-water and, slightly trickier, under-lava variety. Together we developed a kind of water based lift system that allowed you to safely float to the ground from our higher creations and return back up safely and quickly, so long as you remember to poke your head out every now and then to breathe. Drowning in your own sky-house bedroom many meters above sea level is both an inconvenience and pretty embarrassing.
It also gave us the added bonus of the occasional pet squid.
As a final piece of major construction we decided the only way to go was fashion a floating sky house made entirely, obviously, out of glass. It was a fitting end to our time building together as it was not only a fine sight to behold, but also entirely stupid. You see we decided a glass sky house was not enough, we wanted its flight of stairs to be surrounded by lava. After numerous failed attempts (and fiery swathes) we elected to change to a much more simple lava column. Sure it still made actually getting up to the house almost impossible, but we did it anyway.
And that’s the biggest thing I took away from playing Minecraft last year. It offers you up an incredibly huge array of options as to what you can do in you world, that whatever you end up doing and creating is as valid a use of its tools as anything Notch originally imagined. We barely touched upon the use of power and switches, so who knows what options that could open up to us. And in the following months the game has taken on a whole new form with it slowly but surely catching up with the PC version, adding new mechanics, modes, and enemies which open up all new options. The creative mode, for example, gives you access to everything: all ingredients, all materials, everything! In theory this would allow us so much more freedom with what we could have created, but looking back half the fun was the mining, the discovering and the earning of what we created. Being given all the “stuff” we would have needed would have taken away any of the pride in the creation.
So ultimately I went into Minecraft, not knowing what to expect. But the way the world opens up, with literally countless possibilities and freedom, I came away with some genuinely fond memories that will stick with me for a long time. On the surface, the freedom could easily be just as off-putting as it is inspiring, but somehow Mojang and 4J created a world that easily allows you to just have fun. The cliché of the game being a big Lego set is an easy one to throw around, but that’s for good reason. It captures the fun and imagination that any good set brings with it, but at the same time offers almost limitless potential for you just to go nuts and shape your own world, with your own personal sense of space.