Friday, 28 February 2014

Minecraft - the whole span of human history in a week.

Minecraft is a game without an instruction manual.  You download it, and then you're plunged into a strange, vast new world, packed with pigs, sheep and spider-riding skeleton archers.  You have nothing to defend yourself have nowhere to hide.  However, you don't know this yet.  All you know is that you can see loads of lovely, blocky trees, and perhaps a few brightly coloured flowers.  The cubes of earth beneath your feet undulate gently, forming hills and meadows.  The bright blue sky presides over a vibrant world.  You prance, quite content, through this place, taking in the strange vistas, noticing a desert in the distance perhaps.  The weather holds, and you gamely climb the nearest mountain and marvel at the view - a broad Savannah to the west, a thick jungle to the south, a vast ocean with a craggy shoreline to the north.  The sun continues to move overhead.  You see a cave in the craggy mountainsides, and explore it for a while, finding nothing more than a few black specks in the rock that look a little like coal.  Emerging from the cave, back into the sun, you realise that it is now evening.  Said sun hangs heavy in the sky, orange and raw, and the blank above is beginning to darken.  It will be night soon.  You begin to feel anxious.  All of your roaming around was lots of fun, but now it's nearly dark.  You've heard that the darkness in Minecraft is not your friend, and that monsters appear in the black of night. The sun continues to sink, digging into the horizon.  It hovers for a moment, and is then gone.  Darkness envelopes the landscape, and suddenly the inviting land around you seems alien and strange.  Odd noises emanate from the jungle.  Shapes are moving on the grey sands of the desert; you stand on your hill-side perch, and you panic.

The 'first night' in Minecraft is an experience that you will only ever have once.  Eventually, you become accustomed to the game, and any attempt to re-live that dreadfully scary time is undone by your experience.  But it shapes the player, and most Minecrafters will recall their first night with relish.  Mine was spent in a makeshift hovel made from wooden planks in the middle of swampland.  Luckily, I had figured out how to punch trees to gain log blocks quite quickly, and had crafted planks from the logs - I had just enough to build a 2x2x2 hut that enclosed me totally.  I had no torches, so no source of light.  I didn't manage to get the wool together for a bed for about another in-game week.  So I sat in my pathetic hut all night, listening to the moans of zombies as they swarmed around me, with only a thin wall of wood to protect me.  Being totally unencumbered by weapons or armour, I was the epitome of vulnerability.  If they'd somehow managed to gain entrance, I would've died a scary death.  I stayed in the hut for around 3-4 nights as I explored the area and gathered resources, and each night was the same - tedious yet strangely thrilling, like I was experiencing first hand the thrills of being the main character in I Am Legend.

But before long, you will have a secure, well-defended homestead out in the wilds, with farmland, storage space, domesticated animals and interior design.  That's the beauty of the game - you get better, and end up leading a comfortable and safe lifestyle.  You no longer fear the monsters of night, as you have a diamond sword and enchanted armour, so you focus on aesthetics and making your home a beautiful sight, adding wholly unnecessary turrets and flourishes, all to please your eye for architectural glory.  It is a microcosm of human experience, mirroring the birth of culture once the immediate dangers of starvation and being prey to toothy predators had been held at bay for good.  Your home towers, cathedral-like in its splendour.  The surrounding land is tamed and landscaped with great oaks and hedgerows.  You add stables, barns, outbuildings.  You expend once-valuable wool on trivial fripperies like picture frames and carpets, flags and portraits.  Your home is awash with colour and design.  Diamonds, once so vital, are now in strong supply as you expand your mining operations, so you create a throne built of blocks of the precious stones.

Soon, a huge stock of electronic redstone thrusts you into the industrial era.  Now application and efficiency are key.  You begin working on train networks, webs of railway lines threading between your quarries, mines and forests.  You begin to create large scale smelters, using the myriad tools available.  Now you can craft whole stacks of iron bars in moments, and those early days, spent desperately wandering caves searching for minute pockets of iron ore seem long, long ago.  You now have so much material that you no longer know what to do with it, so you make pointless diversions, crafted from various rare blocks, just for something to do.  You build a vast skyscraper out of iron blocks and populate it with furniture, just to get some kind of use out of the gigantic stockpiles of stuff you are now struggling to store.  Your cathedral home is disfigured by necessary extensions for all this rubbish, yet still you crave more, until you have utterly exhausted the world around you.  The trees, the flowers, even the mountain is now gone; they have been ground up, used to make other things.  You stand in a desert of your own making, and despair.

My Minecraft YouTube channel is here!


  1. Very interesting. I've read an article saying how Minecraft can help kids develop their visual-spatial intelligence because they experiment with and build materials out of this world, honing certain engineering skills. This article's point of view of the game makes Minecraft seem like Second Life as well. Haven't tried both games yet, though, but very tempted to.

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