Had a very odd comment come in on the shop blog:
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I had to publish it. Had to. It was too weird to delete. But the strangest thing? Was that inference to follow their blog...which I have no way of accessing, as it was an anonymous comment.
So a while back, Turner asked what was the deal about Minecraft, anyway? And I started writing, and got almost an entire entry before I realized--I'm going into how one plays Minecraft, now why. And I may end up publishing that at some point, but that's secondary. How has little to do with why. And why is the question a lot of people are asking, not just Turner.
(I finally decided to go with a round sun and moon option. Surprising how effective it is, watching it rise and fall.)
Why the draw? It's not the graphics, right? Free-to-play games now have insanely high-end graphics, so much so that many systems are starting to stagger. Even browser games are, these days, surprisingly sophisticated. So what is it about the land of cubes that draws us in?
Imagine the world as your canvas. You are the only inhabitant of a demon-haunted realm, sure, and that can be a down side, especially at night--but what you do between running from monsters and learning your way around is up to you. Make a castle. Make a fort. Make a sailing ship; make a spaceship. Recreate the planet. Or do what your instinct drives you to do--the only limits are the limits of the game itself.
Each individual map is, on average, six times more vast than Earth. Notch, the designer of the game, has said it is not an infinite map base--but that someone would need to play for approximately six years straight to go everywhere on the map. That's a lot of terrain to explore, to farm, to dig, to mine, to build.
Nearly every day, as the game is developed, someone comes up with a new way to use the game, or finds a new bug. The game is in alpha now--it's not even close to beta yet, and at times, it's glitchy as hell. Some of the glitches become major exploits, and are weeded out in the next update--and the updates are frequent. This is a living, growing thing, there's little that's static about it--and even the 'fixed' game mechanics reflect this.
I mentioned farming. You can farm wheat for bread, by harvesting grass from woodland areas. You can farm reeds in sand by the shore of the eternal sea. If you really care to, there's a way to make fences, and you could conceivably fence in a large enough area to keep track of cows, sheep and pigs that spawned. Sheep give wool which makes art (with enough wood); cows give leather (which can be used to make armor); and pigs can be killed for their meat (which, once roasted in a furnace, heals half your hearts per little piggy chop). If you can't--or don't want to--be ambitious enough to farm crops or animals, then make a fishing rod out of spider-string and wooden sticks.
If you don't want to farm, you can explore, digging down to endless caverns deep beneath the earth to do battle with the creatures of the deep. If you're really jonesing for adventure, dig deep enough to find diamonds; make a diamond pick; find lava; throw water on it; then laboriously mine out the obsidian. Ten cubes of obsidian in a rough square gets you a one-way pass to the Nether, which arrived on Hallows' Eve, and is creepy beyond all reason.
I'm sure there is competition aplenty in Multiplayer mode; I wouldn't know, I never play Multiplayer. I play Single Player. Can you have competition all by yourself?
Absolutely. I have a not severe, but noticeable, fear of heights. Every time I build a tall structure, I face that fear. And it hasn't stopped me once. It's slowed me--because I can't build up that high without having that shiver down my spine. But Monolithia? More than four stories high, each story twice my height in the game, and I built it, block by block, on my own. I was the only one there; I was the only one who could. And I was able to get it done.
Or take spiders. I'm not afraid of spiders, I like spiders, but for the past six months I have had increasingly terrible spider nightmares. (I know why now, and I'm not going to go into it; suffice it to say that for someone who likes spiders, this was horrifying.) Spiders are one of the monsters in Minecraft, and they have a unnerving ability to jump directly at you and you die.
This is bad. And at first, I loathed the spiders in Minecraft, because day or night, they attacked me. But steadily, day by day, night by night, I began to overcome that atavistic fear. I learned how best to defeat them, and learned to take even death in stride.
Or let's talk jumping. For most of my life, I have been bad at jumping in both arcade and console games. In fact, in Runes of Magic, there's a perpetual Easter mini-game that I fail at, every year. Every single year. Because I can't jump up the little platforms to save my life.
In Minecraft? I'm learning to jump. I've gone from being afraid of heights to measuring distances and jumping with equanimity. It no longer bothers me.
The only one you have to beat is yourself. The only one you have to heal is yourself. Take of the world what you can use, and give back in terms of structures, trees, reeds...You can stay within the fixed terrain of the world you discover, or pave it over and build skyscrapers; it's up to you.
Why play Minecraft? Because it exists in the pure spirit of game, itself. You can eke out a meager existence in a scratch-built hovel; you can build a working computer for simple calculations. Nihilistically, you can blow everything up and start over.
Ultimately, it's entirely up to you. And that's the draw.