Over the summer, digital video game distributor Steam started the Summer Sale, in which many video games were discounted by significant amounts. As the Steam Summer Sale drew to a close, many PC gamers rushed to the markets to claim their drastically underpriced games they downloaded for ninety-nine cents from some obscure indie developer. Though many look forward to the influx of new titles to enjoy over the summer, most find that they only purchased the games for the prices, as many start playing the first level but then lose interest immediately and go back to playing games like Team Fortress 2, or in this case, Minecraft.
Living on its 8-bit style graphics, Minecraft is a game that can only be approached by retro gamers and people looking more for gameplay rather than graphics. It’s a game that would make any casual gamer play for days on end yet leave some hardcore gamers scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss was about (at first).
Minecraft is known for its seemingly infinite replay value. “The more you play it, the more you feel like you should keep playing it,” says one of my classmates, who had downloaded the Xbox 360 edition of the game last year. It truly is quite stunning how a game that looks like it was drawn by a three-year-old could end up with a near-perfect score on MetaCritic and a large fanbase that challenges that of many famous people today.
Minecraft is also similar to games like Diablo III where its popularity would be nearly nonexistent without its Internet fanbase. Jeb, the creator, even treats it as such. He allows gameplay footage to be posted on YouTube where gamers can talk about it, whereas other companies would take down those types of videos for copyright infringement. Advertising isn’t necessary; the fanbase’s discussion itself is enough to convey the message for anyone who’s ever logged on to a website. Fans have been shown to create their own clubs, music videos, playthroughs, and commercials for it. Even the gameplay implies dependency on Internet access. There is no shame in looking up a walkthrough to play this game, since nearly every aspect of it makes average gamers wonder, “Well, how was I supposed to figure that out on my own?” In short, Minecraft doesn’t give you a single hint as to what you’re supposed to do. With its vast array of crafting recipes, one should absolutely start by looking up online guides before playing for the first time.
Jeb released the game in an anomalous fashion. Unlike most console-based games, which are released once in a finished copy, players of Minecraft got to see the development of the game evolve overtime. Ever since the first Alpha version was released to the public years back, Jeb has released update after update, adding on more features until it became the version it is today, version 1.3.1. New features included enchantments, magic potions, new ores, amongst other things.
But one question to pose is whether or not to classify Minecraft as a game. Sure, it has swords, bows, arrows, skeletons, zombies, explosives, portals, a dragon, and a separate dimension that literally looks like hell. Such parameters would naturally imply the term “game”. But most players agree that Minecraft, being an open-based sandbox game, feels more like playing with the Lego bricks you played with as a child. Its main focus is using cubes to build structures from one’s own imagination, an imagination that just so happens to have monsters that one needs to fight every now and again.
At this point, many people still have one question in their heads: “So where’s the fun in all that?” Well, the fun to be found in Minecraft is certainly difficult to define. It’s the aesthetic pleasure of building structures, such as hot air balloons, ships, cities, giant teapots made of dirt, etc. In fact, most of the fun comes from the building and not from the finished product, which is why some miners abandon their structures soon after they finish building them.
So that’s pretty much the story. Building houses, fighting off monsters, going to different dimensions and the sort. Then, right when the player thinks he’s done playing the game, he finds himself amidst his creations feeling quite proud of himself, he goes online and sees what other people have been building as well. As it turns out, some of the structures other people have built, including space shuttles, full-sized cathedrals, and models of the Enterprise, put the player’s to shame. At first the player feels surprise, then determination. “I can do better than that,” he would think. He then proceeds to play for another three days straight. Minecraft runs on dedication, the source of its popularity.
And don’t think it’s just the same mundane gameplay over and over again. The world of Minecraftia is covered with several different biomes, cycles of day and night, and surprises behind every rock slide. Given the correct proportions, the world of Minecraftia for a single player is eight times larger than the surface of the earth itself. In my case, playing for approximately thirty-six hours, I managed to cover about 0.1% of Minecraft, and that’s just mining the surface.
It’s astonishing how many families and friends were brought closer together by a simple 8-bit computer game. Some college students have organized LAN parties; and miners from all over the country gathered together at MineCon, an annual, official Minecraft convention with literally thousands of attendees ranging from newborns to centenarians. There has even been a special case where a couple decided to have a Minecraft-themed wedding. Look it up. It was on the news a few months ago. But as for me, I’m still having fun blowing holes in the ground with TNT.