What’s the Deal With Minecraft? Or: Minecraft’s Subtle MessageBy Jared Newman
MINECRAFT REVIEW, BLACK OPS TIPS - You might say that Minecraft hit the big time today. Featured in a Penny Arcade comic — amusing even if you haven’t played the game — developer Mojang Specifications will surely reap thousands of new sales, despite the game’s alpha status and $9 price tag.
I’m fortunate enough to have been in on the joke — I use that term intentionally, and I’ll explain later — for a couple months now. I’ve dabbled in mashing mountains, cutting down trees and slaughtering a variety of fauna, all in service of building man-made structures in an otherwise pristine natural environment.
There is no explicit point to Minecraft. The game sets you free in a randomly generated world of stone, sand, water, grass and trees. This forms the raw material for towers, tools, weapons, armor and food. You don’t need any of this stuff. The game will let you survive with nothing, provided you can avoid the threatening creatures that come out when the sun goes down.
Inevitably, you will build, not because you have to, but because you can. Heck, for $9, it’s your right to start plowing into the landscape. My particular idea, early on, was to hack up a sprawling network of islands and create a massive sand tower. It is, I think, a beautiful structure, with windows to let the light in and little lookouts on the top of each corner. When it was finished, some five hours after I started, I scrambled to the top and admired the view, looking past the nearby islands I’d flattened.
Then, I started thinking of what to build next, along with which animals I’d have to kill and how many countrysides I’d have to destroy. That’s about when I stopped playing Minecraft.
I’m not self-righteous enough to say that my interest in Minecraft waned because of some moral conflict. This is, after all, a video game, and I’ve done far worse on other virtual playgrounds. But I did get the joke, which is to say I completed the game.
Minecraft is a commentary on human behavior. It puts you in a sandbox with unlimited power and one condition: To create anything, you must destroy something else. It’s a lesson on natural resources, which might seem painfully obvious if so many other games didn’t stuff players with unlimited ammo and health-restoring chicken hidden in trash cans. It is a beautiful model of humanity’s need to destroy and rebuild.
That message is never forced on the player. It’s implied in the system Minecraft creates. And when the revelation strikes, as you’re digging into another mountain, chopping down another tree, butchering another cow, the joke’s on you.