The Average Gamer

Creativity Cubed – Minecraft

You’d need to have been living in a cave (or deepest, darkest Wales) for the last couple of years to have missed hearing about Minecraft. On the off-chance you’ve been a hermit since 2009 the website describes it perfectly, “Minecraft is a game about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine. At night monsters come out, make sure to build a shelter before that happens.” That’s pretty much the game right there. It does however, neglect to tell you that once you’ve downloaded it and figured out roughly what’s going on, you’ll spend the subsequent hours/days/weeks either playing it or drifting off into little plans about what you still need to accomplish.

It’s only in the last week and with far too much time on my hands that I’ve finally bowed to positive mass opinion and decided to give it a go, having previously written the game off by not seeing the point or thinking that the incredibly complex architecture some people accomplish looks like a bit of a faff. I now find myself genuinely stunned by a) how wrong I was and b) HOW WRONG I WAS.

Read almost any review or feature on Minecraft and it’ll start with a little section about the players’ first day. I must have had at least five “first days” before I managed to make it through a night and the problem with writing about them is that the whole game is an incredibly unique personal experience. Me rambling on about making a cave just isn’t going to entice anyone.

Think of when the funniest thing in the world happens to you – the moment you start explaining it to someone else you get that crashing moment of clarity mid-sentence where you realise it’s never going to mean as much to them and it would probably be best to shut up, right now. So, instead of regaling you with tales of dying sheep pink and a frankly epic twenty minute journey involving me, wheat and tempting a chicken to come home with me – I’ll try and find the best words to explain what the point of Minecraft is or even, why you might want to give it a go.

There’s so much entertainment now, compared to say twenty years ago, that we’re all very used to being drip-fed the next great thing, not having to think for ourselves or create our own fun. Somewhere in the process of growing up and having to deal with tedious adult things like insurance and council tax, a lot of us (including myself) have forgotten how to use our own minds for play.

Who else used to spend hour upon hour building LEGO houses or castles? Some of us even had a couple of pirate ships and a shark (I used to hide treasure in his mouth. No pirate would think to look there). Can you remember that feeling of being entirely absorbed in creating something wonderful that was to all intents and purposes just mismatched, coloured plastic blocks? If yes, that’s almost exactly what playing Minecraft is like and if no, a career in accountancy may be right up your street.

The genius part of the game is the inclusion of hostile spawns; zombies, skeletons and a whole host of other entities waiting for night to come so they can *bleep* you right up, usually appearing just as you’re miles away, day-dreaming about the best location for your beach-front property. Without these, I may never have gotten started on my adventure since summoning creativeness from the get go is a bit like hard work.

When the added motivation of needing to be somewhere safe by nightfall is included, it’s surprisingly easy to start furiously hacking at the nearest hillside before blocking yourself in and sitting in the dark listening to the zombies trying to get you. Then, seeing as you’re stuck there till morning comes, you start considering how to make it a nicer hole .. maybe add some windows, a little extension… a lighthouse. Now you’re invested in this little world, you want to add even more and on it goes.

My partner Frank sums it up well:

When you get cornered against a flow of lava by a zombie, in the dark, and your iron sword just snapped because you wanted some zombie killing action and have worn it out; the fact that your iron pants are sheathing square blocky legs is completely unnoticed when compared to the fact that you just filled them.

I have not played a game in a long time that had me shrieking in shock as I teetered on the edge of a lava footed cliff, or grimacing with tension as I loped through dark woods trying to spot the homing tower I’d built with stone and torches, whilst trying to avoiding the origins of the trouser-filling moaning.

This game has the simplicity and effectiveness of any of the toys you remember from your youth that turned your living room carpet into a battleground or farm. When you climb out of your mine after a hard night battling skeletons and mining ore to find the sapling you planted outside your house has turned into a mighty tree, and the wheat in your fenced fields are sprouting nicely, you’ll forget that the tree is a mighty pillar of 16 bit squares, because who really cares anyway? Square or not, those sheep aren’t going to get sheared themselves. Get working!

After three days of playing I can boast: a beautifully crafted barn for my livestock (including the pink sheep), an unattractive but highly recommended suit of armour, several fields of wheat and a cake. Doesn’t sound much but it is. It’s mine and I worked for it – that makes it special.

Not only has Minecraft hooked me, it’s managed to reel in the two men I live with – evenings are currently being spent swapping stories of perilous moments, brushes with exploding monsters and whether anyone can remember the bloody recipe for a gate.

If you can tear yourself away from the big budget releases of this year and have £17.00 going spare I cannot recommend this game enough. It’s entertained me on every level.

Minecraft is available now on PC and will be coming to XBLA in May.