Only a Miner

Here’s a video which seems to strike the note for the remainder of this post:

I am certainly no miner, yet for some odd reason I have recently been exploring this dangerous and tiresome trade.

Crafting tools, digging down deep, retrieving stones and metals for different purposes.

My effort can’t reasonably be compared to the average Chinese worker suffering in the hazardous mining shafts, especially because I’ve been firmly seated in front of my computer all along.

What, then, makes someone like me talk about mining all of a sudden?

I have merely succumbed to the strangely alluring grinding and construction that is Minecraft.

So what is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a game…sort of.

But it lacks the missions or explicit goals of most games. Even open-world sandbox games like GTA or WoW provides the player with missions, quests, purposes.

Minecraft doesn’t take the trouble to frame your actions like that.

It just sets you loose in a world made of square blocks, inevatibly reminding you of the LEGO of your childhood. Graphics are low-res resulting in an unpolished retro style (to say the very least). Aesthetics making it look like a misplaced game from the nineties somehow only feels refreshing, and it effectively shifts the focus to the core of Minecraft; a core consisting of creation and exploration.

The world of Minecraft is nothing but a gigantic sandbox, where any cliché about “your imagination being the only limit” absolutely makes sense. Imagination doesn’t quite cut it, though, as building something noteworthy also requires a massive investment of time (as a recent piece in Wired is soon to point out):

“Minecraft differs from the current crop of games so popular on Facebook in another key way: Building something in Minecraft takes far more creativity than simply pointing, clicking and acquiring. A stack of virtual Minecraft bricks might not seem impressive to an outsider, but anyone who’s played the game understands that it can take weeks or even months of work to assemble raw materials, followed by painstaking brick-by-brick work to create a magnificent structure.”

To throw some further challenge in the mix, the game continually changes back and forth between day and night. Day is good and friendly, while night is decidedly evil. At night the gruesome monsters appear, and you do best to stay indoors in heavy lighting; unless you desire dying and respawning. So confusing can the experience be, that many “miners” are offering beginner’s guides to Minecraft or guides to just surviving the first night:

I have only been in this strange world for less than a day, and I am not yet certain that I actually know which direction it is taking me. I started out by cutting down trees, building tools, carving out a home, mining coal, creating light with torches, exploring the world, expanding my mansion, hunting animals, forging armor, digging deeper, encountering the first monsters…and so on.

These trivialities might very well be the ingredients of a perfectly normal day in the life of Minecraft (if one such even exists).

As a gamer, though, I can’t help but acknowledge this nagging feeling that something is not quite right.

Something is missing from the regular gaming experience; or something is added.

In any case, things are not as the games I know.

It might just be that I am simply not used to this much freedom in a game.

Sometimes I feel a bit lost, wandering about, disoriented, unable to properly make use of the freedom I have suddenly been granted.

Minecraft releases me from expectations, which strangely enough boosts my own ditto. Knowing I can do just about anything, I feel obliged to channel these possibilities into remarkable deeds and unforgettable monuments.

Show the world

This desire to achieve big things in Minecraft is strongly accentuated by the blossoming environment around the game. Many people have been playing for some time now, and during that period, stunning creations have been produced.

I might very well not be completely up to speed here, but I am immensely impressed with the activity of the players; showing the world is clearly as important as building the world. Images and videos presenting this or that building are found in abundance, and this documentation process undoubtedly constitutes a large part of the overall experience.

This leaves me in a particular predicament, because how should I compete with something like this:




True innovation

Well, however confused I may be, I am undoubtedly going back to mine some more, which then again probably leads to further thoughts and writing in the nearby future.

Despite my fumbling around in the world, one thing that is already strikingly clear to me is, that this game definitely marks an extraordinary outburst of creativity. The Swedish creator, Markus Persson (it’s a freakin’ one-man job!) has created something, which in every sense feel fresh, new and different.

I haven’t really seen anything like it, and in that sense Minecraft must be the wet dream of every gamer and critic longing for innovation and creativity in a field often accused of lacking exactly that.

Social media site, Mashable, is dubs it a “gaming revolution” and Shamus Young over at The Escapist is talking about how and why he loves Minecraft:

But Minecraft isn’t just a graphical anachronism. It’s also a throwback to those anarchic days of the 90s before our current genres were solidified and developers were eager to try crazy new things. There is no big-budget game out there that even resembles Minecraft. This is a new idea. We don’t get to see those very often. […] One guy, alone, has made a game which is more interesting, cheaper, and has better replay value than games that took an entire studio full of pixel-pushers and codemonkeys to produce.

Not only is this strange creature receiving widespread critical acclaim, it also seems to be surprisingly profitable, allegedly making 350.000 $ in one single day for Persson. And that is for a game still in alpha! The thing is not even close to being bloody finished, but we are happily paying 10€ without having seen the final product. Even as a business model we might learn from Minecraft – how do we create such an attractive product, that people willingly shell out before we are done making it?

Minecraft is already established as a cult phenomenon with a large group of dedicated fans, who themselves are pretty darn creative. I, for one, am happily following along on the journey to see where this somewhat crazy and unpredictable beast leads us.

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