I tried playing Minecraft years ago when I was still in university but was discouraged by my computer not being able to handle it. Now that the game has been ported to every system under the sun, I figured it was time to give it a real try.
I picked up the PS3 and Vita version of the game and, not surprisingly, was immediately hooked. The slow but steady progress of mining for blocks in order to build basically anything was really addictive and, if you’ve got the time and the brain for it, really satisfying. Ultimately, what it reminds me of most is my childhood experience with Lego and all the possibilities that came with it.
I have a lot of opinions on childrens’ toys nowadays, none of which really belong on this blog, but the one thing that I’ll always come back to is that toys for youngsters NEED to encourage creativity and problem-solving skills. While I could get into the destructive influences of dolls as symbols of idealistic mimicry and how post-pubescent fantasies of romance are complicated by early childhood fears caused by unrealistic expectations of their bodies, I don’t feel like using long words right now.
“Minecraft is basically exactly the same thing as Lego except for one major difference.”
Instead, let’s talk about Lego: these little building blocks opened up worlds of possibility to me as a kid. Whereas a Starscream action figure could only change from robot to plane, Legos could change from robot to plane to house to ship to monster to anything.
It isn’t even that I actually put the effort into making all the things I just listed. It’s more the fact that I knew those things COULD be built that I took pleasure in. Sure, I made my fair share of multicoloured houses and amateur skyscrapers, and every once in a while I would try to push the limits by piecing together a sea creature born from the darkest depths of an imaginary ocean, but in the end I never really realized the full potential of Lego.
So, of course, I grew up and started to hanker for that same feeling of limitless possibility. Unfortunately, Lego is now some sort of speciality item that seems to cost an arm and a leg, not to mention the fact that I simply don’t have the space to put all my would-be creations. So I gave up on reigniting that feeling until I randomly stumbled onto some Minecraft tutorials on youtube and understood what I had been missing.
Minecraft is basically exactly the same thing as Lego except for one major difference: instead of buying blocks to add to your collection, you have to mine for them. That’s it.
With that one major barrier down, all the enjoyment and satisfaction that I had gotten out of little plastic bricks when I was a kid came rushing back. My first server was largely dedicated to exploring the mechanics and systems of the game. From effectively mining for diamonds and Nether bricks to keeping my farms from drying out, I loved poking my head into what seemed like endless little bonuses to the basic game.
Then came a bunch of lesser servers dedicated to figuring out how to explore the map. I was playing largely on the Vita so my world was limited to a much smaller space than what’s normally available on PC, mobile, and even PS4 (Vita maps are roughly 864×864 while other maps can be thousands and thousands of blocks large; best way to think about it is the Vita map is one map item in size). What this means is that exploration only takes a few hours. Still, the world feels huge.
Anyhow, after that first bout of learning, I’ve finally settled on a map that I a)like the look of and b)feel has enough quality materials close enough to the center of the map (the ideal spot to set up camp). I’m currently working on building a large Victorian manor, fully equipped with sitting room and dining area. I’ve also got a sectioned off mine connected to a major cave system that runs through half the map. I’ve even got a massive farm complete with pumpkins, wheat, potatoes, carrots, sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, you name it.
“Sure, you can’t get achievements in Creative Mode, but damn can you feel like a god.”
Honestly, as I started to reach what I feel might be the maximum capacity in terms of exploring all the systems in the game, I began to feel a little disappointed in how much it felt like exactly that: a game. Even though there’s no real objective, mining for minerals can get quite tedious and even start to feel like a crappy “collect all the things” mission from certain open-world games. Then I tried Creative Mode.
Sure, you can’t get achievements in Creative Mode, but damn can you feel like a god. After flying over mountaintops for half an hour, I started lacing the world with hundreds of explosives, salivating over the thought of such endless power, especially after only managing to make a few blocks worth of TNT in Survival Mode. I was now basically in a world where all Lego packs were available to me free of charge.
I built a massive castle and decorated it with glowstone lamps and elaborate sticky pulley machines. I built floating rings of “clouds” that spun in perpetual circles above my territory. I built towers that extended up into the sky. Then I got bored.
I realized that, if you just get handed all this stuff, diamonds and glowstones start to lose their appeal simply because there’s no satisfaction to be had in a gold library if you didn’t work to gather that gold. It loses all meaning. Back to Survival Mode then.
There’s probably some moral I’m missing here insofar as the analogy to my childhood experience of Lego goes, something about “you won’t be happy if you just get handed everything in life” but I’m too blissfully ignorant to look into it. In the end, I’m just glad that there’s a “game” out there that I can play that stimulates me in not just a “this is fun to play” way but also in a creative way. For once, I can definitively say that I own a video game I would be happy to play with my children.