My Changing Eternal Minecraft

Here’s an oddball sort of piece for you: my changing reactions to and thoughts on Minecraft.

So you’re on the internet, I suppose you already know what Minecraft is. Just in case, it’s a procedurally-generated first-person survival and/or creative “Lego” game. What does all that mean? Procedurally-generated means it’s random, but random within certain procedural parameters that make sure there aren’t, say, enormous chunks of open space plummeting down into endless space or something. First-person – you know, you can’t see your face. You can swing the camera around, but I wouldn’t recommend playing in third-person. You’ll die. You can plant crops, cook food, and need to do so in order to avoid starving to death – hence the survival (also there are monsters). The monsters come out mostly at night, so you should build a home of some sort, there being the most basic of the creative part of the game. However, there are also things like redstone –powder that works like electrical circuits when you put it down in lines – and everything in the world is a block (the “Lego” part above) that you can reclaim and rearrange into anything you want.

There you go. Minecraft. Now, when it first came out – or at least right at the end of the alpha, when I bought it – I always felt as though I were the only person in existence. My friends playing at the time reported a feeling that they were survivors of some terrible apocalypse, that wiped the Earth clean of people. I, on the other hand, felt as though there had never been any other people. I was the only one. Perhaps there would be more in the future, I didn’t think about that. There was simply me and the monsters, and my need for a home. And even though I was playing on normal difficulty, since I had just started I lived in terror of the creatures. This led me to make a two story tower on a small island in the middle of a lake, and eventually I carried lava up from the depths of the Earth to surround my home in a fiery moat. Eventually I realized all the goodies the monsters dropped were being burned up, so I switched to a fence of prickly cactus, sure to kill anything that runs into it for long enough.

Aaaaannnd what else was I supposed to do? A lot of people enjoy Minecraft because they can build elaborate devices (some people have replicated other video games within it) or colossal structures inside it. I wasn’t really into that. So despite playing obsessively for a few months, I petered out, because there was no end game. I did build Orthanc out of fairly mined obsidian (the hardest block to mine in the game), properly to height scale (it was a little narrow). And I connected it with a skybridge to my original tower, including a small airborne arboretum so I could harvest wood without swimming to the mainland. And I think I built a minecart track to nowhere before giving up finally.

There’s the multiplayer aspect, but at the time I didn’t get to do much there. I remember, too, a succession of short plays that all involved digging a hole and living like a hobbit, usually with the entrance to my mine in the back. And I played a LAN party game one weekend where we went from start to finish (The End, another world one can teleport to if one meets all the arcane requirements).

But I’m playing again. And my perceptions of the game have changed a great deal. Part of that is due to changes in the game itself. When I bought it, there was no End, not even any Endermen (the enemies one has to kill to get the items that lead one to the Stronghold, where the portal to the End is hidden). So now I feel as though there were cultures before mine – I couldn’t very well keep my original feeling in the face of all the evidence, could I? There are at least four kinds of structures one kind find in the game now. Two kinds of temples, the stronghold, and villages with living people in them. The people are horrible (that is, I hate the noise they make), and they appear to all be male priests. But there were, first, new structures obviously built by someone and then people to live in some of them (for a while you could find villages with no people in them).

But a lot of the change in feeling has come from my own experiences. First, obviously, I’m a better Minecraft player than before. I know more crafting recipes by heart, know how to quickly get the basic resources of the game, so on. In fact, in good circumstances I can have a fully functional home built before sundown on day one. I can do that even in bad circumstances if I just build an underground home again. That kind of confidence changes the way one plays a game, and this is a game where you are supremely by yourself. Trying to gather most resources with another player will probably mean an axe in the back of one of you. So there’s a sense of exploring out into the world not because I need to, but because I want to. There is no reason for me to find a jungle temple, and yet it’s on my list of things to do, between taming a horse (did it!) and kill the Enderdragon – basically beating the basic game (there’s now a new “boss,” the Wither, but I sort of think of it as a kind of Hard Mode boss. It’s harder, but also, I mean, the dragon’s called the ENDerdragon. The credits run after killing the dragon, not the Wither).

I also don’t think I’ve seen a single wolf in this playthrough.

So my changed perceptions have interacted with a changed, but still basically similar, game to make my play style very different. That doesn’t happen with a lot of games. With increased confidence usually one’s play style improves, it doesn’t change outright. Sandbox games like this have the potential for such a change.

Oh, and in that first game I did build a second house, a cabin in the woods – and accidentally burned it down with a poorly-constructed fireplace.

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