Minecraft encourages player imaginations, ambitions

I have built my house block by block. I have a cobblestone foundation, a spacious cellar, hardwood floors, a modest second floor and a glass covered observation deck. But I am not done building, not by a long shot. I have waited all night for the sun to purge my property of the roaming zombies and skeletons that appear every night. As soon as I step outside to admire my handiwork however, I am greeted by a hissing noise. I try to run, desperate to lead my attacker away from the house, but I am too slow. The blocky green horror known as the creeper explodes, knocking me into the harbor and destroying the front left wall of my home.

Welcome to Minecraft, the runaway PC hit developed by Markus Persson. Minecraft has enjoyed a steady stream of popularity ever since it was publicly released on May 16, 2009. The most impressive thing about Minecraft’s success is that it is a work in perpetual progress.

The game hasn’t even reached beta, but the current version of the game, alpha 1.1.2, is available for €9.95. As of this writing, 340,124 users have taken the plunge. Should you join them? It really depends on how much you enjoy building, exploring and losing things. You read that last bit right. Loss is central to the Minecraft experience.

Minecraft is much more than a game about building houses with exploding enemies. It is a beautiful platform for digital exploration and user created content. The game essentially provides a big ,blocky playground for you to do whatever you want with. It is not a blank slate mind you. The game fabricates mountains, forested hills, caverns and oceans. The geography is populated by farm animals, monsters and raw materials you can utilize to mine and build.

There is a survival horror element to the game as well. Monsters appear in the darkness, which means that every night you will be hunted and haunted by a number of different evils. These are not your average video game adversaries. You cannot expect to cut your way through a crowd of skeletons and zombies unless you are well prepared and even then it is not unusual to be overwhelmed. Your best bet is to wait until dawn breaks, since the sun burns most monsters to death instantly.

When it comes to building your home, a simple hut made of mud will do, but why limit yourself when you can create so much more? Even mansions and castles are thinking small. People have poured hours into crafting Pokemon stadiums, working roller coasters and scale replicas of their favorite starships from television and movies.

One industrious user even built a simple but functional computer using a massive sequence of the game’s magically-powered red dust blocks. If you can dream it up, odds are strong you can build it in Minecraft.

In order to gain truly premium building materials, you have to brave the game’s underground. Since monsters spawn in the dark, you had better be well prepared with weapons, armor, food and torches. It is also a wise idea to carry enough spare sticks to build a ladder if you suddenly find yourself at the bottom of a deep shaft with no hope of digging your way out.

I am not a sadist for punishment. I actually despise games that go out of their way to screw players over. Minecraft is hard and challenging to the point of frustration at times, but it is not out to get you. There is nothing in the game forcing you to build colossal wonders. You never have to reach the game’s tantalizing floating islands, nor do you have to claim the riches waiting in the labyrinthine tunnels below. The only things setting you up are your own sense of adventure and your ambitions to create.

It is possible to turn the game on to peaceful mode which will remove the threat of monsters and have the world forgive you for stepping into lava. You can also, by some dark magic I have yet to discover, turn the game on to creative mode, which will provide you with the godlike powers of flight, no-clipping and infinite resources, essentially transforming the game into a giant, digital Lego set.

While these more forgiving modes are diverting and more conducive to complicated building projects, they also cause players to miss out on the thing that makes the standard mode so compelling: the fragility of the things you find and create. You are obviously attached to your creations because of the effort you put into them and their creation is all the more meaningful and triumphant when you cannot simply load your last save point to make everything better.

Minecraft is not an experience everyone will appreciate. Its block-based retro aesthetics will put a lot of people off from the start. Other people will turn their nose up at the arcane crafting system. Others simply won’t be able to devote the sort of time the game takes.

Even those people who initially love Minecraft will walk away from the game after suffering a particularly catastrophic expedition. Some will never come back. Others, however, will be intrigued by their meaningful failure. They will strive to do better, or stage a daring rescue operation to recover what they lost.

Though I have not had much time with the game’s multiplayer, playing with others definitely magnify this fragile, ephemeral quality. Your creations can be destroyed or modified, and you are equally free to collaborate or hinder other player’s creations as you see fit. If you have burnt yourself out on over-moderated MMOs with stagnant worlds, a few afternoons of Minecraft multiplayer may be just the antidote you need.

If you are the creative adventuresome sort who can afford a new addiction in your schedule, Minecraft is an excellent investment. The cost of the game, around $14 and will give you access to all subsequent versions of Minecraft with no DRM. Give it a try, and be prepared to get lost in a different world.