Minecraft: What’s it all about?

Posted on July 15, 2014

Parents I meet have almost always heard of Minecraft, but often don’t really know what it is or why it has such appeal. For gamers aged, say 6-17, it is perhaps the most significant game ever made (big call I know), for the rapt attention it commands. But why? What’s all the fuss about?

To look at, Minecraft seems initially like a game that is too simple to be good. Its pixellated graphics, simplistic figures, and rudimentary sound design might put us older gamers more in the mind of Mario than Mozart. However, under this banal surface is an incredibly elegant game design. The core of Minecraft is the crafting system: players collect resources and build new materials and items to use in the world. The crafting tree of Minecraft is enormous, and it gives you an idea of the sophistication of game design behind the simple exterior.

Big huh? Source: http://minecraftwebtable.tumblr.com

Big huh? Source: http://minecraftwebtable.tumblr.com

Minecraft is best considered as a bit of a two-headed beast, especially upon a first impression. On the one hand you have Creative Mode, which has been likened to ‘digital Lego’. Here, players collect resources (from wood to diamonds, with hundreds of material in between) and place them to build structures in the world, almost anything they can imagine. This can be done individually or in teams, and this scope for creation can lead to some pretty amazing projects. The game design of Minecraft affords such incredible creativity and this can be really compelling for players: it is particularly appropriate for younger players.

For older players interested in Creative mode, various structures and mechanisms allow for more complex building. Mine carts allow for quick and easy transportation of players or materials across the game world, but building them and getting them to work can be challenging. Redstone circuits form simple mechanisms that can be iterated to build rather complex machines. The potential here is amazing: at a recent Minecraft Camp in Adelaide, I saw one player build a Connect-4 game in the Minecraft world, while another build a binary converter, pretty much a 1960s computer or a simple calculator.

A quaint pixellated cottage in Minecraft

A quaint pixellated cottage in Minecraft

For those who like a bit more action, Survival mode pits players against different kinds of enemies, or ‘mobs’. The basic story of Minecraft is that you start off on a beautiful morning, but before night falls you must build a house and craft weapons to defend yourself against spiders, skeletons, ‘Creepers’, and other enemies. This is really hard, by the way, but the challenge is something that players love. After this there is a multitude of gameplay options such as PvP (Peer vs Peer), where players face off to take each other down, more like a traditional multiplayer shooter.

Finally, Minecraft is designed so that players (or parents) can regulate the boundaries of gameplay, especially in multiplayer, very easily. For example, crafting a chest enables players to store items safely so they can’t be stolen or destroyed by other players. Different servers allow different styles of play, so by selecting a server judiciously, players can only let themselves in for the exact experience that they want. Minecraft has recently included Grief Prevention mechanics which allow players to identify a ‘safe’ space where no other players can make changes. This allows for the self-regulation of gaming experiences which is a very important aspect of digital literacy as children learn to live and play in the information age.

Ultimately, what makes Minecraft so compelling for each individual depends on what that individual gets out of it. There are so many facets to the genius that is Minecraft: the possibilities are endless. For Game Truck Australia parties it caters for a wide variety of ages and approaches to gaming, and can command attention for a good few hours.

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