It feels as if we've reached a point in time where every single gamer has had some kind of experience with Minecraft, whether that be first hand or not. However before 2016, although I had heard of the game, I had zero clue into what actually went on inside it. I always believed it was another story-driven adventure game that just so happened to be designed as this blocky cube world. I must admit that thinking this always made me question why it was so popular, particularly with younger generations, but upon discovering more about it I quickly learned why, and soon fell for it myself.
Sandbox games are some of my favourite - having limitless creative power is a great feeling and reminds me of my fondness for games like The Sims and Rollercoaster Tycoon way back when. The first thing I was shown on Minecraft was the creative mode, and I have very fond memories of Reece and I spending hours upon hours playing creative mode on our days off. We'd build to our heart's content; from castles, to spaceships, to farms. One time I build a fully working theatre with changing rooms and everything! It felt like playing LEGO but without the injuries, clean-up, or limited number of bricks. Flying around making whatever you wanted, paired with the iconic, twinkling Minecraft music, lead to an overall relaxing experience. Stressful day perhaps and don't feel like building? Throw some TNT into a hole and blow it up and watch the world crumble around you. Feeling the need to escape? Spawn a large map and fly the length of it, exploring any interesting nook and cranny you come across. The possibilities on creative mode are truly endless and certainly gives an element of freedom that many other games don't have.
But, as well all know, the main draw of Minecraft is not to float around in a peaceful environment with everything you need at your fingertips. Oh no.
There is, of course, survival mode.
And yes I know that survival mode is the actual point of the game itself, but as someone who struggles to look after themselves at the best of times in the real world, it's understanding why it can be rather stressful!
After a fairly long hiatus from playing Minecraft I decided to try and pick it up again, only this time I would tackle survival mode solo. Reece and I have many worlds together on survival that are of decent quality, but I often found myself hiding away in the shelters we'd built rather than getting out and exploring the world. The thought of making it so far only to fall or get blown up or set on fire scared me into staying indoors. Hey, the house could always use another rearrange right? But I didn't want this again. I didn't want to play as a home bird and stick to one location the whole time. So I spawned my own map (survival, easy) and set out to play. I was determined to make this a good one.
Granted I spent my entire first night buried in a dark hole I'd dug out of the side of a hill until the sun came up again, but who hasn't right? Right?
The difference with this play through is that I took it slow. Far too often I've been turned off adventuring in survival because I'd just throw myself down the nearest mine and be surprised when I died, so I wanted to do this one properly. So far I'm actually having a decent time with it - I've got myself some good armour, decent weapons, and am slowly but surely muddling my way through my own world. When it comes to the mining however I am still struggling. More than anything the thought of getting lost freaks me out, but I can guarantee I'll find my way out of any labyrinth if I hear a zombie groan or creeper hiss. If the fight or flight kicks in, you can guarantee I'll pick flight every time. So why is it I'm so afraid to die in a game that encourages risk taking?
I promise that I'm really trying to let go of that fear of death in Minecraft this time around. It's certainly not easy to shake, especially with this play through having more to lose than any other I've ever done. Minecraft is definitely one of those 'when it's good it's great, but when it's bad it's disastrous' kind of games, but there's also a sense in it that teaches you not to be precious. You died? So what! Bit annoying you might have lost some good items, but you're just gonna re-spawn again where you left off so pick yourself up and keep going. Which is what makes it so amazing and unique! The games that I have played, or that my generation grew up playing, essentially teach you that dying or losing is the worst possible option. But in Minecraft it's not, because there are endless options and, whatever happens, you know that you can just start again with very few consequences.
The highs and lows in this self-imagined game are so simple yet so effective, and really teach the player how to fend for themselves in the big, scary open. Saying this reminds me of a fantastic video by one of YouTube's best teachers, Extra Credits. At the heart of it, Minecraft is an incredibly simple game (it took them 1 week to develop the beta) and yet is shaping the way younger generations look at games. Sure, we've all played it, but those who have grown up with it in their formative years will always know it as the thing that taught them how to play. And that style of play is so unique compared to previous generations.
If you want a much more eloquent analysis of this 'Minecraft effect', you can check out the video here. (Trust me, you won't regret it.)
So what does this have to do with my experience of playing Minecraft? Well, as someone that prefers quieter, less heavy-action games, Minecraft works perfectly for me on that level. However, compared to games like Stardew Valley (a sandbox game with zero threats) Minecraft brings about that sense of fear that teaches many vital video game skills - perception, survival, combat etc. Skills that are often thrown at you too fast in other games, Minecraft introduces them to you in a way that's unique to you and allows you to discover how to use them for yourself. It also encourages creativity. Full, unfiltered, unrestrictive creativity that many other games simply don't have the capacity to handle.
Minecraft is one of those rare occurrences where we everyone should be thankful for its existence. And yes, it frequently gets meme'd to death and is still somewhat tarnished by the reputation of it's creator (who we shall not mention and they have been fully separated now - hooray!) however I don't know of a single person that hates this game. Everyone has their stories to tell of the times them and their friends went on a 12 hour adventure, or when they built a whole mega city only to destroy it 5 minutes later. Minecraft is a wonderful collective experience that we can all share without having to argue over 'who played it better' or whatever.
Knowing that this game is teaching a new generation of players in such a different way makes me excited to see what these youngsters are going to create in the future. I for one adore Minecraft so much and am thankful for the things it has taught me and the memories it has given me - even if I still have to bury myself in the side of a mountain from time to time out of fear of the night.