Three Moments in Minecraft

So I’ve been playing quite a bit of Minecraft lately. I have minor concerns about how much I’ve been enjoying it and how much time I spend thinking about it when I’m not playing. And quite how much time I think about how much I’d like a pickaxe made of diamonds. But in amongst all this craven feeling, there have been some impressively “real” moments during play, of which I thought I’d recount three here, each a different flavour.

The first one that springs to mind is one of solidarity in work. Playing with two others, we were steadily chipping a stairway upward toward the surface from deep down in a cave system. For each step we’d carve away a layer of rock, place the little half-steps we’d made, and them move forward. The stairway was three spaces wide, so we could do this three-abreast as an entirely voluntary and enthusiastic work unit. That sense of working “hard” on something together and in a synchronized fashion, complete with handing each other tools or taking over someone else’s work when they broke away to do something else, was impressive.

The second experience is a bit ignominious. A lot of Minecraft is about obtaining the right resources, particularly (to my mind so far) in order to make better and longer lasting tools. Currently, iron ore and the iron ingots you can smelt out of it are the most precious metal for tool creation (but diamonds are a guy’s best friend). I found myself standing in a stone house I’d built with another friend, smelting iron into ingots I could use to make tools. Then I walked over to the storage chest nearby to put a bunch of spare ingots in for later on, for whoever needed them. And then… I paused. I found that I didn’t quite want to give up my previous ingots which I could use to make more tools later on. Surely, I thought to myself, they can mine their own goddamn iron. I felt very strongly at the moment a kind of dwarven greed about a material object I don’t feel I’ve experienced otherwise. It made me feel a bit like a possessed creature in a Tolkein story. Awesome.

Finally, the third experience is about fear. I often think about games and how hard it is to feel much genuine risk or more subtle forms of fear than just “oh, shit, Pyramid head is coming!” So anyway, more than once I have found myself deep underground and completely lost, just totally clueless about where I am and where the surface might be (other than “up” obviously). Sometimes it’s fine, because I’m around other people who know what the hell they’re doing, but today I was with someone who wasn’t already familiar with the layout. So there I was, deep, deep in a cave system, separated from my companion and I thought to myself… “I don’t know how to get out of here, and there’s no way out except to walk. I am genuinely lost down here.” Fear might not be quite the right word, but I felt an impressive unease settle over me with the the realness of being lost in this way – lost in an environment that isn’t designed for my to find my bearings, and environment that doesn’t care in the slightest. (Fortunately, my companion, more competent than myself, helped find our way out so I didn’t die underground.)

These three little stories help to illustrate some of the impressive variation in experience that a game like Minecraft can offer, and for which I am extremely grateful.

25 October 2010
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