Minecraft is a game whose immense success is puzzling to those who know nothing about it. One look at it reveals the underwhelming simple pixilated graphics, which stand in stark opposition to shiny high-resolution look of today’s most popular video games. And yet despite this Minecraft has already sold over 3,800,000 copies, with another 8000 being sold per day currently, and it hasn’t even been officially released. So what is it about this game that makes it so popular? What is it about it that transcends its aesthetics?
Minecraft is a game set in a vast world where everything is subdivided into blocks. At its most basic, it is like a virtual “Lego.” These blocks can be built and destroyed, allowing for huge structures set in the mountains, fields, forests, anywhere you want to build, of its randomly generated terrain. The terrain goes on for 12,000 km in each direction, 64 blocks above ground and 64 below, one block being a cubic meter. This free building is known as “creative mode”. However there is also survival mode. In this mode you are dropped into the world with absolutely nothing, left to survive in the lands. And survival isn’t easy, because when it gets dark, the monsters come out, and a Minecraft day is 7 minutes. Not to mention you need to eat, or starve to death. Luckily, there is an abundance of food sources, like animals and plants. But how do you acquire these things? That’s where crafting comes in. By combining different items in a grid you can create new items like tools, weapons and torches. Later on, you can make building materials, machines, and even potions. There are 200 crafting recipes currently. As for acquiring these items, some are dropped by animals or monsters when killed, some are ore like iron and diamonds, that are buried deep underground. This is where the mining comes in. Digging tunnels through rock, exploring through caves; the dark dangerous underground side of Minecraft is almost a whole other world in itself. Then there are the other worlds or ‘dimensions’, the “Nether”, a hell-like world and the “End”, a strange dark floating island littered with black towers, and Endermen. Building a portal of obsidian accesses the Nether. The End is reachable by finding and repairing an Ender portal, which are only found in the rare underground “strongholds’. Just describing everything within this game would take countless hours; the Minecraft “wiki” has over 1000 published pages covering the content.
Everything I just described is some of the compelling aspects that make Minecraft seem like another, very real world. These are perhaps some of the reasons why this game pulls you in, makes you feel afraid to die. I propose to look at the aspects of the World that houses Minecraft, and why it acts so well as a virtual reality. One of the main points will be how a randomly generated world can seem so realistic even despite its graphics, and why a game such as this can give hours upon hours of game play without there actually being any real objectives. Within context of the actual World, I will look at how the terrain emulates real terrain, how weather, day/night cycles create ambience and how the various animals and monsters (even NPCs) act to fill the world with life. I will also look at how the game play and survival, items and structure building add to the feeling of accomplishment that makes the living in this game-world exciting, and inherently creates motivation through self-made mini goals. Finally, I will also look at how the player mortality within the game, and in particular in ‘hardcore-mode’ creates an emotional attachment for the player to his/her avatar within the game.
To briefly go into detail about each subject: The terrain is generated to copy real life, and fantasy in some cases. It is vast, and more importantly, you will never see the exact same feature twice. This, and the fact that it is completely destructible; by the blocks acting like ‘Voxels’ gives the world a level of depth and realism that is never seen in other games. While in a game like “Call of duty” for instance, the detail is more realistic tenfold, but the maps all have borders, and you always know that beneath that amazingly realistic terrain is absolutely nothing. Or behind that un-openable door is a blank void. In this way, Minecraft is a model for future games, where eventually, what is now cubic meter blocks will some day be microscopic particles. Effectively this would create a world indistinguishable form reality, as seen in the movie “The Matrix”. On the subject of the weather and lighting, these are aspects that create ambience. The lighting specifically though simple, changes signaling a non-static world. Times passes. Even when you’ve been mining underground for a long time you could emerge not knowing whether it was day or night up there. The weather: rain is loud when you are in your house during a storm, snow physically blankets the terrain. Lightning bolts even start fires. The life within Minecraft: animals are persistent, meaning that a certain number spawn in an area, and once they are dead, they are dead. Of you want more you have to breed them, or travel to find more. This encourages farming. Strange squids populate the water. Despite being simple and blocky, they almost have personality in the way they look at you when you pass, or bounce around freely outside.
I will expand upon all these aspects greatly going into depth on their aesthetics and implementation in the game and how this adds to the feeling of an emulation of life, without the use of realistic visuals. I will also look at the philosophical aspect of a virtual reality, and how Minecraft has aspects of that which bring us closer to true imitation of real life, through making the player feel mortality within the game space.