Minecraft: Why do we play?

So I wasn’t sure what to do with this blog post. I wanted to write a Minecraft post, showing some of the awesome stuff we in the Medialab are doing, but I also wanted to give my thoughts on why Minecraft is so successful. Two blogs then, the first, some thoughts on why Minecraft has become so popular and the second, a showcase of the great Medialab talent.

If you’ve been keeping up with gaming news, you would probably have heard of Minecraft by now. You might have visited the Minecraft website, watched the video and wondered what all the fuss was about. Without playing it, you might have noticed the 8 bit graphics and immediately be put off.

So why do we play? Why has an indie game with a single developer now sold over 520,000 units and counting? The reason: gameplay.

While I believe that graphics is what initially draws many players to a game, a brilliant game is so much more than its graphics. At the core of a brilliant game, is gameplay. It provides the game with substance and longevity. This is a lesson I’ve also had to relearn.

So, what is it about the gameplay of Minecraft that’s so addictive? One might think it’s not doing too great in the gameplay department either. It doesn’t have any meaningful conflict, there are no quests or missions in the game, which also means there is no way to complete it.

You start out with your bare hands in a very large world. You dig in soil and sand and chop trees. Soon you learn how to fashion tools to improve the speed of these tasks. With the new tools you can go underground, mine rock and find many useful minerals. Why would you want to do this? Well, all the base items can be crafted to make ladders, boats, carts, glass and buckets, to name a few. With these items you can build a house, a castle, an underwater lair, the Starship Enterprise or a 16 bit ALU. The choice is yours. The picture at the top shows some of the cool things created on the MIH Media Lab Minecraft server.

You might be asking what the point of all this is if there are no quests, skills and experience. What Minecraft does, is stimulate the creative drive and the explorer in all of us. I think back on my days of playing Lego, and find a lot of similarity. When I played Lego, there was no goal, except that which I set for myself. There was no conflict, just creativity. That’s Minecraft. You are given materials and tools, solely to be creative with them. You decide what you want to do, and what you want to do is only limited by your creativity and a limited number of bugs (keeping in mind the game is officially still in Alpha).

The time of Minecraft is also the time of new media. No longer are we just consumers of content, we are now also the creators of it. This is evident from the large number of blogs and tweets flying around the different spheres. The whole point of a game is that it is an interactive entertainment experience where we decide the outcome.

I don’t think that Minecraft would have been the success it has been, if we were not able to brag about our creations using all the forms of new media. Minecraft is fun, because we create and show and stimulate creation in others. Just take a look of the number of Minecraft videos on Youtube. More than 7700 by my last count. It’s not the 640,000 videos of Lego, but it’s growing…

So what do I see as the path forward for this indie marvel? I see the subscriptions growing. I think some conflict, built around the game’s creative nature, would do the game good. Notch has said as much himself. It might make it even more appealing, because a purpose would be given to the creations, other than creation itself.

I also think multiplayer should be improved and made more central to the game, maybe integrated with all the social networking tools we know and love. It should be made as easy as possible to share our creations with all of our friends. It’s a lot more fun to work on a large project with a group of buddies, than to work alone.

So why are you still reading? Stop looking at pictures of the game and start playing it. It’s then when you really start to see the beauty in the 8 bit.


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