Thursday, March 17, 2011

Writer, beware: Minecraft

I've had some trouble getting down to writing business lately, an effect which is directly attributable to my recent purchase of Minecraft. If you haven't heard about Minecraft, presumably you dwell beneath a rather monolithic stone, and how you're reading this blog I am unsure. But the point remains Archimedean: if you're a writer, and you start playing Minecraft, your writing will probably suffer immediately and catastrophically.

This isn't Minecraft's fault. This is Minecraft's virtue. Minecraft is one of the single most creative games I have ever played. In Minecraft, you do, effectively, three things: mine blocks (of stone, wood, or ore); craft those blocks into other blocks or objects; and build insane constructions, like the temple pictured above. Minecraft's cardinal strength, above similar games like Dwarf Fortress, is that it is incredibly simple. You basically just, you know, punch stuff. To craft items, you arrange blocks in patterns that resemble the item you're crafting. Brilliant, right?

Minecraft, of course, is incredibly addicting. Despite the fact that it is all based on blocks (a friend of mine refers to it as "a videogame of Lego"), it is visually stunning, and enormous castles, palaces, railroads, and other objects of childish fantasy abound in the worlds of Minecraft players. Since the game has no definite object, you're free to build whatever you want, for as long as you want, however and whenever you want. This creates a situation where there is always more Minecraft.

This kind of creative game is a bad thing to throw at a writer, mostly because it satisfies a lot of the same needs that writing does - and it's easier. Creatively, the game is very satisfying; even building a little Minecraft house is fun. And doing so is much, much easier than writing a short story, much less a novel.

Nonetheless, I managed to get over my immediate Minecraft obsession quite quickly: about five days. I suspect this is because, having previously played Dwarf Fortress extensively, I quickly realized both the peril and inanity of this kind of game, namely: "Wait a second... I'm not doing anything!" Building things is fun, until you realize you're just building things in a virtual world that will be destroyed or abandoned. Fun, yes, and absolutely unreproachable in that aspect; but Minecraft's boast of "creativity" is deceptive to the True Creative, who makes things that are literally "sandbox." After all, there is no bigger box than the universe into which we've been thrown; and sometimes, videogames are most enjoyable when they are not freeform, but rather propose specific (usually destructive) courses of action that bring us to a Videogame Conclusion.

Still, if you like games, and you need a break from stress - and, let's face it, even writing can be stressful - I recommend Minecraft. It's easy, it's fun, and it's a game without pressure. Plus, it does allow you to flex your creativity and your flair for design in a really beautiful environment. Above and beyond anything else, Minecraft is a worthy game for the beautiful worlds that it generates.

Too bad that, ultimately, they cannot compare with the realm of the mind.



  1. A *lot* of people I know are obsessed with this game to varying degrees. I never cared for sandbox games though (for how do you win?!), and I didn't grow up playing with legos much either.
    I do miss video games, though. Perhaps once I get a job (and ergo: money), I'll buy a used PS2 or something.

  2. This is why I only play games where I am shooting something. Or at least directing something to shoot something. Easier to manage time by mission, in that case.

  3. @Nicholas: Good thing, not to play videogames. I wish I could do it.

    @David: I agree. I like games where I am shooting strategically in particular, like the Close Combat series - or Medieval Total War.

  4. My husband and daughter are playing it, but I don't get the draw. Meaning, i haven't played it enough to get addicted. I don't want another addiction. :)