You wake up alone on an island. You desperately begin punching a tree. This, my friends, is the opening to every game of Minecraft ever played, and if you know your priorities to survive your first night, you know that this tree punching is absolutely vital. You punch a tree to get wood, you make planks from wood, you craft sticks from planks, you set up a crafting table, you make some basic wooden tools, you start mining stone, you make stone tools, you find a vein of coal, you mine that coal, you dig your way into the side of a hill, you light the living crap out of that hole with torches you make from the sticks and the coal, you seal it off and you wait until morning. Outside, you will hear the hellish moans of monsters from beyond the grave, but right now, those aren’t your concern. Your concern, right now, this very second, is punching that tree with your entire everything.
Minecraft is the latest indie darling to make like Arcade Fire and become massively popular for what an outside observer can see as no particular reason. It’s been compared to Lego, in that it gives you the same sense of creativity and accomplishment. However, Lego never made me question my safety, or wake up alone, outside, at night, with an archer from hell attempting to take my life about twenty feet away on the beach while all of my stuff remains safe in my apartment in the side of a hill. I’m glad I left the door closed, but we’ll get to why I’m stuck in a literal four block deep hole in the ground with a block of dirt over my head on the beach shortly.
Dave asks me if I’ve made a door yet. I have not. So, I make a door from six planks–figured that one out easy–and look for a place to install it in my hidey-hole. See, I’ve been in this hole all of last night with no sleep, so now I’m working on the ground floor and expansion. I’ve lit it from the top down with torches, so there should be no dark spots anywhere. I see that it’s morning outside by the sounds of exploding zombies, and set out to place my door. And just as I’m considering my exterior decorating options, I hear a little ‘tsssssssssss’ sound coming from ab–WHAM and that’s my first encounter with a creeper. You know, I actually don’t know whether that creeper was above or behind me, but I do know two things: one, it only took half a heart off my health when it exploded–I know right?!–and two, it really helped with my interior decorating! I mean, now I have a patio!
See, Minecraft isn’t your usual creativity toy, like Lego. Minecraft also has some rudimentary elements of gameplay, those being the enemies that spawn at night and do their best to make your life a living hell. Whereas other games might rate your progress, Minecraft doesn’t even give you a score. You don’t have any game objectives, so technically, any style of play is perfectly alright. You want to dig to the center of the planet for gold, just to make it all into a gigantic golden statue of yourself? You can do that. You want to open a gateway to hell and fight flying jellyfish looking creatures that shoot fireballs at you? Surprisingly enough, that’s not off the menu. And if you want to dig a hole into a mountain, make your bed and shut yourself off from the world, you can do that too. So there, Dave. I’m playing it right.
And indeed, within three in-game days of booting up Minecraft, I was a shut-in. I don’t know what day it is, now, but I know approximately where I stood fewer than 24 in-game hours ago: I was standing in my apartment in the side of a mountain that I’d dug into a nice cozy cave. Dave had urged me several days ago to make a bed. “It lets the nights go by faster,” said Dave, “and acts as a spawn point in case you die.” I was a new player to this game, so I knew I was going to die. It’s not like I’m some ultra-runner who can be totally boss at this from the moment I arrive–no, I was going to make some stupid mistakes and die. Everybody does. And within an in-game week, I’d made that legendarily stupid mistake. And that is why, faithful readers, I’m currently writing to you from the bottom of a four block hole in the beach literally under my feet at my initial spawn point.
Y’see, I put my bed under my stairs. And I know you’re thinking “Okay, fine”. Cos that’s what Dave said when I told him about this. I put my bed under my stairs and went about clearing out ground in my cave. I’d become a shut-in, you see, because there were creepers about 20 feet away from my front door, where I was digging so I could have an unspoiled view of the ocean. Chad told me to dig out of my house and make a back door. Then draw them away, run very very far down a tunnel to my original house, and leave them to despawn hundreds of feet away from me. And indeed, that seemed like the perfect plan, so I set about trying to pickaxe my way through the stone in my house. I’d cleared away a lot of stone and thought it was time for bed. Night had fallen, you see.
When in the middle of the night, I woke up with a god damn zombie on my stupid head. Cos the head of my bed was under the stairs, which was dark. A zombie spawned. On my head. In my house. I killed it with the pickaxe, but the damage done was too great, and when I fell for some unrelated reason from the second floor of my house, I died and respawned at the beach.
Where I am now sitting with a block of dirt over my head. Waiting for sunrise.
So that’s Minecraft in a nutshell: perfectly good creativity toy until a zombie spawns on your head.