Thursday, October 7, 2010

Visions of the Past, Present, and Future in 'Minecraft'

My latest PopMatters post is up, and it’s about Minecraft.

It’s always difficult to analyze a game during the height of its popularity. Whether they are critical darlings like Limbo or commercial behemoths like Grand Theft Auto IV, many games enjoy a brief moment in the sun in which they are hailed as the “Next Big Thing.” Inevitably, the next “Next Big Thing” comes along and turns what was once heralded as a revolution into a footnote.

I’ll be interested to see what happens to Minecraft. Like the rest of the gaming world, I’ve been fascinated by the game. It’s not everyday that you see a game released with no marketing go on to such popularity. The amount of popularity and creativity poured into the game is staggering, and the fact that people still seem to be finding new ways of using it is equally impressive. I’m was looking forward to the day when someone creates a working game of Minecraft inside of Minecraft.

Whether or not people are still playing and talking about the game years from now, I think Minecraft is a useful game for showcasing the current state of the medium as a whole. It’s a game whose difficulty and open-ended nature is reminiscent of both text adventures and the most modern sand box games. It’s a game driven largely by a single person, but Markus Persson is hardly cut off from the world, slaving away in isolation. In a time where the Internet offers instant access to every scrap of information about a game, Minecraft still holds mysteries.

Minecraft might be a sign of the future or it might be just another flash in the pan, albeit a brilliant one. Regardless, it offers a great synthesis of old design habits, new trends, and hints at what the future may hold.


  1. Minecraft is something of the modern version of MUD.
    Even if people might argue that modern MUDs like Nethack or Dwarf Fortress are, they're wrong.
    Minecraft is someting amazingly spectacular that puts the player front center.
    Minecraft multiplayer is really like Inception - the game. Or at least, really close since the players can only build the dream, but not *do* much else (not that that's even necessary to make Minecraft one great experience and a massive timesink).

  2. Hey SebWuepper,

    Thanks for stopping by! I like your Inception analogy, although now I'm terrified that my Minecraft game might just be a part of an even larger Minecraft game...

    I haven't played Nethack or Dwarf Fortress, but I'm interested in what it is about Minecraft that makes it the more modern MUD experience. What does it do better than those (and other) games?

  3. I've only dabbled with MineCraft, but to me, it shows that player autonomy and creativity are still alive and well in gaming. If anything, it's benefitting greatly from a marked lack of player control in modern blockbuster games.

  4. Hey Tesh,

    Thanks for stopping by as always!

    I'm starting to wonder if the extremely player-driven games and the extremely authored games are pulling in the opposite directions so hard that it leaves little room for a middle way?

    It's a half-baked theory as of now, but maybe there's something to it?

  5. I think there's room for great games in the middle, but yes, you're right, and I do believe that the pull to polarize in one direction or the other makes game production easier. There are a lot of "what if"s in the middle space, and planning contingencies for player agency is time consuming and hard to bugproof.

    Railroading players or making them do everything makes games a lot easier to actually get done and in the hands of customers. When the business of game design exerts its bottom line influence, it's understandable that devs would take the easier paths.