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Attempting to answer the big question: What is Minecraft about?

When talking about Minecraft, people tend to ask the same question: ‘What exactly is Minecraft?’ Sometimes they rephrase themselves by saying: ‘What is Minecraft about?’

The answer remains very much the same. Minecraft isn’t really about anything at all. As a first person, sandbox-based, open world game, Minecraft has no particular narrative. The gameplay is, at its core, about learning how to harness and make use of the world around the player, though much of the rest of any particular session in the Minecraft client stems from emergent gameplay on behalf of individual players or player groups. Players choose roles that relate to the needs and desires they have created from being inside the space, ranging from explorer to miner to master architect and onward.

Building the initial house. Sprawling maps and biomes to explore.
Mining for a needed resource: coal.    Farming for wheat.

For more information about Minecraft, including links to resources and content, visit our Minecraft page!

Survival Mode and The First Night

When a player wants to begin a new game of Minecraft on the PC, they are given a choice of whether they want to play in Survival Mode or in Creative Mode. Survival Mode is exactly what it sounds like; the player is tasked with surviving in a harsh world. Dropping into a random location with no items, players must use the resources around them to their advantage. Ideally, a player will create some type of shelter, as simple or complex as they are compelled to make it, so that they have a place to stay safe at nightfall when monsters come out to attack.

Though surviving the first night is considered the greatest challenge the game has to offer, once a player has a shelter of some kind and their first night has been completed, their gameplay can blossom forth freely from there. Many choose to live in the same shelter forever, some choose to move around and explore. Others try to build the most impressive houses, farms, and the like, while others take the challenge of surviving more freely, playing on Peaceful difficulty to remove monsters from the game. At the other end of the spectrum are those that regularly play on Hardcore mode, where a player must constantly be mindful of their every move; upon their death, they are unable to be revived and the world is deleted.

Want some ideas for your first house? Check out this tutorial video!

Minecraft Minutiae

  • Mechanics: Minecraft offers some interesting sub-mechanics that allow players to be more creative when they decide what role they want to play in the world around them. Mining—a mechanic for which the game was named—plays a large part in the finding of valuables and resources to better the experience of the game. Farming exists in this community as well; flora, on the whole, is renewable and often craftable into seeds and plantables for easy farming. Out in the wilderness players can find old ruins, abandoned mineshafts, and sprawling, deep caves concealing dungeons and endless valuables and mining opportunities. In Creative Mode, all of these features remain, though players are given access to every block and object available in the game. Along with the ability to fly, making it easy to reach both high and long distances, players have ease of access to build to their heart’s desire, with no sort of limitation on their creativity.
  • World Types: Though Minecraft does not have a narrative or a storyline, the game offers some implicit goals which players can meet if they choose. Surviving the first night is a ubiquitous one; much of the online discussion around Minecraft includes a reference to stories of surviving the first night in a new world or difficulty level. Players are able to construct portals to transport to the Hellish Nether realm; a fire and lava filled play-space inhabited by sprawling dungeons to explore and rare resources to mine for. The game also has an end, to an extent; after enough exploration and gameplay, players can open portals to The End, in which they fight the game’s definitive boss: The Ender Dragon.
  • Emergent Gameplay and Multiplayer Servers:  As players come to know and understand the game, they come to find what in the world makes them the happiest, be it exploring, building, or even creating their own narratives with the use of player written signs and books within the game. Minecraft also boasts a thriving community of multiplayer servers, where players can roleplay and take on a job or role in a functioning economy and society, where they can replicate landmarks and settings from the real world and from movies, books, television, and other games in teams, or just enjoy the space as a group, in the same or similar ways that they would do so playing singleplayer. With Minecraft, and other games like it, it becomes easy to connect and play in the space just as one would in real life with friends both local and far away.

So, What is Minecraft?

It becomes so that when someone asks about what Minecraft is or what it can do, the answer is always, ‘anything.’ Minecraft merely offers tools for play. Some might consider it to be a poor stimulus for creativity and learning, however, it is little different than playing with wooden building blocks. Play is never just about the blocks; rather, the game and play comes from what a player does with them. Wood becomes castles and dream houses, as much as Minecraft blocks become homes, fortresses, and onward to infinity. As players build, they may come to learn about design, about architecture and construction techniques. As they explore, they may come to write narratives, to re-enact plots and form new identities and interests. As they farm, they may come to understand important concepts about sustainability and resource renewal. Minecraft encourages the creativity of all of its users, from children to adults alike, offering mechanics with which players are able to make their own meaning and learn implicitly while they play.

Perhaps, in this light, it is better to say that Minecraft is as much a game as it is a tool; it is a place for imagination, creativity, and learned play to coexist in harmony with each individual player’s unique wants and desires. Each new world created brings new challenges and new ideas to the player’s attention, with new play to experiment with and new scenarios to experience.