Press Start

Video game news, reviews and commentary with Gazette reporter Jake Magee.

Press Start: How 'Minecraft' captured a generation

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Jake Magee
April 22, 2015

I remember the first time I ever tried “Minecraft.”

I'd heard about it through various forums and sites like Reddit. I'd seen pictures of people's impressive creations. Knowing the alpha version of the game (“Minecraft” was in beta at the time) was free on the developer's website, I downloaded it immediately.

I was blown away.

“Minecraft” is so simple in concept and design that it's a wonder no one ever thought of it before. Imagine a digital world of Lego pieces designed like rocks, dirt and wood and you'll have an accurate vision of what “Minecraft” is.

Of course, if you're reading this, you've probably played “Minecraft” already, seeing as the developer Mojang has sold more than 19 million copies of the PC and Mac versions alone to date (the voxel-based game is also a best-seller on iOS, Android, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PS Vita).

The alpha was pretty bare bones, even for a game as simplistic as “Minecraft.” With an unlimited source of blocks in my inventory, I set to building. I created roller coasters and pixel art and houses. In only a few minutes with the beta, I realized I had to buy the game, so I did.

The beta version felt like a different game. Randomly generated worlds, enemies (called “mobs”), a day/night cycle and a whole new slew of blocks to build with made the world and my imagination come alive. I think the first time I sat down with the beta, I spent eight hours exploring. Time disappeared.

The game got more complex as the developer continued to expand with updates adding everything from pistons to new biomes to even a different dimension dubbed “the nether.” Redstone in particular was a complex addition. Mimicking real-world electrical engineers, skilled “Minecraft” players can use nothing but redstone components to build complex creations including musical instruments, clocks and functioning computers. It's nothing short of amazing.

“Minecraft's” cultural impact can't be understated. The creative game changed the landscape of the industry and birthed a new genre. Copycats sprang up everywhere as no-name developers desperately groped for a sweet taste of Mojang's colossal success. It was around this time that “Let's Plays,” videos of YouTube personalities playing through various games for their audiences' entertainment, became big, and it wouldn't be a stretch to attribute that trend to “Minecraft.” The game was so big that when people weren't playing it, they were reading, writing or watching videos about it. It was a cultural phenomenon.

But despite “Minecraft's” global success, the one demographic Mojang's blockbuster (lol) appeals to most has to be young teens and pre-teens, and I don't think that's by accident.

When I grew up, video games were different from toys. Video games were a way to enjoy someone else's creativity, much the same as reading a book or watching a movie. When I wanted to play or create, I turned to toys and my imagination.

Like any 10-year-old boy, I loved using Lego to make buildings and vehicles and weapons of my own. It was important for my development to build and make something with my own brain and hands. The activity taught me about myself and expanded my thinking.

Kids nowadays are already growing up in a world much different than the one I grew up in. It seems every 12-year-old has a phone and an Instagram account. I know that makes me sound old, but really, I'm OK with it. Times are different now, and there's nothing wrong with that.

And that means that there's nothing wrong with “Minecraft” becoming the new Lego. As great as it is to create physical things in the real world with colorful plastic bricks, “Minecraft” allows for that same type of creativity, only it isn't limited to the number of pieces available or the funds in a child's parents' bank account. (Seriously. Lego are ridiculously overpriced nowadays.)

It's this attractive quality of allowing for maximum creativity while not while not limiting anything else that has captured the imaginations of an entire generation. And it's wonderful.

“Minecraft” is really the first popular digital product that can be thought of as not only a game but a toy. In fact, “Minecraft” didn't actually present a goal for players to accomplish until several months into its development. I've been playing “Minecraft” for years and I've yet to even truly beat it, and that's because I see “Minecraft” as more of an interactive toy than a traditional game that needs to be conquered or completed.

It might be healthier for a child's eyes to play with Lego than stare at a computer screen and play “Minecraft” for hours, but it's clear that Mojang's game is more than mindless entertainment. Children are using “Minecraft” to learn the basics of computer science, electrical engineering and architecture. Some will even get into game development as a result. Officials in Denmark even had the country completely recreated in “Minecraft” as a learning tool for students.

“Minecraft” is enacting long-lasting good for children and adults alike, and I think it's amazing that games can accomplish such a mutually beneficial thing.

Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing [email protected], leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.

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