Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mein Craft

Few people on the gaming globe (it's like the regular globe, just a tad smaller) have yet to hear about Minecraft.  Speaking of globes, the potential maximum size of a Minecraft map would allegedly take around 6 years to traverse on foot.  I am willing to take on this Craft Walk challenge and am currently taking donations on behalf of ClockFund, a non-profit organization dedicated to... well, obviously that is a lie.

Lying aside, Minecraft is fast becoming the definitive PC game of this year and possibly the decade to follow.  While much is made of the adventuring aspects, the griefing, the ingenuity and dedication of certain players (see the functioning 16bit ALU for a frightening example), the vast, complex projects constructed using the myriad tools and editors that have sprung up since MC first appeared, my time with MC has revealed perhaps it's most appealing aspect; teamwork.

I dabbled briefly with the singleplayer to become acquainted with the rules and control scheme, but multiplayer was clearly the budding minecrafter's natural habitat.  Having joined a server of like-minded types, we set about creating an environment that lacked any kind of architectural consistency.  Castles here, sunspheres there, an impossibly high diving board and a tree that touched the world's invisible ceiling.  None of it really fit; these would not be 'council approved' constructions.  I had built my own little castle and continue to work on it but the most interesting and discussion-worthy experience I have so far is interaction with fellow crafters.  Myself and one other local decided to collaborate on a rail line, one that would run a complete circuit of the inconsistent township, sort of a sightseeing venture.

He began to dig a trench on an island beach, close to where his own personal project was located, then began excavating in earnest.  In the meantime I set up a smelter and workbench to facilitate the construction process.  We communicated via the in-game chat function and pretty soon had created a length of track that, encased in glass, dipped below the water line and continued on under water until it reached the land mass opposite.  Visible from the surface, it was quite pretty.  The sense of achievement derived from completing that particular project easily equaled and probably surpassed that which I'd felt when creating my own personal project.  My interest in collaboration and the nature of collaborative spaces probably was cause for deeper analysis than "well, that was fun", but collaborating on and completing a project in this kind of space was not something I had experienced before, at least not virtually.

This, to me, is Minecraft's real hook.  Investment of time and effort to create something impressive in single player mode is doubtless satisfying, but that shared experience ensures a more emotionally resonant experience for the players that contributed.  Minecraft's gameplay can quite rightly be labeled as emergent, but this emergence is creative and collaborative, surely worth far more to the player.

Few games (if any) are like Minecraft and many games are not designed to be used in such a way, but give players a tool-set, a space in which to use those tools and the capacity to collaborate with other players and voila, remarkable things happen.  A quick glance at youtube shows any number of Minecraft videos, many of them concerning group projects (notably this one).  People, generally, enjoy working with other people and further to that, people enjoy creating with other people.  This is not exactly a new concept for game developers, but never has it been so starkly highlighted as it is in Minecraft.

The creative act is highly addictive.  Minecraft gives you a relatively simple building system (one consistent unit of measurement) and the capacity to do virtually anything with with it.  Throw in other people who can build with you in real time and hours, days, weeks are lost creating something that has little relevance (beyond youtube) outside of the space in which it was created, yet is maddeningly addictive and very rewarding.

Whether Markus Persson thought so deeply about the multiplayer experience or not, his game allows free expression of creativity through a shared experience and the importance of that to those that play Minecraft is utterly evident.

- Greg

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