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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Mine, all mine: game builds worlds”

    Mine, all mine: game builds worlds

    In the ’90s it cost us five weeks allowance for a bucket of 500 Lego bricks, and we considered ourselves lucky.

    Today it costs $13 for software that spawns an endless number of 3D worlds, made of an endless number of reusable blocks — and we don’t have to worry about getting grounded because the dog choked on one.

    Children of the digital age have created a new means of expressing unbound architectural creativity, and it’s called Minecraft. It is a sandbox game in the most literal sense — that is, you can construct a twenty-story sand castle complete with gates, spires, waterfalls, floating bridges and a golden altar to Poseidon (why not?) within the first few minutes of playtime.

    Minecraft is the brainchild of independent Swedish developer Mojang Specifications, and though it’s been available in some form for about a year, it has just recently seen an explosion in popularity. According to stats on the developer’s website, Minecraft currently has about 900,000 registered users. Over 250,000 bought the game for $13, mostly in the last few weeks. That’s about $3.25 million made so far, and that number is quickly growing.

    The surge in popularity even crashed the Minecraft.net server last weekend. In response, Mojang temporarily made the game free, creating an even bigger download spike. In corny metaphorical terms, the vein is being mined so deep that the tunnel has collapsed. In the span of just a few weeks, Minecraft became too popular to sustain itself.

    But now the ball is rolling again, and more gamers — both the casual and the die-hard — are picking up the pixilated pickaxe every day. And who can blame them? The game takes about five minutes to download, 20 seconds to load up and one mouse-click to become totally entrancing.

    Minecraft starts in medias cube. You take control of an anonymous avatar stranded in a vast and unique block landscape. Each new game generates a world at random, equipped with skyscraping mountains, sprawling oceans, subterranean death mazes and the occasional cow or pig hopping along in careless, blocky bliss.

    Players begin with no weapon, no map and no objective. They soon realize that their digital god gave them digital hands for a reason, and the pummeling of pre-rendered terra firma begins. One mouse click will tell the avatar to “”attack”” a selected block, breaking it down into a pocketsize version that can be reused at the player’s liking. Eventually, different combinations of blocks can be synthesized to craft other blocks. And that’s it. That’s the game.

    Different modes provide different challenges. In single player survival, brick-bodied zombies and skeletons come out at night to feast on the unprepared architect. Infinite Development mode creates maps that literally go on forever. Minecraftforum.net offers thousands of fan-sponsored servers to foster online multiplayer games. Some online worlds are devoted to unrestricted building, others allow player vs. player sieges. Some are narrowed to specific themes, including “”Apocalyptic Role Play”” and the intriguing “”Bootytown.””

    But mostly, the new Minecraft convert will spend lots and lots of time digging. There is a zen to this one-click gameplay. Minecraft can be booted up between classes or before bedtime for a dose of instant meditation. Break rocks, hack trees and zone out. Chop. Chop. Chop. Your empire has just grown.

    And then there’s the building. The player’s inventory becomes a dual toolbox and toybox. Blocks can be stacked and removed ad infinitum, allowing for some architectural marvels that the lousy laws of physics always ruined for ambitious Legophiles. Hovering islands, giant calculators (that actually work, astonishingly) and scaled 3D models of Earth are among a few of the wonders that the Minecraft community has been churning out.

    In a game with no ostensible goal outside the player’s personal vision, even a gruesome death by zombie holds few consequences. Just respawn, and dig some more.

    Depending on your mindset, this lack of purpose might make Minecraft the perfect casual game or a perfect waste of time. For those with the appropriately quixotic personality (you know, the sort who thought about killing themselves over “”Avatar””), it has truly obsessive potential. But for how long?

    As sales go up and server populations grow, the game is moving closer and closer to a massively multiplayer experience — World of Minecraft, maybe. The last decade of gaming has showed the world that there are no bounds to a determined gamer’s desire to outshine other determined gamers. In an infinitely stretching world that is literally shaped by the player’s relationship to it, unending war between block empires seems inevitable.

    So as you enter the fast growing community that is Minecraft, remember this. You did not inherit this digital world from your ancestors; you are borrowing this digital world from your children. Please mine responsibly.

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