The Minecraft Renaissance

Alex Tyndall

Minecraft has increasingly been growing in popularity, despite already being a worldwide phenomenon. Alex dives into the reasoning behind this as she explores ‘the game that fills a block-sized hole in our hearts’.

I was first introduced to Minecraft at the tender, impressionable age of 12, just as I was entering secondary school. As I remember, version 1.4 – or “The Scary Update” had just been released. For the first year and a half, I had permission from my friend to hijack his account once my free trial had ended.  I used his game to get to grips with the basic mechanics (a simple WASD movement system, left click to attack, right-click to build), creating crude, oak-log mansions and moats of lava on a customisable super-flat world.

By this point, Minecraft had been available for less than two years, the official game having initially released in November 2011, with development beginning way back in 2009. This year, the little cuboid game that fills a block-sized hole in our hearts will be turning ten years old. Happy Birthday for then, Minecraft.

It’s safe to say this game has been in my life for a while now.

This “addiction” reared its head once again throughout lockdown

Quite frankly, it’s addictive. There’s something immensely relaxing, pleasantly nostalgic about logging in via that grass-block icon and settling into the rhythm of mining, fighting, surviving, building. This “addiction” reared its head once again throughout lockdown – as was, and remains to be, the case for many people.

But what exactly is it about Minecraft that makes it the best-selling game of all time, beating other iconic titles such as GTA V and even Tetris (which has been a staple of the gaming world since 1984)?

Firstly, buying Minecraft is a one-time fee (unless you wish to install the separate operating system of ‘Realms’, which I’ll come back to later). All updates are installed automatically, but you still have the option to change between them to access old content. Additionally, Minecraft is playable across the majority of platforms, albeit in different ways. Java, Bedrock, and Pocket edition are arguably the most recognisable Minecraft editions, spanning across computers, phones, iPads, X-Boxes and PlayStations, various Nintendo devices, as well as venturing into the world of VR. And, as long as players use the same edition as one another, then cross-console gameplay becomes available.

On top of that, multiple game modes and difficulty options exist within the game, creating dozens of playing patterns catering to the needs and wants of the players. Do you enjoy peacefully building with all of the resources in the game at your disposal? Then creative mode is for you. Do you enjoy a gruelling experience, putting your best survival skills to the test in your quest to reach the endpoint of the game? A ‘Hardcore’ game mode might take your fancy. Or do you prefer to play over thousands of unique servers with your friends? Online Multiplayer exists for that reason.

Even then, it is possible to create your own, free online server through various services if you don’t like the idea of mass-multiplayer servers and instead wish to team up with just a few close friends. If you’d prefer to create something more professional, ‘Realms’ exist, with the opportunity for monthly payments to create a secure, protected server for you and up to ten friends to play on.

The ‘sandbox’ nature of Minecraft allows for infinite exploration of the 81 different biomes (Java edition, for PC; there are 77 biomes for Bedrock edition), leaving each randomly generated world up to the disposal of your imagination.

You can create quite literally anything

This versatile nature of Minecraft has proven to be very favourable not only within the gaming industry but also within governmental and educational institutions. Take, for example, a remarkable case in 2014 where the entirety of Denmark was recreated by the Danish Geodata Agency on a 1:1 scale within Minecraft. Other enormous projects include the recreation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, George R.R. Martin’s Westeros, and even the entire Earth. As seen through the aforementioned projects, Minecraft’s core structure is essentially a 3D modelling software – you can create quite literally anything, including working computers.

Minecraft: Education Edition can be used in schools to help teach maths, science, foreign languages, and even systems such as electronics through the in-game ore ‘red stone’. Moreover, in the March of 2020, The Uncensored Library server went live, featuring articles from five different journalists worldwise whose works would otherwise have been censored by their governments. 

It’s easy to see the appeal of such an enormous, relatively inexpensive game.

But that’s not all. Even without owning a copy of the game oneself, it is still possible for people to enjoy Minecraft and come together as a community due to the presence of platforms such as YouTube and Twitch, spawning a plethora of content creators and Let’s-Play channels that have been around since Minecraft’s conception.

Storytelling in Minecraft has always been a key component for such channels, but recent streamers have taken this concept to a whole new level, creating intricate story-lines through scripted and unscripted videos that span over several ‘seasons’, perspectives, and narratives. This video, created by the official YouTube Culture and Trends channel, shows how servers such as the Dream SMP have changed and developed online storytelling, creating hundreds of hours of content to explore and engage with, incorporating dozens of different content-creators.

Many of these creators have made Minecraft their entire careers and continue to innovate and expand the game. Having grown up through what was considered the ‘Golden Age’ of Minecraft online, it’s amazing to see how many creators are still making videos. People such as CaptainSparklez (i.e. Jordan Maron), or DanTDM (i.e. Daniel Middleton), who started their channels in 2010 and 2012, respectively – and compare them to the newer creators such as ‘Dream’, who created his YouTube channel in 2014, but did not begin uploading regularly until 2019, when he rapidly gained popularity.

The sheer size and flexibility of the game mean that it can appeal to anyone at all

Whilst Minecraft might appear to be solely for children or young adults, the sheer size and flexibility of the game mean that it can appeal to anyone at all, regardless of age, gender, or background. And that’s only concerning ‘vanilla’ Minecraft. Thousands of mods have been developed which, when downloaded, can change the game, even more, creating new challenges or opportunities. Not to mention all of the books, player-manuals, and toys that are also released into the real world, making Minecraft a tangible concept, not just a digital experience.

Mojang, Minecraft’s parent company, continue to bring new ideas to the table, developing the game more and more with every update. With anticipation building in preparation for the release of the official Caves and Cliffs update, whereby world generation will be greatly improved and new boss-mobs will be implemented, it seems that Minecraft is reaching bigger and better heights than ever before.

I doubt my obsession with this blocky game is going away anytime soon

Each update brings with it a new generation of players – people who are unaware of a time when there was no swimming animation ) and you just awkwardly ran in the water) or when there were no colour differences between grass blocks in different biomes – but maybe that’s for the best.  

There is so much more that Minecraft has to offer, and I doubt my obsession with this blocky game is going away anytime soon. For now, I get to watch my little brother experience the same joys I had at his age… and all too quickly come to realise he’s way better at the game than I ever was.

Alex Tyndall

Featured Image courtesy of Vahid Kazemi on Flickr. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article video 1 courtesy of CaptainSparklez via @youtube.com. No changes were made to these videos.

In-article video 2 courtesy of sheeprampage via @youtube.com. No changes were made to these videos.

In-article image courtesy 1 of SkyNitro on Flickr. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article image courtesy 2 of steamXO on Flickr. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

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