Minecraft recently beat out big-budget releases like Portal 2 to win a new arts award at the Gamecity videogame culture festival in Nottingham. It was chosen by a jury of non-gamers including actors, politicians and composers. Despite its simple presentation, it won the award for its focus on creativity.
When you start a “game” of Minecraft, you’re dropped into a randomly generated landscape of coloured blocks. There are no tutorials, and no objectives other than surviving the coming night. The first time you hack at a tree and collect the resulting material, ambitious ideas start forming as you realise what’s possible. What starts out as a building simple log cabin to shelter from the night’s monsters then grows into a giant wooden fortress, complete with a moat, mineshaft, and railway system.
The key to Minecraft is that it makes you earn everything you build. Your stone castle is going to require a lot of rock, which you have to mine from the mountains. Of course, to mine this rock, you’re going to need a pick axe, which initially will be made of wood, but when you figure out how to mine iron ore, will become an iron pick axe. As you hollow out the supplies of rock, you’re going to need to mine downwards to find more, which means building a way to get safely down the mineshaft and torches to provide light and ward off monsters. The work that goes into making even the simplest of things makes them all the more satisfying, and the lingering threat of the night’s exploding cactuses keeps you focussed.
Minecrafthas no ultimate goal, no ending, and no recognition of your progress through the game, but it still manages to be incredibly addictive and rewarding. Everything you do in Minecraft is for its own sake; you mine rock so you can build a home, you have a home so you can survive the night, you survive the night so you can build a bigger, better home. The real reward is surveying you’re creation, turning to your friends and saying, “See that volcano fortress of doom? I built that”.