The Minecraft Paradox – Or Why Minecraft Is Terrible
From the desk of Executive Gaming Editor – George Luis
I will be the first person to admit that I don’t understand the whole Minecraft thing/love affair. Now, before you start mashing your keyboards and posting any angry comments (that happens anyhow) I want to make it clear that I see the reason in why Minecraft does so well and has such a large following, but can it really be considered a game?
This has been something difficult for me to wrap my head around for some time, just what constitutes a game and how does one go about reviewing it? Journalists in our industry all have different rules, or standards, that they use as a basic guide when reviewing products. Things like gameplay, graphics, audio, value, the list goes on and on with each having a different weight depending on what scale you may be using. But on nearly all of these fronts Minecraft fails completely by offering very little to almost nothing.
My biggest issue comes from the games objective, or the fact that there really isn’t one. Now, I can hear you all screaming at your monitors “That’s the point jackass!” (yes I can hear you through your screen) but if there is no definable goals or objectives beyond staying alive at night, then what are we really left with? A giant box of Lego’s is how the game has been pitched to me in the past, but while Lego’s are great do we consider them a game?
Maybe I’m just a little to old to really fully grasp the concept of Minecraft. I don’t have a lot of free time to play games recreationally as much as I did when I was younger, or as much as I would like. When I’m not reviewing games for media outlets and I want to just enjoy myself, I need something with structure and some sort of path to follow. The Minecraft paradox (I should get that added to the DSM handbook) that happens comes down to, in my opinion, simple psychology. We are beings that needs structure, that need defined goals in all aspects of life. It’s the same problem we have with our children. You give a kid whatever they ask for, or act as a friend instead of being a parent and those same kids will grow up to resent you and to not be prepared for the real world.
The same thing, in a way, is the case with Minecraft. If you are generally artistic and have enough time on your hands then that’s fine, but the average player will have no idea what to do and after a short period of time will generally give up on the game. Minecraft has sold an insane amount of copies with its simple premise and very basic gameplay, but I feel strongly that the addition of Creepers and anything that can kill you at night was only implemented because without them, there’s really no game to be had. There is such a thing as too much freedom and I’d really like to know the numbers of players who actually bought Minecraft and gave up on it after only a few sessions.
When I played Minecraft everything felt like a chore, everything required of me was just busy work. Yes, this does happen to a large extent in other games, but the difference is that all that busy work, or grinding, is a means to some sort of end. Become strong enough to wield new armor and weapons, gain access to new locations, save a kingdom, rescue a princess or even kill some pigs because they stole your damn eggs while you were out being terrible bird parents. In Minecraft I did some farming for materials and built a little shack, I then looked at the clock, realized the amount of real world time that had passed and gave up as I had no other goals set out before me.
Yes, I could go and build a giant replica of the Starship Voyager (I tried, got bored, jumped online and bought a model kit instead, built and painted it and now I have a very cool display peice on my bookshelf for all to see), I could model a massive Nintendo Entertainment System and live inside the warm embrace of its cartridge slot, I could recreate the land of Westeros and then… Well, nothing. They joy I would get from doing these things is not nearly worth the time or effort involved in crafting them, and once completed, besides living in them virtually, there is nothing left. There would be much more joy in physically creating these things with real Lego’s and having something to show for all the time and work involved (Did you see the guy that built a life-size X-Wing replica? Thats awesome, and news worthy. Your virtual model of Babylon 5 is not). To be honest I really don’t even think Minecraft has any idea of what it is at its core.
Core Minecraft, or Minecraft Vanilla as many call it, offers the player very little in the way of anything gameplay wise. You mine, and mine, and mine and then maybe build a crude home or carve out some small cave structure. Then you spend dozens of additional hours and mine, and mine, and mine, maybe find some diamonds and create armor and then… Well, that’s really about it. Can that truly be considered not only a game, but one that is deserving of all the accolades? No story, no real conflict, no real sense of reward for anything you do. If I had to use a normal review rubric I would be forced to grade Minecraft quite low, even if I may have enjoyed the games premise.
Now, I understand all of the mods that are out there that change the game and make building and creation a great deal easier, but, and that’s a big BUT, as a reviewer I wouldn’t be able to give the game credit for having a large mod community, at least not enough to give it a 90. Skyrim was great, glitchy and broken at times, but great nonetheless. The mod support for it over the years has kept the game relevant and active, which is an altogether impressive feat for a single player only game. But, (there’s that word again) none of those mods were ever incorporated into any review for Skyrim when the game launched. Yes, we gave praise to the available tools on some occasions, but it was never a feature that moved scores up or down in any meaningful manner.
The standard, basic, out of the box (download) version of the game isn’t that special. It’s like a massive grinding session in World of Warcraft or (Insert your favorite hopefully still active MMO here) only without any reward for it. Imagine for a moment that you purchased a World of Warcraft subscription and spent days upon days mining ore so you could buy that fancy Blood-Panda-Storm-Supernatural plate of We Have All Your Money Suckers and that once you get the armor you can go back to mining to make yourself another piece. Oh, and your only real worry is that a really pissed off Tetris block may nudge you to death. Crappy analogue aside, you can sort of see my point.
If you like Minecraft that’s fantastic and I encourage you to continue to play and create and to keep buying all that Minecraft swag. I am by no means telling you to stop, or to agree with me in my assessment of the game (Lots of you will and you only read my headlines and then post comments) My point in this article isn’t to change your mind in any way, only to maybe give you a different point of view on all this Minecraft love. Minecraft has its place in the world, but I don’t think it can really be classified as a game in the normal sense. Minecraft to me, and will always seem like more of a utility than a full-fledged game. MS Paint is nice and you can do a lot with it, but I wouldn’t call it a game and to me personally Minecraft fits better into that category.