Since its initial release in 2009, Minecraft has matured to the point of being a platform for people who want to make art and also for people who want to make money. Phil Edwards of Vox highlights some of the beautiful structures being created by Minecraft players (some of which are collected in this coffee table book called Beautiful Minecraft) and the challenges faced by creators trying to make money within a game owned by a large company.
The creativity “Creative Mode” enables is obvious in the work that talented designers produce. Sometimes Minecraft artists will create interactive worlds that replicate historic events; other times, Minecraft’s many cubes coalesce into a sculptural image, the same way pointillism’s dots disappear to form a picture. These images and worlds can be eerie, magical, and surprisingly beautiful.
But perhaps most surprising of all, Minecraft worlds can also be a business. Companies like Blockworks make maps for private Minecraft servers (computer networks that host Minecraft games), and they also occasionally design maps in collaboration with institutions and companies like Minecraft owner Microsoft.
BlockWorks — company tagline: “creative Minecraft solutions” — has done some really fantastic designs for themselves and their clients.
Clive Thompson’s article for the NY Times about Minecraft captures what many players, parents, and teachers find exciting about the game that seems like more than just a game.
Presto: Jordan had used the cow’s weird behavior to create, in effect, a random-number generator inside Minecraft. It was an ingenious bit of problem-solving, something most computer engineers I know would regard as a great hack — a way of coaxing a computer system to do something new and clever.
In addition to learning about logic and computer science, various educators have also touted Minecraft’s lessons in civics, design, planning, and even philosophy. If you’ve ever seen little kids playing with blocks, you’ve noticed that some of those potential lessons there too.
Block-play was, in the European tradition, regarded as a particularly “wholesome” activity; it’s not hard to draw a line from that to many parents’ belief that Minecraft is the “good” computer game in a world full of anxiety about too much “screen time.”
Among the parents I know, Minecraft is not classified as a game…it’s very much tied to education.1 And when listening to the kids and their friends talk about it, if you can get past the endless chatter about zombies and diamond armor, their understanding of the whole world of possibilities is quite sophisticated.
And I can’t resist commenting on this little aside about Lego:
Today many cultural observers argue that Lego has moved away from that open-ended engagement, because it’s so often sold in branded kits: the Hogwarts castle from “Harry Potter,” the TIE fighter from “Star Wars.”
Until very recently, I was in that camp of cultural observers, frustrated by the brands and paint-by-number aspect of contemporary Lego kits. But my kids play with Lego a ton and I’ve observed plenty of open-ended engagement going on. Sure, they sit for 20-30 minutes putting the kits together using directions, but after they’re “done”, the real play begins. Ollie’s Star Wars ships dock at Minna’s birthday party. Soon, beach goers are wearing Stormtrooper helmets and Vader’s eating cupcakes. None of the “finished” products survive more than a few minutes without being augmented or taken apart to make something different. Ships take on wheels from previous kits and become delivery trucks (with cool laser cannons). Parts from every station, house, vehicle, and landscape get remixed into whatever’s necessary for their dramatic play. It’s like jazz with injection molded plastic.
Chris Ware’s cover for this week’s issue of the New Yorker featuring a Minecraft playdate is spot on.
Clara has spent hours, days, weeks of the past two years building and making navigable block worlds fuelled from the spun-off fizz of her accreting consciousness: giant ice-cream-layered auditoriums linked to narrow fifty-foot-high hallways over glass-covered lava streams, stairs that descend to underground classrooms, frozen floating wingless airplanes, and my favorite, the tasteful redwood-and-glass “writer’s retreat.” (It has a small pool.) She made a meadow of beds for my wife-a high-school teacher who craves unconsciousness-and a roller coaster to take her there. Though Clara mostly “plays” Minecraft by herself, the game allows her friends to drop into these worlds, too, and I’ve even spent some strange virtual afternoons as a floating block-self, guided by my angelic block-hammer-wielding block-daughter, zipping around a dreamscape that feels, really, less like life and maybe more like death, but in a sweet sort of way. If architecture somehow mirrors the spaces we carve in our memories and make in our minds, then something pretty interesting is going on here.
Ollie wanted a Minecraft playdate for his birthday, basically him and three or four of his friends sitting around playing the game on various devices. We managed to talk him into some good old fashioned real-world bowling instead, but I doubt that will work next year.
In the time it’s taken George RR Martin to complete zero books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, a group of dedicated fans has created much of the kingdom of Westeros in Minecraft. Here’s a quick video tour:
The Wall is the most visually impressive element:
According to the FAQ, the in-game map is currently the size of Los Angeles, about 500 square miles. (via devour)
Mojang’s popular game Minecraft has sold over 54 million copies. But that, and the $2.5 billion that Microsoft just paid to acquire the company, dramatically understates the impact that this game has had on [Dave Pell’s] third grader and his friends. They all wear Minecraft gear and watch Minecraft videos on YouTube. And several of them completed a week of Minecraft Camp over the summer. The way I see it, $2.5 billion just became the most anyone has ever spent on a babysitter.
The Verge: Why parents are raising their kids on Minecraft.
Markus Persson, the founder of Mojang (known as Notch), explains why he’s selling — and leaving — the company: “It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity.”
“Minecraft is a game about creation,” writes Robin Sloan. “But it is just as much a game about secret knowledge.”
There’s no official manual, so the game’s teeming network of devotees, young and old, proper publishers and web-based wildcats, have worked to create them by the score. Not just guides, but wikis, videos, hints, tricks. The rules can only be discovered by observation, reasoning, and experiment. Like science — or magic:
Imagine yourself a child. Imagine yourself given one of these books: not merely a story of exploration and adventure, but a manual to such.
Imagine yourself acquiring the keys to a mutable world in which you can explore caves, fight spiders, build castles, ride pigs, blow up mountains, construct aqueducts to carry water to your summer palace… anything.
Imagine yourself a child, in possession of the secret knowledge.
Maybe the most interesting thing about this, Robin writes, is how the game “calls forth” the books — another kind of magic. Is this a function of how much Minecraft players love the game? Or is that arcane, indirect, networked, bottomless well of knowledge, asking to be impossibly filled, what they love about it?