Why I Stopped Playing Minecraft

Tue, Nov 15th, 2011 | 11:52pm

Minecraft may be officially hitting 1.0, but I will not be partaking. I've been clean for a month now.

When my mind wanders, something I'll occasionally find myself wondering is: how would I get on if I were to find myself in an untamed land, with no other people, plopped on some Earthy alien world and left to my own devices? How much science could I remember, or work out through trial and error, to survive? Could I build a kiln and fire pottery? Figure out what to eat and what not to eat without poisoning myself? Make mortar out of quicklime? (Since my occupation is 'game developer' obviously the real answer is "I would die instantly" but this is not the point.)

This particular notch in my brain exists because of a book. Invitation to the Game, a spot of young adult fiction I read in the 6th or 7th grade, tells the story of a group of predictably plucky-but-diverse young adults who are repeatedly called away from their dystopian-future lives to play The Game. It's a simulation, one which drops them into an untamed Earthy land with no other people, and leaves them there until they achieve some abstract and secret objective. (One I recall is triggered after they've simply traveled successfully as a group until they found a particular field of flowers.) Each session is longer than the previous, lasting days and then weeks, requiring them to build shelter and gather food, until (spoiler alert if you're still into young adult fiction) they eventually are never brought back. They reach the conclusion that they've been tested and trained through The Game to colonize a new planet, which they name Prize.

See where this is going?

Minecraft, with its survival and crafting mechanics, and its infinite and unique landscapes literally no one else but me has ever seen before, comes along and fits perfectly into that notch in my brain. It does more than that, though, and it gets at the very reasons why I have the career that I do.

I've begun to understand how artists choose their media. Poets think in phrases, writers in paragraphs, film makers in linear screen space. I find that I think in worlds, in landscapes and architecture. Forms get my attention only when people can move around and through them, and everywhere has a mood, a character, that forms in my head. Places make me imagine music, and music makes me imagine places. (It's the secret real reason I make finding apartments so hard for myself.) I pack books on flights and don't read them because I spend the entire trip staring out the window, my eyes tracing the endless twists of roads and the stories of human settlement they tell, the clefts in mountains and the stories of geology they tell. I sunk understandably vast amounts of time into SimCity4 when it came out my junior year of college, because it was a perfectly tuned generator for exactly those stories.

See where this is going?

I eventually had to give it up, because I was simply sinking too much time into it, and this is where Minecraft really comes in. As a person whose main means of both earning a living and recreation is creating worlds, that makes a second and equally deep cleft in my brain that Minecraft fills rather comfortably. Fills it, unfortunately, to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

Where most people have concerts, travel, sports, or a million other domains of hobbying, I have my projects. I have ideas built around new imaginary places and they simply have to be exorcised, have to be made manifest, because it's the only way I can appropriately share them. Terms like "cubespew" or "an experiment in abstract brutalism and skydome radiosity" don't give enough justice to the mood and character that has formed around what that place is in my head. When I don't or can't finish projects, or I lose interest in them, I'm disappointed in myself.

Meanwhile, if my creative energy were needed to power a million American homes or something, Minecraft would be the means by which it would be harnessed and collected. It is a perfectly tuned generator for stories of colonizing new worlds, of geology (oh, the caves!), of surviving by my own resourcefulness, and it's a perfectly willing receptacle for anything I could think to build in it. It could have been the last game I ever needed to play, because it's just so essentially me, and could have been the last place I ever built anything new. This, you see, is why I'm now off the Minecraft.

If you told me a year ago I'd really like a version of Radiant in which I had to fight off skeletons and dig giant holes in the ground in order to place any brushes, I'd call you an idiot. Compared to Maya and Radiant, Minecraft is a pretty terrible toolset for actually making anything, but ... it's just got so much other fun shit in there. It's hard not to want to try. Really hard, it turns out. Oh, the things I could build in these worlds!

I'd grind away a weekend gathering ludicrous amounts of stone or something, because roaming those hills gave me ideas and those ideas must be exorcised and made manifest and then Sunday would be over, and what I'd have to show for my effort would look so feeble and masturbatory compared to my other projects that lay gathering dust and rusting that I'd have a moment of clarity and realize all I was really doing was fruitlessly rearranging bits on my hard drive. I would then swear the game off and delete minecraft.exe (but not the saves), only to redownload it from the oh-so-handy website the next instant I felt even slightly bored or distracted. I did this at least two dozen times. Eventually I was doing it nightly.

I needed to make it permanent, and I needed to do it within that exe-deleting moment of clarity, before the siren called again. Early one Monday morning about a month ago, I therefore made mittense change my Minecraft account password and not bother to write it down, and as I watched him do it I did not feel an ounce of regret.

Minecraft, you are a succubus, and you do me so good but I just don't like who I am when I'm with you. I'll be in UE3. Don't call me.

Matthew Gallant said on Nov 16th, 2011 at 10:14am:

Everyone knows that Minecraft is just a gateway drug for Dwarf Fortress!

Kell said on Nov 22nd, 2011 at 10:34am:

So you don't think Minecraft has any shortcomings, other than it's addictiveness?

Alex B said on Nov 22nd, 2011 at 7:15pm:

I would say that Minecraft is insidious as a sink for creative output. It preys especially on artists, by providing them with a false sense of meaningful creation. Moreso than in any simulation, creations within Minecraft are personal and as varied as the players who make them.

I, too, have sworn myself off the game. I have too much to create tangibly to spend time creating virtually.

So, yes, the game is fantastic, but I'm not in a position to allow myself to play it.

Kell said on Nov 23rd, 2011 at 9:10am:

Oh stop with the pretentious self-aggrandizement; people who make maps for computer games are not artists. The words "designer" and "craftsman" are appropriate. But art is something different, and not well served at all by a medium of puzzles and obstacles.

Artists rarely choose their medium; at least, they rarely choose it for the reason you're suggesting. Do you think prior to the advent of computer games, no-one felt about landscapes the way we do? Do you think a propensity for abstract geometric thought inclines one strongly towards architecture but not cinema? The experiences that lead a talented individual to identify with one ( or sometimes more ) medium are varied. Yes, some people may experience a gratifying congruence between existing media and their own basic psychology, but it is far more complex than 'writers think in paragraphs, therefore they become writers.'

And just because Minecraft hooks effectively into that psychological feature of fascination with natural landscape and world-building doesn't make it a profound achievement or laudably rigourous game design. Like the vast majority of popular games, it's a salt lick or a sugar rush. It has a lure you are wise to avoid, but don't give it credit for that.

Sup said on Nov 23rd, 2011 at 11:46am:

Interesting. Being LD myself I feel quite the opposite - minecraft didn't interest me at all, being so primitive and limited as a creative tool. I understand it mixes it with a game quite well, but I find more fun experimenting with a real game editor and then wasting time playing my creations (god knows how much time I waste on that, instead of actually building stuff).

Hey Kell, art is what you call it.

Kell said on Nov 28th, 2011 at 7:07am:

"art is what you call it. "

That is the stupidest fucking thing posted yet. No, art is not whatever you call it. If it were, the word "art" itself would be completely useless. Clearly there are a great many things in life that the vast majority of people are not referring to when they use the word "art".

The 'everyone's opinion is equally valid' claim is pseudo-intellectualism at its fullest, and is bit of bullshit greatly cherished by gamers as a way to prop up their poor understanding.

Just because you are too stupid to understand creativity and the differences between art, craft, and design, doesn't mean everyone else is.

Lunaran replied on Nov 29th, 2011 at 11:32pm:

Easy. There's no need for that.

Art and craft used to be synonymous - you were an artist if you could carve a bitchin' David out of marble and that was that. Gradually, Impressionism, Cubism, Modernism &c drove a wedge between the two, defining art as not about craft but about communication. It doesn't matter if it took you ten seconds to make, if it communicates something or stirs you in some way, it's art. (If it communicates something obvious or stirs you in a crass or saccharine way, it's kitsch.)

Level design incorporates all three, which I think is one reason we like it so much. It's design because it requires communicating information through visual languages (in this case geometry, texture, and lighting, as opposed to typography or hierarchy), it's craft because there's a marked difference between a good looking environment and a bad one which is independent of realism or amount of detail, and it's art because it can evoke a mood and a sense of place or time that can be conceived and controlled by the artist. Puzzles and obstacles fall under design, but the design can also influence the art - feeling lost, or overwhelmed, or adventurous, can affect the way that world is perceived.

That doesn't confer every game with artfulness, of course, any more than an otherwise awful film can have some great shots or matte paintings or performances in it. But I still contend it's entirely possible.

aeonian199 said on Jan 15th, 2012 at 5:14am:

great post, thanks, minecraft has recently become an addiction of mine for similar reasons - I had to post to mention Ender's Game, which has striking similarities to the YA novel you described. Ender's game being more militaristic, and your YA novel being more benign, seemingly.

the server i'm playing now has a RPG & auction house mod installed too, so it makes it even more of a grind.

I'm going to keep a shortcut to this page on my desktop for a while to remind me that I have more worthy things I should be doing w/ my time.

(for some reason this page comes up prominently in a google search for the End Credits of Minecraft, FYI)

cheers.

Jaeson said on Feb 27th, 2012 at 4:56am:

Haha Kell. Such pretentious snobbery. There is much I would not call art, especially much of this modern day bullshit but just because I do not see it as worthy of my time does not make it any less a 'work of art.' To say otherwise is being close-minded.

domb minecraft! said on Jun 11th, 2013 at 9:07pm:

minecraft stinks!

NO MINECRAFT! said on Jun 11th, 2013 at 9:14pm:

WHOEVER IS PLAYING MINECRAFT... STOP! IT EFECTS THE BRAIN..... BECAUSE OF MINECRAFT I CAN NOT THINK!

Flavian Rosca said on Jun 29th, 2013 at 12:05am:

It would be so easy to give up minecraft if I weren't a small server owner. So how do I tell the players (who I have grown to like) on my server I'm out?

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