Minecraft: What The Hell It Is
The literal description: Minecraft is a first-person, free to play indie PC/Mac game created by one person, with crafting, building and exploration at its center. The graphics are straight out of 1991. There are no characters and there is no story. There are none of the "production values" that define gaming these days, but within those narrow confines lies one of the most innovative and endlessly fascinating game in existence... and it's still in Alpha.
While there are various versions and builds available out, there are three basic play-modes to Minecraft: Single Player Creative, Multiplayer Creative, and Single Player Survival. All three plop you down into a huge, open world, filled with different natural resources you can exploit and bend to your will.
Single Player Creative mode is like an infinite LEGO set. You can create fantastic structures out of basic building blocks all day if you'd like. You can try it out for free, in-browser, right here. Multiplayer Creative is the same deal, with others.
Minecraft really impresses me with the Single-Player Survival mode. In survival mode, Minecraft places you, alone, in a hostile virtual enivroment that is larger than the surface of the earth. You have no items, no weapons, and no knowledge. Your only goal is to survive. The world seems friendly at first, full of trees, flowers, mountains and sea, but as soon as night falls, monsters come out. I learned very quickly the first goal of Minecraft: Find a way not to die when it gets dark.
To keep the zombies and other nasties at bay, Minecraft players can dig rocks out of the earth to create barriers between them and certain death. I was very proud of myself the first time I built a shelter. I walled myself into a cliff face just as the sun set. As soon as I placed the last rock, I realized my mistake. It was now pitch dark, and I had no idea which direction to dig to get to the light. So I began randomly digging in different directions, and when I finally figured out where the sky was, the breaking dawn revealed my cave as a monument to panic and calustrophoiba -- randomly dug holes everywhere, like I had dug my own tomb.
I needed a plan and some material goods. Working feverishly against the approach of the night and the monsters it would bring, I chopped down some trees and managed to craft a workbench, some planks, some sticks, a rudimentary pick-axe and, most importantly, some torches. As twilight descended, I returned to my hole in the rock, lit a torch, and walled myself into my newly lit cave.
With a whole evening stretching in front of me, I dug down into the earth, placing torches as I went, burrowing into the stone, wearing out my pick. The subterrean world of Minecraft is at least as vast as the outer world. It is riddled with cave systems, ore, rare diamonds, and more. I discovered a vein of coal and dug it out for more torches, which I brought back to my home.
I lit the place up, warding off the darkness, and surveyed my new home. As I looked around the earthen and stone walls of my hovel, I saw a future castle -- the beginning of an empire --and felt some glimmer of the feeling early man must have had when he took the first steps toward being master of the world as opposed to its slave. The next morning, as the sun rose, I stepped from my home, directly off a cliff and died.
I was a victim of carelessness. I respawned right away, but had neglected to mark the location of my home in any way. With no compass (I was far from advanced enough to build one of those), I was left to wander the world, alone again, with nothing. Starting from scracth, building a new home. That's the kind of game Minecraft is. There's no one to hold your hand.
MineCraft: Why the Hell You Should Care
Because it's epic.
Minecraft breaks gaming down to its most basic elements, eschewing advanced graphics in favor of sub-Doom textures and blocks, leaving out the manufactured one-size-fits-all experience of AAA games in favor of letting you have your own, unique experience. Minecraft doesn't care if you die. It doesn't care if your death is an inconvience. It doesn't care that you don't know how to survive. That's left to you and your wits. But when you conquer the basics of not dying, the game gets even more fun, because you can build a world of your choosing.
Using the basic building blocks the world provides, you create tools, then tools for making other tools, and further refinements of those tools, until you have mastered your enviroment and can shape it at your whim. The monsters that once terrified you become fuel for the self-designed monster-burning-oven you invented, and through ingenuity, wits, brains, and methodical planning, you create your own masterpiece. Like I said, it's epic.
Unlike other world-building games like Second Life, where it's theoretically possible to build whatever you like, but is, in practice, way more trouble than its worth, Minecraft isn't hard, per se. Read a few "getting started" tutorials if you'd like, but after that, you'll find your way without too much trouble. It's not super time-consuming either. Give Minecraft a couple hours, and you will have an exciting adventure, I promise you. Plus, there's enough danger inherent in guarding against death that it's interesting, unlike Second Life.
In a way, Minecraft is the exact opposite of most games out there. The focus is on exploration, not accomplishment. You can dig all day and find some gold, but the game isn't going to reward you with anything but some gold. The presentation is secondary to the gameplay itself -- your imagination fills in the blanks as opposed to an army of highly paid texture artists. Minecraft doesn't lead you through the same experience every other gamer has. What you get is yours alone. Plus, Minecraft lets you get lost, a video game feeling that used to be common, but that I'd almost forgotten.
If you need tutorials, fancy graphics, and you don't like to think too much, don't bother with Minecraft; this is not the game you're looking for. But if you liked LEGOS as a kid, or you still remember how cool it is to set out into the woods and try to find something cool out there, cough up the 13 bucks and download Minecraft. I promise you won't regret it... just be careful out there.