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These are some words about Minecraft

21 May 201103:53PMgamesminecraft

Oh crap, and there I was thinking I was actually doing reasonably well with this (admittedly vague and never-articulated) 'trying to write more' thing... and suddenly it's two weeks and oh my god.

Moving on.

Today I will be writing some words about Minecraft. Just like apparently every other bloody person on the internet, at this rate, and possibly even a bit late. But I'm sure that these written-down-things are much better than anyone elses, because they're oh-so-insightful, and just shut up and get on with it will you? The point is that given a certain confluence of events, my perspective on Minecraft has changed. These events are Terraria (another adorable indie game) and Idoru (a novel by Neal Stephenson). So where am I going with this? Well, basically, I don't think Minecraft is a game.

Why is this? Because, if Minecraft was a game, it would be Terraria. Or rather, since Minecraft came first, Terraria is Minecraft, but gamified. It's taken the mechanics of Minecraft - the titular mining and crafting, and put them in an actual game, with mana and dungeons and dozens of monsters and piles of gold and NPCs and the whole side-scrolly action-platformer thing. It's a much better game than Minecraft. It's simplified a little, and has a much more definite setting (as much as 'generic-ish fantasy' can be a setting - but it's more than Minecraft's got), and it even looks more like a game, with all the side-scrolling and flashy lights and whiz-bang effects. Which is pretty much as good as it sounds, which is to say, it's pretty much crystal meth.

So where does this leave Minecraft? Probably, if I was more into games, I'd call Minecraft a 'sandbox' and lump it in with the likes of Sim City, and the Sims, and pretty much every other Maxis title ever, and then be done with it. But like I already said, I think games are the wrong place to look to categorise Minecraft, and this is where Idoru comes in. Idoru, unlike some of Stephenson's earlier stuff, is a lot closer in tech level to today's internet, which for him, basically amounts to goggles instead of plugging into your brainstem. And one of the extrapolations of mid-90s technology he included was the concept of a MUD, specifically one called the Walled City, where thousands of people basically live. (It also features a clinical trial victim turned film noir style data detective and an American schoolgirl in Japan hunting down a rockstar who supposedly married an AI. Yeah, it's a weird book.) Are you possibly seeing where I'm going with this? Yes? No? Yes? Good.

I think what Minecraft is, is the first really successful attempt at a virtual reality. VR doesn't have to look like Tron, or Second Life, or Snow Crash. Instead of inventing a whole new set of conceptual tools, about how a whole bunch of virtual constructs behave, why not simplify and then emulate the real world? People won't get, if you'll pardon some meaningless technobabble, that a G-type block is incompatible with a class 4 row - but they do get that if you put fire near your wooden house, it will burn. And sure, the physics in Minecraft aren't perfect, but they're a close enough approximation that 90% of the world already makes sense, and interacted with simply. (This is probably my favourite thing about Minecraft- despite being extraordinarily deep, they've managed to condense every single command in the game down on to right- clicking and left-clicking. There's almost no user interface at all. It's brilliant.)

Terraria is a better game, yes, but you wouldn't want to live there. There are too many monsters for starters, and your freedom with your building materials is a lot more limited than in Minecraft. Whereas Minecraft, for all it's being-made-of-cubes-ness, could almost be a real world. And if they ever do figure out how to pour your brain into a computer, I know which one I'd rather have my consciousness hooked up to for eternity.

Okay, so that turned out to be a bit longer than I expected for something that was basically, "LOOK, MINECRAFT IS FUNCTIONAL VR!", but I've written it now, and I want to get back to playing Terraria. And I have a bunch of other stuff I've been meaning to write, and I really should get around to it...

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