Thanksgiving evening at home — snow on the ground outside, the hum of the dishwasher in the kitchen, half-eaten pies on the counter. The “kids” of the family have taken over the living room: my sister, my two brothers, and I. The TV displays a videogame called Minecraft and they pre-emptively defend it to me: it’s more than meets the eye, they say. When they start playing, I understand their warning. The graphics are blocky and old-school. The 1st-person protagonist looks like a lego man. “Mountains” in this digital world are more like green and brown staircases. When you approach the trees, their “leaves” are revealed as pixelated green cubes.
But here is the charm: Minecraft is a game of building. As the title suggests, it’s a game of mining and crafting. In other words, it’s a game of discovering and creating values in the world. While there is an over-arching structure to the game, it’s mostly opaque — a vague mission to move through a few different levels and eventually find a portal. The game never requires that you pursue the mission, and most of the fun is found in collecting resources and building things. For instance, you can chop wood from the trees and use the wood to fashion tools, construct a shelter, and build its furniture. As you become more adept, you can build fancier structures. My sister and brothers proudly show off houses incorporating caves, a big stately building with a dome and dozens of rooms, and their prize creation: a house built elegantly on stilts over the water.