This past week has been an eventful one. Minecraft’s fifteenth anniversary is coming up, as well as update 1.21. Alongside this, content creator Joseph Garrett, who goes by Stampy Cat’s 823-episode-long series has come to an end. In the midst of all this, I’ve found myself at the start of another one of my periodic stints of playing Minecraft with my friends. While playing, I realized that something felt different about it in comparison to other games I’ve been playing lately.
I spend a lot of time playing games with my friends; but when we finally resumed playing Minecraft about a week ago, I noticed that we all had completely different ways of playing the game. I like to fish, a few of my friends chose to build large and lavish houses near one another while another ran off to adventure alone – we haven’t seen him since. From the outside, these differences seem trivial at best.
I only realized now, that other games we’ve played lately don’t allow for such varied styles of play.
Most multiplayer games capitalize on numerous players all working towards a singular objective or a common goal. With Minecraft? We can make and assign our own goals and ask each other for help achieving those goals all day, but ultimately, there is no goal; there is no “YOU WIN” screen.
All of this got me thinking: Why do people bother playing the game? Even more than that, why do people keep coming back to it – time and time again?
Graphically, it’s not impressive – just cubes and pixels. Soundtrack-wise, it’s not my thing, but I know a lot of people like it. It’s definitely not the recent and controversial changes to their End User License Agreement that bring players back. So why did this simple block game become so big?
Clocking in at over 300 million copies sold this year, it’s safe to say that this is a little more than the sum of its parts. So even if the developer base likes to implement only a third of their ideas – yes, mob votes are dumb, just add all three – people still flock to the game as a cultural common ground. But why?
For starters, Minecraft has always been a simple game. Whether you like fighting monsters, building or even wandering aimlessly – there’s something for you. Unlike other games, it doesn’t take knowing every bit of information about how the game works to enjoy those experiences.
That said, the game does have an ever-growing technical side to it for people who enjoy hours of community-made tutorials, and even more hours of trying to apply that information. From in-game engineering to people modifying the game’s files to add their own content (often called modding), that very same game I just called simple becomes a completely different, much more complex game.
Earlier I mentioned fishing, but I also try to understand this technical side. It’s like learning to ride a bike, but if the pedals change how they work every third time you try to use them. While difficult, I can’t say that any other game has challenged me in a similar way.
Outside of the game, the company behind Minecraft’s development, Mojang, hasn’t had much controversy, save for the aforementioned license changes and content votes. Conversely, other companies like Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, Square Enix and many others face lawsuit after lawsuit concerning discrimination, union violations, mistreatment of workers – the list goes on.
Unless you’re Mojang, apparently.
Not only does Mojang generally avoid controversy, but they also make good press for themselves by doing charitable things like aiding in reef rebuilding and spreading awareness and fundraising for bee conservation.
Even after all the charity, community building and open-ended gameplay, it doesn’t answer the question of why people come back to Minecraft.
Or does it?
A lot of people choose what types of products they consume based on the morals and ethics of the corporate entity backing them. Knowing that Mojang consistently remains in the public’s good graces and that the game allows for a broad variety of playstyles, any of which can cater to a specific preference or emotional state, it’s suddenly pretty obvious why nearly half a million people own this game.
Minecraft has become less of a game and more of a blank canvas that anyone can express themselves on. It’s a means of expression, letting people show off however they want. I think that, whether anyone formally realizes this, it’s what brings people together to play a game that’s otherwise unimpressive, which is exactly what makes it incredibly impressive and completely unique.
With that in mind, companies that want to try to recreate the seemingly magical success of Minecraft might want to try reassessing their priorities – returning to quality products instead of bloated profit margins.
While companies squabble over that, everyone else can relax. Maybe try some fishing and building while revisiting a modern classic. Minecraft might only be 14 (almost 15) years old, but I think it’ll more than double its impact in due time.
And I know, I’ll still make periodic visits even a few years down the line.