October 5th, 2010 | Tags: ,

Being a video gamer, for me, is about anthropology. I don’t play just to be stimulated by all the flashy lights and enticing sounds, though those aspects certainly are a strong part of the allure. I decide which games to play based on which ones seem to uncover the most insight about the human condition. So I tend not to be an early adopter. Instead, I wait. I read reviews. I peruse image galleries, looking for that ineffable key to understanding humanity. I try to acquire the cream of the crop–usually in the second-hand market, and rarely for more than $15 or so. This is different than waiting to buy the most popular games used, though. Sometimes the gems are hidden by a short production run, or by being released on older systems. But they all point to the vital things we humans share.

Minecraft is all the buzz these days if you follow tech news. It’s not even out of its infancy. But the growing buzz isn’t about its killer graphics engine (it’s very retro) or amazing storyline (there isn’t one). It’s ultimately one of those games that taps into very base urges in us: to explore, to create, to define our own parameters. Against a blocky display, your task as a player is simple. Survive.

It’s harder than it seems! Your first day in the Alpha version, which you can plink for relatively ch33p at €9.99 (~$13.99US), seems bright and cozy. You spawn with the sun shining and farm animals nearby, and around you are trees and dirt and maybe some hills, or maybe you’re on an island. In any event, the game invites you to just diddle around. Sun is warm, grass is green. You can craft things–first basic stuff like sticks and planks, but soon proper tools like picks and shovels and hoes–and build to your heart’s content. But when night falls, you had better be prepared. Because the freaks come out.

And they want to kill you.

The first time you die is a wakeup. Probably it was a creeper, so you never heard it coming until a “ssssssssssssssBOOM!” And then the game over screen. And then you’re back at your spawn point, realizing that that cool cliff you were exploring (and the loot and ores and tools you managed to acquire) is half a day’s walk. Or swim. “This time,” you vow, “this time I will be prepared.” And so the madness begins. You find you need light to keep the monsters from spawning in your home. But there’s no coal nearby! And then you use your last pick, and you’re out of wood to make more handles. And on, and on, and on.

But there comes a time, many hours later, when you have established mastery over your domain. And it is then that you have the true game in hand, that game that we play in the real world: answering the ageless question, “What in the world do I do now??” Except your answers aren’t bounded by socioeconomic status or what-have-you. Or even physics.

It’s time to build.

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