This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Minecraft.
My non-American viewers - who understand that the world does not consist only of a single nation sailing across an infinite sea of Mexican migrant workers - will no doubt have heard that the water around Brisbane got sick of waiting for people to come hit the beach and decided to bring the party to us. I don't keep up with the news, though, so it was only when I emerged blinking from my grotto and saw that the sandbag fairy had visited all the good little shop doorways that I found out that the central business district had flooded.
First thought: "Oh, cock. All the nearest game retailers are in the CBD because some retarded pile of cartilage on the town planning department thought it'd be a great idea to put thirty EB Games shops within the same 10 square yards."
Second thought: "Oh, balls. With humanitarian aid selfishly obstructing the delivery services, I won't be seeing any of my imports anytime soon either."
Minecraft is becoming as popular among computer nerds as a six-button wireless mouse with tits, but I hesitate to call it a "game," strictly speaking. All right, there are skeletons in it that you have to wave a sword at until they stop moving, which would normally characterize a game, but that's not what you're there for, in the same way you don't go to the beach to get sand kicked in your face and you don't go to Glasgow to get your eyes gouged out with broken bottles. No, respectively you go there to build sand castles and purchase heroin.
Minecraft is a creativity toy that just happens to contain monsters, and frankly I can't think of a better way to improve a creativity toy. It's like an Etch-A-Sketch where every now and again Space Invaders drop down from above and lefty knob and righty knob have to put aside their differences so that they can live to twiddle another day. Which is an apt comparison, because everything in Minecraft certainly looks like it was drawn with an Etch-A-Sketch.
My initial experience to Minecraft was, I imagine, similar to many people's. After downloading it to see what all the fuss was about, I was plonked into a LEGO representation of rural New Zealand. About all I could figure out to do was punch things, so I punched some flowers. Yeah! Eat that, flowers! And you, too, patch of dirt! Ooh, now I can pick up the dirt and rearrange it in places. I'm going to make a little pile and leave the flower on top like a mysterious Spanish gentleman.
Hey, why's it gotten so dark all of a sudden? What was that rustling sound? Why are my intestines over there now?
This is one game where there's officially no shame in looking up the FAQ. A tutorial wouldn't go amiss. "See those trees?" It would begin by saying, "chop them down with the flat of your hand. Now make a workbench. Now make a pickaxe. Mine some stone and make a better pickaxe. Now find some coal. If Lady Luck contents to smile, you'll find some in a wall somewhere. No, I don't know how you're supposed to figure all this out. And while your workbench is open, make a shovel, because the sun's going down and now you're going to dig a big hole and cry in it until the exploding bush monsters go away." It's like their only reason to live is to ruin other people's artwork. There but for the grace of God go I, suicide hedge.
So with Fisher-Price shoggoths scratching at my walls, I decided the sensible, level-headed thing to do would be to tunnel down into the center of the Earth. Perhaps there, thought I, I would find the point to all this. Well, after wearing out more picks than Jimi Hendrix on a caffeine drip I found a fair amount of iron, enough coal to black up the entire Ku Klux Klan, and three lava flows, every single one of which I fell into and lost all my items. Christ, this is like Zelda meets There Will Be Blood! But just before I hit bedrock, I finally found some gold, which I immediately crafted into a sword and armour set. "Ha! This'll give a hedge pause for thought before it kamikazes me!" But shortly afterwards I discovered that Minecraft goes for the realistic portrayal of gold, in that it's slightly less sturdy than the tinfoil around a baked potato. So, that was my net profit from the operation: fifty chests full of rocks, a big fuck-off hole, and some slightly tasteless evening wear.
But as I was trying to think of something to do with all these rocks, I noticed a nearby mountain and thought: "You know what that's crying out for? A skull fortress! With flaming towers and eyes that weep lava flows because he's depressed by all the kamikaze shrubs." So I started flattening out a nice courtyard, and the next thing I knew nine hours had passed and I was picking out wallpaper for the banqueting hall.
If I had to give two tips for enjoying Minecraft, it would be these: 1) Do not rely on fire to clear away forests unless you want your game world to look like the Vietnam War, and 2) Give yourself a project. You have to find your own entertainment, whether that be skipping through the wilderness picking flowers or building an eighty-foot golden cock and balls. I've heard the LEGO comparison before, but it puts me more in mind of a model railway, a hobby you spend hours of every day perfecting and bore everyone to death with because if you can find just one person to praise it then it won't feel like such a waste of fucking time.
Oh, shit. When did I become my dad?
Minecraft is still very much a beta, and it seems like there's still a lot of room for improvement. As with the gold example above, the ratio of "difficulty to find" versus "actual usefulness" is completely arbitrary for many substances. This is a game where having the resources to bake cakes is a mark of considerable status. And it seems like there's got to be a more efficient way to make brick walls than watching a furnace smelt each individual brick with the speed of a pensioner on a zebra crossing.
But then again, part of the appeal of building is the effort required to gather materials. That eighty-foot golden cock and balls wouldn't be so satisfyingly turgid if it weren't for the entire continent you had to turn upside-down to find all the ore. And that's what sets it apart from other creativity toys like Garry's Mod. If you can just clap your hands and summon fifty explosive barrels to pile ragdolls around, then the spectacle is as fulfilling as eating your own snot.
Minecraft is a responsible parent. It knows you'll swiftly get bored of your golden cock and balls if it just gives you one, so it pays you five dollars a week to wash its car so you can save up and gain an appreciation for value. And when you finally have your golden cock and balls, you'll love it all the more. Until Minecraft sends the suicide shrubs to demolish it, because you also need to learn that sometimes life will just shit on you. As it will when your boss finds out what you spent your entire workday on.
Bitter mine heir: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Basically all I ever wanted was my own private roller coaster