time sinks

Time Sinks – Minecraft

by Jeff Marchiafava on Jul 04, 2013 at 03:00 AM

Despite not having much in the way of a narrative, graphics, or sloped surfaces, the thrill of exploring a never-before-seen world has kept me coming back to Minecraft time and time again.

When I first heard of Minecraft, I didn't understand what the big deal was. Interest in the game was just starting to build, and the Internet had yet to be flooded with all of the insane projects and pop-culture recreations that players have devoted countless hours to in the years since. Back then, Minecraft was still just "a game about breaking and placing blocks."

When I finally tried out the beta, it didn't take long for me to see the appeal. Starting a new game places you a wholly unique world, created just for you. Thanks to Minecraft's use of procedural generation, not even the developers – which at the time was just Markus "Notch" Persson – have stepped foot in the world laid out before you.

Every world is fraught with danger. A variety of hostile creatures threatens your survival, and if you haven't cobbled together shelter (usually a tiny dirt hut unless your starting location is blessed with an abundance of resources) by nightfall, you're a goner.

Behold, the bane of every explorer's existence: The Creeper

Once you've learned the ropes, a pleasant routine falls into place. Craft a set of tools with resources gathered by hand, then build a proper home. Explore your nearby surroundings during the day and dig a mineshaft in your basement during the night. As days pass, the odds of survival slowly turn in your favor. Discover a few pockets of ore, and you'll have all the charcoal, iron, and (eventually) silver you'll need. Seeds planted from felled trees eventually grow into an ever-expanding grove. Slay a few spiders and you can craft fishing poles for an easy and constant supply of food. Build a fence to keep deadly creepers a safe distance from your home and prevent peaceful animals from trampling your crops.  

With survival taken care of, you can start spoiling yourself with amenities. Why not build a massive tower to overlook the landscape? Creating a hidden bungalow behind that waterfall would be cool, too. Converting the back wall in your underwater lair to glass would be a major time investment, but totally worth the effort.

I don't know how much time I've invested exploring worlds in first the PC version of Minecraft and then the XBLA port, but it never gets old. Even the most mundane geological features still captivate me ("Look at how this cave doubles back on itself! Amazing!"), as does building up civilizations around them – even if there's still not that much to do once your work is complete.

I've played countless sci-fi epics like the Halo and Mass Effect series over the years, but none have ever come close to capturing the thrill of "going where no one has gone before" in the way that Minecraft has. Some promising indie games like Starforge and Planet Explorers look to evolve the crafting-focused sandbox formula (and sport sci-fi themes no less), and I still dream of what a non-voxel, triple-A version of the experience would be like. In the meantime, I will continue exploring Minecraft's engrossing worlds, one block at a time.

Check out the video below to see Tim Turi and I explore some of my creations in Minecraft.