written by Alastrom
How the hell did I end up back in Minecraft? In 2013 or so I took an interest in the game after getting burned out on whatever I was playing back then. A buddy and I were sitting in Teamspeak and after some deliberation on what to play next, we finally concluded something along the lines of “Eff it, we’ll try Minecraft.” Why not after all? I could look up what the game costs right now but back then it was about fifteen dollars. Maybe a little less. Whatever the price it seemed like a small investment to figure out just what everyone was talking about. Even back then, Minecraft had reached a stage of popularity among gamers that should have been a clear indication of how successful it would be. We fired up a server and immediately began our journey. But that was several years ago and I’ve since experienced the game a hundred times over. I know how I got here but what keeps pulling me back in? That’s a rare conundrum in the gaming world that you don’t quite find in your average shooter.
I’ve called Minecraft a pallet cleanser game. If you’ve ever been to a sushi restaurant and noticed some suspicious paper thin pink wood on your plate, you may be familiar with the idea. A pallet cleanser, like the pickled ginger they serve with sushi, isn’t meant to be a filling experience. It’s not bread sticks at your favorite Italian restaurant (send us money Olive Garden) and instead its purpose is to simply move your taste buds from one experience to the next in the most neutral way possible. It’s the moist towelette of the cuisine world and while they’ll never be the star of the dining experience they do help remove questions like “Why does my chocolate cake taste like caviar?” It might seem like I’m applying a very negative attribute to Minecraft but I assure you, the success of the Reforged Gaming community may secretly rely on that beautiful voxel disaster. Minecraft is a great way to solve game burn out and it gets us all ready to jump into that next experience without bringing any of the burnt flavors along for the ride.
Now you might be thinking to yourself “But Alastrom, I can’t stand five minutes of Minecraft, just give me the damn bread sticks.” I understand where you’re coming from. Default Minecraft doesn’t do it for me any more. In an hour I’ve usually managed to build a house, devour twenty whole cows and assemble a small army to invade a different dimension and kill the dragon that resides in it. Good for an afternoon but not exactly a filling experience. Modded Minecraft tends to be my go to ginger of choice. There are some incredible developers out there devoting impressive amounts of time to turning the game into an entirely unique experience. These mods offer depth and intrigue and help the player feel like they’re approaching the game with a fresh perspective. When you feel the mods starting to wear down in their game play value, there’s always building. The benefit to modding the game lets you play at your own speed and I think that’s where the cleansing effect comes from.
There’s no real demand in Minecraft. No need to compete for resources or maximize your playtime. There are certainly servers out there where that isn’t true but subjecting yourself to that is like willfully submitting yourself to indentured servitude. Or prostitution, whichever analogy fits better. For every other server, the ability to mod the game lets you set your own goals and then achieve those goals whenever you feel like it. Or blow them off entirely to do something else. The power is given back to the player and regardless of whether they spend a few days in Minecraft or a few weeks, the experience can be summarized in whatever amount of time you choose to dedicate to it. When you’ve completed that journey you can safely return to your fast paced grind heavy games with a fresh perspective. It’s the gaming equivalent of backyard camping. All the joys of sleeping in a tent while maintaining access to your microwave.
This is a good time to get technical. At its core, Minecraft is a simple experience. Build thing, break block, place block, build thing. You wouldn’t imagine that has a drastic effect on the player but with video games becoming more involved in our everyday lives, we’re beginning to understand how they can also effect the brain. A review of 116 scientific studies on how gaming effects the brain was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Big shocker, gaming has a variety of effects on the brain. Some positive, some negative. Given that Minecraft relies on both the logical left brain and the creative right brain, it’s safe to assume that an engaged player will need to rapidly fire all of their neurons in order to get the most out of the experience. You may not think of the brain as a typical muscle, but the idea that it still needs to exercise to grow should be axiomatic. Unless, of course, you don’t exercise it enough. Or you don’t know what axiomatic means. In which case, you can solve the first by looking up the second. Or you can play some Minecraft.
We all need a break from time to time. Games are there for our enjoyment but I’ve never been convinced they don’t require a bit of work on the players behalf. For fast paced games like Overwatch (send us money Blizzard) you might find that a couple days in the blocky lands of yore can help you feel better equipped to finally climb out of silver. Or for grind heavy games it’s a welcome change to stop killing goblins all day and instead build a small house over looking a lake. Everyone can benefit from a change of pace. Plenty of games might be like Minecraft but Minecraft is truly unlike any other game out there. That’s how I ended up playing again and I strongly suspect it won’t be long until I’m here again.