At first, I couldn’t believe nobody had written a ‘Have You Played’ about Minecraft, given the sheer mass with which it looms over the last decade of game history. But that’s it, isn’t it? It’d be like writing “Have You Seen… The Sky?” or “Have You Tasted… Bread?” Even if you’ve not played Minecraft, you know exactly what it is. It was the little indie seedling that became a titan overnight, big enough to support a whole ecosystem of tie-ins, YouTube empires and merch in its boughs. It was the perfect example of the right idea at the right time – a bonanza play by a despicable man, which almost single-handedly enshrined early access as a legitimate development model.
There’s so much you can say about Minecraft, while completely missing the most important thing about it: it’s really good. During the recent heatwave, on a day when everyone in the RPS treehouse was feeling a bit blasted by the sun, I decided – out of nowhere – to have little go at Minecraft for the first time in five years. I hired a ‘realms’ server for six months (butter my biscuit, it’s a lot easier than it used to be to set up multiplayer – it all took about seven clicks), and honked out invites to everyone on the team with an account, plus a couple of friends.
What followed was something like a cheesy 90s movie about a bunch of grey adults who get teleported to a magical kingdom they used to play in as kids (and yes, most of us were at least in our mid twenties when we first played Minecraft, but it still feels weirdly like remembering childhood play). We mooched about a bit, falling in holes and muttering about all the things that had changed in the years since we’d last played. And then, all at once, we found our feet. We had spawned by a giant canyon, so we started carving dwellings into its walls, while landscaping a tropical river along its floor. There was no real plan, and nobody in charge – it just started coming together. Sin Vega made a hovel in a hillside and demanded nobody gentrify it. Astrid built a sort of… soviet caravan. It was lovely.
And now Minecraft is back in my life, like a room in my house I’d somehow forgotten. If I was playing single player, I can imagine losing interest again in a week or so, but having this incredibly low-effort server really changes things. I’ll want to log on at least for a few minutes every day, to see all the little changes people have been making to the landscape, and making little tweaks of my own. A reshaping of a shoreline here, a decorated wooden gantry there, and a chat with friends as we absent-mindedly dig away at a hillside. It’s as wholesome as gardening. And while there’s no ignoring the headache-inducing cultural colossus Minecraft has become, nor the ugly truth about its founder, just a day’s reacquaintance has reminded me why it became the best-selling game of all time.