Sorry for any formatting issues that might crop up below — this piece was originally published for The Trail, the University of Puget Sound’s student newspaper, from which I copy-pasted some articles for archiving purposes. Hence the newpaper-y tone and simplified view of the industry. My work for the paper might still be gathered here.
PS: Yes, I realize how painful my gushing praise seems in light of more recent ugliness. But I wrote it so here it is.
At a convention in Las Vegas on Nov. 18 or 19, a Swedish game developer will announce the “release” of a game that has already sold nearly 4 million copies, earned a “big pile of awards” (developer’s words) and assembled a devout fanbase as dedicated to the game’s growth as its creators—Mojang’s Minecraft.
Minecraft is an indie, open-ended sandbox game that, in the humble words of the minecraft.net homepage, is “about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine.” Judging from the game’s astronomical success—in its cultural impact (particularly among geeks) and considering it has never been commercially advertised—digital building blocks must have some fundamental appeal.
Think Legos on a cosmic scale: players explore a randomly generated world of blocky mountains, forests, seas and caves, gathering resources and constructing tools to shape the world to their liking. Gameplay hinges on the simple mechanics of placing and removing cubes, an elegant concept that overlays the more complex tasks of tool-crafting, monster-slaying and structure-building.
All of this will sound like old news to fans. Minecraft has been attracting attention since its first release as an alpha test on May 19, 2009, but the November “MineCon” convention in Nevada will mark its first “official” release—ports to Xbox 360 and iPhone are also in the works. Since 2009 the game has grown into nothing less than an online phenomenon—forums and wikis offer exhaustive guides, tips and FAQs; discussion groups like the Reddit.com Minecraft forum (reddit.com/r/minecraft) see constant traffic and visits from the Mojang developers themselves; how-to videos, live-action parodies, merchandise and other pop-culture runoff crops up all over the web.
Minecraft might even make it to the silver screen: 2 Player Productions, responsible for the first season of PATV (a serial study of the folks behind webcomic mammoth Penny Arcade), is currently filming a documentary on Minecraft’s unique conception, reception and evolution, with a focus on the lead developer, Markus “Notch” Persson.