How Minecraft Made Me Think My Friend Was a Psychopath
The day I discovered my friend was the real Herobrine of Minecraft.
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I remember the days where I’d be dropped in a suspicious sandbox to spend hours of fun in. And when I wasn’t trying to grab questionable logs that definitely weren’t there the day before, I would be sculpting and entire world of my own creation. Mountains that loomed over a small water-side village, small houses that sat atop hills and valleys. Grand elaborate castles that oversaw it all. This sandbox was only limited by my imagination!
Granted, if you looked at it through the eyes of my parents, you would only have seen small dunes of sand. Rocks that – in my mind – were synonymous with grand mansions and house. My assorted collection of paint-chipping Littlest Pet Shop figures that were the townsfolk. The same dubiously places logs now served as bridges across trenches of a makeshift moat. Although I didn’t have all the tools I needed at my disposal, in my mind I saw what I wanted to see.
Growing up in Sandboxes
Thankfully, not the literal sandboxes.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to be the one who says: ‘Back in my day, we had sandboxes and playdough, not video games.’ After all, I grew up with games too. As a kid, I would watch my dad play war games and my older sister spend hours wreaking havoc in the streets of Vice City. I enjoyed all of these games, no doubt about it, but what really piqued my interest were the sandbox games. Those that allowed me to create what I had previously thought was confined to my mind. The Sims 2 started it all, the life-simulation game that allowed me to create houses, neighbourhoods and families.
I remember spending hours meticulously crafting houses from the ground up and wasting hours away and creating ideal families. Only to then drop the game the second the ‘creating’ phase of it was done. Later, I would be introduced to Maxis’s other simulation game, Spore. One in which I could create a new form of life from the moment its cells first divide and until it becomes a space-faring race.
A year or two later, I’d find the game that shaped my core memories around games. A simple little game some of you will remember, Zoo Tycoon 2. Tycoon games were everywhere at the time, but something about Zoo Tycoon was special, it was my childhood. I was able to make and create my own zoo, but not only that, I could create small worlds. The level of customization and creation was unlike anything I’d seen before. Every day I’d start a new game, create something new and just watch as my little zoo became my own world. I had found my niche, sandbox creative games.
Zoo Tycoon had simple premise, create a zoo. That was it, no rules, no restrictions. Keep your animals happy by giving them food, drink, shelter and a nice habitat. Keep your guests happy by giving them food, drink, shelter and a nice experience. At least that’s what was expected to be done. Were you feeling quite rambunctious and devious, you could tear down the walls to your Siberian Tiger enclosure and watch those ungrateful guests really have something to complain about and stop throwing all their trash on your beautiful zoo! But… I digress. The game allowed complete freedom and that was something so amazing to the young twelve year old playing her favourite game.
After all, the mantra behind sandbox games boils down to: “Do whatever you want, I guess?”
The Ultimate Sandbox
I was happy and content in my world of animals and zoos, nothing could be greater, right? Little did I know a monolith had been looming over me for years, a very large low-poly, low-texture BLOCK. When I was fourteen, I turned and let out a very… disappointed sigh. I’d begun to hear tales of how fantastic and amazing the ultimate sandbox Minecraft was. An infinite game which basically looked like a LEGO game.
I took one look, sneered and turned back to ride the backs of my dolphins in Zoo Tycoon. That was until a cousin told me: ‘Hey, you know Minecraft is Swedish? It was made by a Swedish guy?” To which my inner Scandinavian pride shook me from my Zoo Tycoon obsession and demanded I play Minecraft. It was my duty after all, as a half-Swede.
I ran the game on my mother’s brick of a laptop. The render distance was only about a few chunks, it ran at a snail’s pace and yet… I had been charmed.
Despite appearances, Minecraft proved itself to be one of the most creatively encouraging games I’d played. It was – as I described to my parents to dismiss my many hours spent on it – like LEGOs. Except, there was a whole lot more to do and no real limits.
And since those first gaming sessions, Minecraft still remains a constant in my and many others’ lives. And despite its age, its non-marketability and zero microtransactions, it remains the number one best selling game of all time, with an estimated 238,000,000 number of sales.
A Game with no Goal
As with any sandbox game, Minecraft has no ulterior goal other than create. Of course there’s the survival mode that some players choose, in which it’s just a matter of surviving for as long as you can. But in my experience, creative mode is the more universally played one.
And even when you are playing Survival, apart from just living, minding your own business and having a good time. There’s no ulterior goal. Granted, later updates eventually added the Ender Dragon. A ‘Big Boss’ at the end of the game that even leads to the magical eye-opening experience that is the ‘Minecraft Credits’ that make me tear up nearly every time.
And yet, you can be like me and millions of other players and go years and years without ever even touching the Ender Dragon. Despite having spent up to hundreds of hours in the game.
So… Right about now, you’re wondering where this is going, right? Where could this ramble be headed? Well… During the Pandemic, where we were all locked inside for the larger part of a year, I played a whole lot more games. One of which was Minecraft, which I played with my friends on our own private server. This one moment lead to my discovery. A discovery that had be see what Minecraft was truly capable of.
How Minecraft brought out the worst greedy and corporate-likeness in some of my friends. And how Minecraft made me a commie.
The Monster Beside Us
For the sake of this discussion, consider everything in Survival mode.
The premise of Minecraft is pretty simple, right? You get dropped into a randomly generated blocky world with only your fists to keep you company. Your primary goal now? Find shelter, or make it. To do that, you’re going to need tools like the great apes of old, and to get tools you’re going to need resources. Lucky for you, there’s wood for as far as the eye can see (or as far as your view distance is set to). You start easy, only really taking what you need. You get wood for a crafting bench, then you get your axe, your shovels, your pickaxe and your sword. Suddenly, you’re now ready to take on the world.
Pretty easy right? From now on you can go and mine the depths of the Minecraft world, slay monsters and find Diamonds. You can also start to farm animals, either for their meat or their various resources they can provide for you (milk, wool, eggs, etc…)! Look at that, you’ve got yourself a beautiful little house you made all by yourself. You’ve even gone and planted some flowers in front of it, oh and don’t think I didn’t notice the lantern-lit path! You’ve outdone yourself.
Now, let’s go check on your pal, Jay, the one who’s also been playing for as long as you have.
Oh, I can hear something over the horizon. Perhaps Jay has made something beautiful too, like you!
Wait, what’s that? Oh god. Oh my god…
Jay appears to have made some kind of hellish factory. He calls it a farm but even from yonder you can hear the desperate please and ‘huhs’ from his trapped villagers. Oh, and what of the animals he’s trapped in underground caves? In a 4×4 space fed endless stacks of food for the sole purpose of breeding until they’re cowering from a randomly swinging sword and reduced to a very sad little porkchop. Mere steps away are the clattering of bones, the archer Skeletons are forced into servitude, only to die for Jay’s infinite pool of XP.
We ask him: ‘Why?’
To which he simply shrugs, and tells us its the easiest way to gather all the resources he needs. You and I look at each other, we both have questions on our mind but fear that no answer could ever satiate our confusion. Then, without batting an eye, Jay turns from us and goes completely still.
He’s left the game to run itself, he’s not even playing and yet he’s still accruing more resources than you! This isn’t fair, I hear you say. You made a cute little farm, your animals are free roaming. You go out to the woods, cut down trees but plant saplings to make up for the ones you’ve taken. But this takes time. You start to wonder, are you playing the game right? He’s getting far more resources than you are. In fact, you’ve seen his storage room. At least a hundred chests that have been piled on top of each other, attached to an intricate system of Redstone and dispensers. Jay doesn’t even need to harvest his resources, they harvest and sort themselves out.
You need a break, you need to take a breather after all this. It’s too far to walk to your own house, so you ask Jay where his house is. He leads you away, you keep looking for where it could be. Surely this too will be some grand and glorious castle, you can feel your pride is one fell swoop from being completely crushed. Jay suddenly stops, in the middle of a desolate space and tells you you’re here.
He breaks the block beneath you and you drop into a 4x4x4 hovel. And wedged very sadly against the corner of the room, two white beds. This is the end, you think to yourself, you’re ready to turn to face Jay and meet a diamond sword into your face. Before you can escape, he seals the room and you’re in total darkness.
He tells him to join him in bed, but as you clamber into it. You read that one message at the bottom of the screen, and despite not having seen any on your way here…
“You may not rest now, there are monsters nearby…“
A Subjective Definition of Fun
Of course I’m paraphrasing and joking. Jay, in this short little story, might have had equally as much fun as the other player. Who’s to tell? After all, everyone has a different idea of what brings them joy and fun.
It was, during my Pandemic playthroughs, with my other friends that I saw a new method of playing the game. One which I thought was absolutely crazy but the more I thought about it, the more I saw similarities to every day modern culture. Particularly in that big companies and corporations will make a very complex mechanism that will get as many resources by the fastest and easiest means, even if it means being unethical. And again, let me reiterate, I know Minecraft doesn’t feature real living beings, and that killing a pig in it doesn’t mean you’re killing one in real life.
But I recall the kinds of players, like myself, who would legit cry if our pet wolf died in-game. The players who always plant back trees after cutting them down, the players who spend more time creating a cute house and farm than an intricate and brilliant machine. I simply think it’s quite interesting and fun to think about, that one of the games with minimal restrictions and near endless possibilities, even when comfortably sat by their computers, people will still find a way to make things easier for themselves. And despite being a staunch advocate in the ‘work smart not hard’ mantra, for some reason I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it to the pixelated animals of Minecraft. Sure, I could set up a machine that would give me constant eggs from my chickens, but I would much rather make a barn and chicken coop.
Maybe this all just proves that some people are far too sensitive about fictional beings. Or perhaps some people are so disconnected and apathetic towards them you wonder what their feelings for real ones are… Minecraft led to a lot of questions, questions I never really got any answers to. But at the very least it didn’t stop me from calling my friend a psychopath when I found his ‘breeding’ room for the villagers. And thus began my quest to liberate all his imprisoned mobs.
But at the very end of it all… Minecraft is a game. A very fun game, and one that lets people play it however they want.
As long as all players are having fun, then the game has accomplished what it set out to do!
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