After reading Jeff Vogel’s post about why adults don’t play Minecraft, I realized that I’m part of the problem. Exploring or creating things no longer holds any intrinsic reward; I play games to discover wonderful things, but those wonderful things must now be strewn throughout a game like bread crumbs lest my attention wander. I don’t play games for fun anymore.
We’ve had this conversation before. We’re older, we’re busier and we’re adding new branches to the unique and beautiful snowflakes we imagine represent ourselves. We don’t have the time to sit and play in the sandbox anymore. And that’s a good thing, right? I mean, the reason we were sitting in that sandbox playing with dirt in the first place is because we had nothing better to do. Now we’re older and wider, we have careers and cars and music and shopping and Netflix and I mean, who really wants to go back to that sandbox?
As children we built whole cities from dust, spun tales from whole cloth, but all that creative output was lost without tangible goals and rewards to anchor it in time. As an example, consider whether or not you can remember the first time you built a sand castle or played a video game. Now, tally up how many sand castles you remember building and how many games you remember beating; I’m lousy about finishing games (and brilliant at proper sand castle construction) but even I can remember a dozen meaningful gameplay experiences off the top of my head.
I remember three sand castles.
My point is that playing games with a purpose is better than just playing. That’s not to say open-ended games are bad; I’m overjoyed at Persson’s success and hope Mojang continues to thrive, but I need a horse to flog for this argument and Minecraft is just the sort of thoroughbred I’m after.
Minecraft is an amazing experience and everyone should play it. For like, two hours. Once you’ve figured out how to craft a workbench (no FAQ allowed) and carved out your first homestead, you’re free to go. It’s okay to not love Minecraft, even if you love games. Even if you love indie games. Even if as a child you loved LEGOs and Lincoln Logs and plump bearded indie game developers from Sweden, even then it’s okay to blow a few hours scaling cuboidal cliffs and fending off creeps and decide that hey, this isn’t for you.
It’s okay because you don’t have to feel guilty for not having as much free time as you once did, and maybe you’d like to spend part of that precious time sharing your passion for games with others. Minecraft makes this very difficult to do, because despite it’s open-ended nature the game is really rather limited. To share your passion for Minecraft with someone, you need to be able to show them your game. And unless you’re a masterful storyteller, that requires you to actually show them something meaningful; whether it’s remotely (via shared server) or physically (via shared monitor) the only way to really convey what moves you about Minecraft is to show your friends the things you’ve built.
Of course the lack of creative open-ended experiences of the sort that make Minecraft so exciting to show off makes constrained games like Deus Ex more exciting to talk about. I don’t want to show you how I clicked through some dialogue options or dicked around Sarif HQ instead of obeying orders, but I do want to swap stories with you about how you handled the first hostage situation. Did you save Zeke? How about the hostages? Were they even alive when you finally landed?
Goals in games provide common ground for sharing our experiences with others. If for no other reason than this, games are better for being so constricted. Games without goals are still wonderful, and for the most part I support Jeff’s determination to approach Minecraft with the (admittedly perverse) goal of relearning how to play without goals. But I can’t play along, because there’s nothing in it for me, no skill points or dialogue options or Achievements beyond simple joy and the satisfaction of knowing I created something from nothing. And that’s not enough.