There are two ways to make a giant scale-model of the Death Star using only lumber that you’ve personally harvested by hand. The first method involves chopping down a lot of trees, converting them to lumber and then building, board by board, a giant scale-model of the Death Star. The other method involves doing the same thing, only in Minecraft.
PC, Android Minecraft is a giant set of Legos for a computer. Cleverly disguised as a videogame, Minecraft plunks players down in the middle of a big, blocky universe. Hills are carved out of giant blocks, and trees look like icons on a smartphone seen up close. Each object is built from blocks that are enlarged and blurred until the whole thing looks like a retro arcade-themed high school prom.
This pseudo-style allows Minecraft to get away with its gimmick: Things can get really hugely big in Minecraft. The game is full of enormous dwarven tunnels and vast forests. Lakes fill the landscape, which continues into forever. And in this place, players are free to build their own creations.
A little bit of experimenting and a whole lot of online searching will reveal the secrets of combining Minecraft’s various objects. Wood, stone, food, explosives. At first, players explore and build simply because material is available. But at night, the Minecraft monsters emerge, and players must use their skills to build shelters.
Zombies, looking as blocky as everything else in the game, attack when the giant square sun sets in the game, and for a while, they make Minecraft fun. It works as a brutal survival simulator. For a few hours, the crude appearance and simplified controls take on a touch of the cutting edge — the next evolution in zombie horror. Survival depends on figuring the game out.
But then, tools and weapons and an ever-growing fortress transform Minecraft from survival horror redux to an Erector set for someone’s PC. Anything can be assembled in the game — allegedly. I suppose that’s fine if someone wants to make their very own recreation of the Taj Mahal. Or a roller-coaster simulation of Hell. Or a wooden model of the Death Star. Those sorts of things would land their creators on the evening news if they built them in real life. In Minecraft, they’re shared online.
THE GOOD: I don’t really want to build a house. I’d rather build the next Facebook. In Minecraft, however, I’m stuck building the awesome global headquarters for Facebook. It’s right next door to my own personal pyramid. There is something primal and satisfying about playing with Minecraft’s virtual set of building blocks.
THE BAD: I like the mysterious beginning of Minecraft, with no instructions or clues about how the game works. It tries to be Lost (via the old Zork games). But really, people, we’re playing this game on a computer — we’re all going to look up instructions on how to play Minecraft within a few minutes. This makes the mystery feel like someone was just too lazy to write a set of instructions.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Adventure and survival too often give way to mindless crafts in the building-block simulator Minecraft.