Why You Should Be Playing Minecraftentire overworld recreated in Minecraft" or "Full-sized Starship Enterprise built in Minecraft." Incredible, ridiculous things, but they don't really give you any idea of what Minecraft is all about, or why you should be playing it. Like videos of kittens and clips from movies, Youtube videos don't really do Minecraft justice. You should be experiencing this game for yourself.
Minecraft's premise is incredibly simple. Dropped into a hostile world of blocky graphics, you use the tools at your disposal to create. Every surface and object in the world can be manipulated, harvested and combined in countless ways to create building materials, tools, mechanisms, and gadgets. You can join with other players or reign alone in your pixellated kingdom.
You start the game with nothing but your hands, and with a little help from Youtube, you'll quickly figure out what to do. You chop down a tree, construct a workbench, craft a pickaxe and a shovel, and start digging.
If you don't know any better, your first night will be rough. When the sun goes down, the monsters - or mobs - come out, and they're deadly. So your first order of business is to find shelter. You burrow into a mountainside, hurriedly banging a door into place just as the first single-pixel stars begin to creep into view. You light a torch with the charcoal you found as you dug your makeshift home, and you realize that with the mobs roaming the darkness outside, there's no place to go but down into the Earth.
Minecraft can be about many things. For me, much of the joy comes from the exploration. As you dig deeper and deeper into your personal game world (randomly generated each time you start a new file), you'll come across underground lakes, enormous deposits of valuable minerals, and gaping caverns filled with blocky horrors. Most importantly, you'll find materials.
As the name suggests, crafting is central to Minecraft. It's simple and elegant, yet it allows for nearly unlimited possibilities. Iron, stone, wood, and dozens of other materials and objects can be combined to create anything from mine cart tracks to bookshelves brimming with literature.
You will dig, and dig, and dig. And when you've gathered your materials, you'll start to build. Maybe, like me, you'll strive to erect a structure that towers over your world with a throne at the top and fearsome rivers of lava running down and through it. Maybe you'll create a mine cart roller coaster with miles of twists and turns over oceans, mountains and plains. Maybe you'll join with your friends and plan out a sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers, waterfalls and floating pavilions.
And if gathering materials and fighting off mobs is too much for you, launch the game up in Creative mode and just get straight to the crafting. Even if you're not the creative type, simply entering random servers and experiencing what other players have created is more than enough fun.
Minecraft is the perfect antidote to the modern gaming blues. There are no tutorials. In standard gameplay modes, there are rules, and there are dire consequences for ignoring those rules. Digging recklessly can land you with a face full of lava or a drop through the bottom of the world, and in both cases, every item you were carrying will be permanently lost. There's nothing that can't be regained or rebuilt, but on the flip side, you can carry a lot of stuff.
At its finest, Minecraft is the epitome of a limitless toolset; if you can think it, you can create it. Yet the game world itself is highly stylized. Water, electricity and lava flow freely. Fire is a real danger - days of work can be lost to a single, careless flame under the wrong conditions.
The game is being developed (present tense because it's constantly being added to) by a single man, Markus "Notch" Persson. Here's a memorable quote: "If something ever doesn't feel fun, I'll remove it. I believe that I can combine enough fun, accessibility and building blocks for this game to be a huge melting pot of emergent gameplay." That's called game design, folks, and Notch's completely independent nature allows his development to be as emergent as the gameplay itself. For Halloween, he added portals to Hell, because he felt like it.
Minecraft is Legos. Minecraft is freedom. It's the underdog, it's the cool kid, and it's the indie darling lottery mega jackpot winner of the year. But don't dismiss it out of hand. There's truly something really special about it. Try it out, and I dare you not to get sucked in.