What Makes Minecraft So Addictive?

Can I get a golfclap for resisting the "Victory is Minecraft" pun in the title?

It is a strange coincidence that during a summer when the world was riveted by 33 Chilean miners trapped in unimaginable conditions, hundreds of thousands of internet gamers were crafting pickaxes, lighting torches, and venturing into pixelated caves of their own. Much like those brave Chileans, the Minecraft players found themselves cut off from their family and friends, not trapped but hopelessly addicted. The game recently sold its 500,000th copy, and another 1.1 million people use the free version. Not bad for a game that was mostly developed by one guy, and is still in Alpha Testing.

So here’s the gist. When you start playing Minecraft, you’re placed in a randomly-generated world of lush green fields, majestic waterfalls, and gaping caverns.

Everything is made up of textured blocks, which can actually be quite beautiful. There are even blocky little pigs and sheep. (POSSIBLE TOPIC FOR FUTURE OVERTHINKING: The rise of 8 bit chic. Think of Chiptune music. Think of the Scott Pilgrim movie. As video games start looking and sounding more and more like movies, our generation feels a certain nostalgia for the old school videogame aesthetic.)

The log.

Unfortunately, when the sun sets, you’re going to be attacked by zombies. So you better start punching trees. No, it’s not just a way to relieve stress. Punching a tree creates a log block. Then you can break the log block up to make four wood blocks. Then you can take two of the wood blocks and make four stick blocks. Are you having fun yet?

The wood.

Okay, now take four more wood blocks, and use those to make a workbench. On the workbench, you can combine 2 stick blocks and 3 wood blocks to make a wooden pickaxe. Who cares? YOU care, buddy, because now you can look around for some stone to mine. After that, combine 3 cobblestone blocks and 2 sticks to make… a stone pickaxe!

The stick.

Anyway, skip about an hour of chopping down trees and turning those trees into wood blocks, and you’ll finally have enough wood to build your first house. And by house I mean a wooden box with a door, where you can huddle in fear as the zombies roam the countryside. When the sun comes up, you can venture into a cave in search of the raw materials to build a nicer crib. Just remember to bring a torch (combine a stick and coal) because monsters spawn in the darkness. Life may have been tough for those Chilean miners, but at least there weren’t any giant spiders down there.

Behold the glory of the wooden pickaxe!

This is not a game that is determined to shower you with pure fun the moment you start playing. This is a game where you have to do a lot of repetitive things to survive, and a LOT of repetitive things if you want to create anything interesting. (It’s also a game without an instruction manual, so if you’ve not willing to watch a lot of YouTube videos to figure out what the hell you’re doing, you won’t get far. The first time I played, I immediately dug a massive hole straight down, until I fell into lava and died.)

All this begs the question: why is Minecraft so popular?

The Minecraft neophyte might assume the game is all about action. After all, the game’s main mode is called “Survival,” and the goal is to defend yourself from hordes of monsters every night. But if you start watching Minecraft videos on YouTube, it’ll be a long time until you find one that shows a battle. What you’ll find are lots of people showing off the amazing things they built.

Here’s a nice little home. Make sure you watch until 1:15:

Still not sold? How about this massive replica of the Reichstag:

Ironically, it does NOT burn down.

But it’s not just structures. Here’s a guy who built a sheep-shooting cannon:

I urge you all to go to Google, search for “Minecraft,” and click on Images. Some of the things you see will make you simultaneously proud and ashamed to be a part of the human race.