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Why I Don’t Like Minecraft

March 12, 2012
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I spent Saturday night playing a few games at my apartment with a friend: Left 4 Dead 2, Realm of the Mad God, and, to cap off the night, a few hours of Minecraft. I hadn’t played Minecraft for many months (since 1.0 came out), but this weekend’s play session reminded me why I stopped, and why I’ve grown to dislike it. For the record, I’ve played it for about 65 hours: by comparison, my most-played game on Steam—Fallout: New Vegas—clocks in at 54 hours. Sure, I haven’t played nearly as long as other players, but the point here is that I’ve given it more than a fair shot. And after all these hours, as much as I recognize the appeal of the game, I have more negative feelings than positive, and I’d like to finally voice them here.

Mining→Crafting→Mining→…

Why do we build a mine? For two reasons: to explore, or to gather resources to build things. Myself, I love exploring worlds. I’ve spent many hours running through caves in Minecraft with the persisting worry that there’s a creeper sneaking up behind me. I’ve made plenty of maps and run back and forth across the world to find abandoned mines, impressively unnatural rock formations, and vast forests. I’ve spent considerably less time building, though. I played with a few friends on a private server of ours, and we competed in some way to build the best-looking house. I wanted to blow both of them out of the water, so I built a lever-controlled bridge that would sink into lava when triggered. And I designed a large castle—which I didn’t complete—with sandstone pillars lit by glowstone, and with a pleasing floor tiling in the massive hall.

But after all the hours I put into charting new territory and building my grand castle, I suddenly thought to ask myself why I was doing these things. The caves I had explored had lead to some great resources—plenty of iron and coal, and enough diamond to keep the tools I needed—but these resources wouldn’t last, and I was constantly having to go out to dig some more sand for the sandstone pillars. And what was the purpose of building the castle? To impress my friends? I didn’t need to build a castle to make them like me. I could have a large storage room, which would be handy, but couldn’t I just build a large rock structure for that? There’s certainly something to be said for beautiful architecture, but that presupposes that I’ll be playing the game long enough to appreciate the castle I built: if I don’t finish it, what’s the point of even starting?

To me, the game comes down to a pointless cycle: we mine so we can build, and as we build, we must mine to continue building, and we build mines to keep mining, and we build storehouses and stairs to access resources more easily, and we use those resources to build more tools and more storehouses and more structures. But why? Creativity is one answer, and it suffices for those with the drive to just create without asking questions: I would certainly have loved Minecraft as I did Lego, had I played it as a kid. But these days I like my investment to be returned to me afterwards. When I walk away, I would like to take something away from it. Allow me to illustrate this with a comparison.

What Terraria Does Better

Initially, I shied away from Terraria because I saw it as simply riding on the coattails of Minecraft. But I was urged by another friend to try it, and since it was on sale on Steam for only $2.50, I figured that it was worth the risk. And it wasn’t long before I loved it. It’s much more than just “2D Minecraft“: there is a lot of challenge, and it lacks many of the fruitless “rewards” in Minecraft. For one, there is little dependency on mineral resources. Yes, you must scour the world for the right materials to build up your armour and weapons, but once they’re made, they never become worn. Contrast this with Minecraft, in which your tools and your armour break, forcing you to go mine for the resources to rebuild them and extending the gameplay needlessly. It’s like backtracking in Metroidvania games: you have to do it to keep playing, but it’s minimally enjoyable.

By now you may be eager to ask what I got out of Terraria that I didn’t get from Minecraft. First, it’s more about what I didn’t get: the feeling that I was wasting my time, doing work without purpose. Each time I ventured underground, it was to do something specific, and when that goal was accomplished, I moved on to the next one. I never once had to repeat something just because. And often, achieving these goals (gather enough of resource X to make the next tier of armour, or to create the item needed to summon a boss) was extremely challenging.

In Terraria, you’re often way over your head, difficulty-wise: it’s rare to enter a new biome and not be frightened of the significantly more powerful enemies that await. The first time I ventured down to Hell with my friend, we built claustrophobic tunnels around us, ever surrounded by lava or brutal foes. I was always ready to hit Esc and disconnect from the server, were something to go awry (which was often). Together, we spent hours working to drain lava from a pit so he could retrieve items he dropped when he died. And to retrieve his lost items (this was a recurring theme) from the dungeon that Skeletron guarded. We had to build an arena in which to fight him, and it was a real challenge, considering that my friend’s best weapons were past Skeletron, irretrievable until we defeated him. And when we both defeated the Wall of Flesh in Hell, thus enabling hard mode, we encountered the Underground Hallowed biome, which was frighteningly more difficult than Hell, thanks to its warping Chaos Elementals. We had to be extremely cautious and creative to find ways to get our resources without being mauled to death in seconds.

Once again, Minecraft poses little challenge—I don’t need a friend to make it through caves safely, and running around the surface is, almost literally, a walk in the park—and its call for creativity is empty, lacking a motivating reason. I loved venturing into the ghast-filled Nether to collect glowstone, but it paled in comparison to my excursions in Terraria. So whereas from Minecraft I had little to show for my many hours, Terraria gave me real challenges, memories of banding together with friends, and a simple reason to be creative: be clever, or die. I’ve played Terraria half as long as I’ve played Minecraft, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve gotten more out of the former than the latter.

Why Minecraft Isn’t Much of a Game

Although I cannot deny that Minecraft contains fun elements, I think it’s difficult to argue that they alone actually create much gameplay: I explored because I like exploring, and other players build because they like to design. But beyond that, it’s not much of a game. What gamelike elements are there—enemies and experience points—feel like pointless obstacles and rewards, only there because “these are things that games have”. Instead, players have to inject their own gameplay: there are mods and maps for puzzles and quests, for instance. Probably the best feature, though, is redstone. The inclusion of a means to compute and automatically move blocks is brilliant, and I’ve seen many impressive machines on YouTube.

In the end, Minecraft isn’t a sandbox game—it’s just a sandbox. By itself, it has little to offer, but it has become a platform for creative others to build complex computers, clever puzzles, and a community of designers. And there’s definitely something to be said for that.

And Some Minor Gripes

Before I conclude, there are a couple of things that I want to get off my chest that I might otherwise feel like repressing. The first is the choice of language—Java. It’s easily ported, and I can understand that, but with all the polygons to render, a lighter language like C++ would have been much faster. It’s the same reason that Super Meat Boy (written in Flash) suffers poor frame rates at times: the more automatically portable code is, the worse it performs on all platforms. As an interesting side node, the iOS version of Minecraft is written in C++, since iOS devices don’t support Java—I doubt, though, that they would change languages for the main game.

The second is the choice to monetize the game even more by introducing Minecraft Lego. Minecraft is already Lego—but you have to work to get each block you use. The move only seeks to make more money, providing nothing more than the game itself already offers. In fact, it offers less: blocks are limited, and exploration and enemies are nonexistent. It upsets me when brands exploit their success just to make money, offering little in return. Rather than using the (heaps of) money they made with Minecraft to build trust in their fanbase with more games, they cash in the trust they have. There’s no honour in it.

Who Cares?

Ugh. That’s a good question. Evidently, I do—I’d rather spend my time doing something that lets me experience something new, presents me with intriguing insight into something I haven’t considered, or makes me work together with friends or strangers. There’s so much that I can get out of other games, so I have little reason to play Minecraft but to perhaps relax or waste time now and again. In previous posts I’ve emphasized how important I think it is that games present meaningful experiences. I know that others share this sentiment, though I know few of them personally. It is my hope, though, that more people start to view games as I do. Then maybe we’ll see more Terraria‘s and fewer Minecraft‘s.

What do you think of Minecraft

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. sam permalink
    March 13, 2012 12:20 am

    Hey this was an interesting read. I have not heard much criticism of minecraft. It is kinda funny because the cycle you talk about is like real life.
    I might be commenting to let you know I read. Commentless post no more!

  2. March 13, 2012 1:08 am

    Now that I’m back at home I came to see if I could fix this disaster post but I see you have! Thanks Ben, it was quite embarrassing but my phone was constantly highlighting words and changing them for no reason. It was quite frustrating, I am not sure what was even happening.

    For a better response–now that I can quickly type–I would like to elaborate on my earlier point; the cycle sounds exactly like real life.

    We work for money and then use the money to sustain ourselves through food and shelter so we can continue working. The work may be fun for some people, and the spending of the money may be more rewarding for others. So it’s kind of interesting that this game takes the basic cycle of modern life and turns it into a game. Except it’s much more simplified. There are no actual missions (aside from your own personal ones), but real life, and most games, tend to offer more tangible rewards. For example, some people find getting married and having children to be some kind of goal, but this game distinctly lacks that aspect.

    Just my thoughts. :>

    p.s. again, sorry for my phone!

    • March 13, 2012 8:37 pm

      Glad to help. You were clearly having some phone troubles. Now no one needs to know! 🙂

      I think that if this game is at all like life, it’s similar only in some of the work that you do, and not in the rewards that you get. There is little pleasure outside of the actual work being done, whereas life provides many more ways to be satisfied. In fact, many other games tap into our need for rewards better than Minecraft does (though I should add that I think the outright high-targeting that plenty of games do—most MMOs, for instance—makes for an empty experience).

      • March 21, 2012 12:21 am

        Ah, yes! Especially when it comes to MMOs. I quite dislike them, and I think they are extremely empty experiences. Though, I also generally dislike playing games with people.

        Though I do think you can be satisfied from the work you do in minecraft, if you’re the right sort of person.

      • wjomlex permalink
        March 23, 2012 12:11 am

        I think there’re a ton of games that use the necessity of working with other people to great effect (Killing Floor, N+, etc.)

        But, MMOs generally don’t fall into this category. I agree, being *forced* to work with others when it doesn’t add much to the experience isn’t too fun.

  3. March 13, 2012 12:59 pm

    I agree with pretty much everything here. Minecraft is as much fun as you feel like getting out of it. It has a really great honeymoon period, but it gets same-y pretty quickly, and it’s all kinds of buggy to boot.

    Terraria is a much tighter game, and it affords most of the creativity that Minecraft offers (although there’s an epicness to massive 3D structures that you miss). The one thing Terraria needs is Turing-completeness 😀

    I disagree about the LEGO though… It *does* add something more. You can have hard copies of Minecraft constructions, and that’s pretty cool 😀 Building things from LEGO isn’t exactly the same as building things in the game, and in same ways, it’s more permanent. Also, the LEGO they’ve shown so far is pretty cute. It’s just missing redstone wire…

    • March 13, 2012 8:44 pm

      You’re right about the 3D structures, and I think it can be said for building in Terraria in general: I didn’t build much at all, to be honest, and there wasn’t much need to.

      I suppose to me, the Lego provides a lesser experience, given that for me, the most compelling part of Minecraft is the surface and (especially) cave exploration. That being said, for people who are interested in building, I can understand why the Lego might be appealing. Regardless, I maintain my position on it being a needless money-grab.

      • March 21, 2012 12:25 am

        I think it is a bit of a money-grab. 😦

        It really does seem like a lesser experience, and why not just regular lego? It doesn’t add much being “minecraft lego” vs traditional lego.

        (Even regular Lego is actually pretty expensive)

  4. Rodolfo permalink
    April 21, 2015 5:37 pm

    This actually made me quit minecraft.
    Up until now, I never asked myself “why am I playing this game” I just played it. But then after reading this, getting diamonds didn’t make me happy anymore. For the first time, I just thought, “how long are these going to last me, how long until I have to move my house because Iv’e stripped the land of all its resources. Thanks, I plan on getting teraria soon to see if it is as fun as you say.

    • wjomlex permalink
      May 2, 2015 11:59 am

      After you play Terraria for some time, check out Starbound as well. It’s by the same people and is really an improvement in all ways. I do recommend Terraria first though, partly because Starbound is still Early Access and not totally complete, and partly because I think seeing the progression from one to the other is worthwhile.

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