Today I was playing Minecraft and my wife asked me, "is it fun?" The weird thing was, I had no idea how to even answer that question. Is Minecraft fun? I don't know. If hard pressed, I guess I'd say no. I guess I don't think that Minecraft is a fun game. But I don't think I play ift to have fun. It serves a different kind of purpose.
I had a rough week at work. It was one of those weeks where I felt sort of worn down and needed a little time to dust myself off. I mean nothing life-altering or anything. Just a tough week with some setbacks. I'll be fine. Totally fine actually. But y'know how sometimes you just need to take a night and have no responsibility? Maybe you order Chinese food and have a glass of Scotch afterwards and just sit and sort of sulk? That's where Minecraft came in.
I had some Best Buy rewards certificates and was able to pick up the Nintendo Switch port of Minecraft for $14, so I figured why not. And so I spent a few nights on the couch sitting next to my wife while she watched TV and I built myself a little world. I called it Pandora - the first name that came to mind as a James Cameron fan. I mean, I also thought of LV-426, but I wanted a peaceful Xenomorph-free world.
Firing it up, I was immediately impressed with how this game handled on the Switch. There's some moments when the world first generates where the draw distance seems weak, but otherwise the hardware performs admirably. Plus, I kind of love this weird little quasi-partnership between Microsoft and Nintendo right now. It sort of reinforces how well the Switch and Xbox One work as complimentary platforms. It actually kind of blew my mind to sign into my Xbox account on a Nintendo device and see my Microsoft avatar show up. Even weirder to see achievements pop on Xbox for a Nintendo game. And I mean, there's now a game that exists that features both a Super Mario Bros. world template, and Halo skins. Who would have ever imagined?
There's really only one way that I play Minecraft: peacefully. I set it to Survival, as I don't want unlimited resources nor do I want to fly. But I don't want to deal with the bullshit like remembering to eat, or finding shelter from Creepers. Nope. I just want to peacefully build stuff. I want a game that's the digital equivalent of a zen garden. I just want to push stuff around until I make sense of the pieces.
And so that's what I've been doing this week... pushing stuff around. Tearing things apart to build something new. Turning nothing into something. I don't know if I've been having fun, but it's been a good way to unwind I guess.
It's not the first time I've spent time with Minecraft, though. I mean I've never been super into it. I've always just done what I'm doing now - find some time when I could use a mindless distraction and just build whatever. First I played it on PC since I got a free code for the Windows 10 version. Then again I played it on Xbox One because - again - I got a free code for that version. At one point I even tried it on Oculus Rift. I'm not really "into" Minecraft, but gosh, I just keep finding reasons to mess around with it. Heck, I even have a copy of the Minecraft Essentials book in my library. So I guess that means something. Or does it? I don't even know if I LIKE Minecraft. I just kind of... need it sometimes?
So what have I been doing this week then? Well, I spent some time scouting a place to start. I had a few meh spots until I finally settled on this one area right off of a little beach. So I built a crafting table, then the stuff I needed to make a stove. And then I started working on building myself a two level house out of dirt. It took me a couple of nights. I finished it off by putting in a front and back door, and then some windows - including a nice bay window in the front facing the ocean. Sweet view.
Next I collected a bunch of sand and built a super high tower that I topped off with a bunch of torches to help me find my way home when I venture off. And then I ventured off. I went and killed a few sheep so I could make myself a bed.
After that I decided to dig down. Luckily my new home was built right atop some easily accessible mines. So I made several trips down there just attempting to deeper and deeper with no real goal in mind. It turned into a loop: enter the mines, try to go deeper than before. When my tools broke, I'd take some time to backtrack and find my way back up to the surface.
It was right around this point that my wife asked if I was having fun. And I couldn't actually answer affirmatively. I'm so used to playing games that involved a goal. Sure achievements were popping but so what? I play on Peaceful mode so there's no dragons to kill or anything. Instead, I was doing the zen garden thing. Nothing I did mattered. How fucking zen was that?
But maybe Minecraft served its purpose this week. It helped distract me. It took my mind off whatever minor defeat had gotten to me. Even if the game amounted to nothing more than busy work, at least it did that well. I can't say that I'll ever be a huge Minecraft fan, but I find the history of the game fascinating. Likewise, I think it's incredible that this game is so ubiquitous with 'gaming' as it is with the kids of today. And that's really why I ever even delved in to begin with.
Maybe Minecraft isn't supposed to be fun, though. Maybe it's supposed to be something that works out your mind. Or takes your mind away from life. I don't know. Even if I don't have fun with Minecraft, I do feel like it has its place in my gaming life. And I appreciate that.
Ten months later, here I am playing Minecraft again. It seems like it's become a sort of annual thing for me now. I just get the bug, and I spend some time just kind of doing nothing. It's... pretty great.
Over the years, I've had this habit of restarting a new world whenever I start playing again. Mostly, because it was different platforms that made me decide to try the game again. However THIS TIME I was revisiting that same world (Pandora) that I started last year.
The reason I was in the mood to delve back in lately is an interesting one. Because I've had a lot less time to actually play games lately, I've found myself spending more time WATCHING games recently. Outside of some competitive stuff, I was never really one to watch a lot game streams. But I've found myself turning on the IGN channel on Pluto TV a lot lately with my daughter sleeping on me. It doesn't really matter what game is on, it's just something DIFFERENT to watch and make me feel like I'm sort of participating in my hobby.
Games we've watched lately include Kingdom Hearts III (indifferent), Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (meh), Battlefield V (indifferent), and lots of Breath Of The Wild. But for some reason I decided to check out the Minecraft channel instead one night and found that it made for a super soothing experience. Again, I'm a guy who doesn't really care for game streams normally, but I've been enjoying this. I watched a dude called Think Noodles (?) work on a huge pirate ship one night and it made me think, "wait a minute... I don't have a boat in Minecraft."
So I did a quick Google search and found out that a basic boat can be assembled with some wood and a shovel. I fired up the game on Switch a few nights ago, and was back in Pandora. It was a cool experience. I was familiar with the little house I had started and the area surrounding it. I crafted a quick boat and shoved off and found a bunch of local islands. I decided to put a tower with some torches atop one mountain so I'd recognize it for future exploration and then went back home.
Then I decided to build a little makeshift spot for my boat to dock near my house. And then I started clearing off the beach outside my door. Then I was sort of hooked on the busywork loop again. Granted, I'm playing in these short twenty minute chunks before bed. But it's been fun.
I spent one chunk carving out rooms on the second floor of my house; another I built a tunnel from my house into the caves below. It's certainly not the most compelling video game experience out there. But it is relaxing and a good way to unwind.