Editorials

Minecraft: Putting Imagination Back Into Gaming

November 1, 2012, Author: Neil Hughes, 3 Comments

The games industry now rivals Hollywood, with millions being invested in triple-A titles that have budgets similar to a summer blockbuster movie. The media circus is constantly warning how big games such as Assassins Creed, Far Cry, Call of Duty and Hitman are corrupting our nation’s youth whilst blurring the line between fact and fiction.

Daily Mail-type newspapers will be quick to tell you that our kids are being manipulated into thinking killing and stealing is acceptable, but of course we all know that this is sensationalist nonsense. What you don’t read in the media is how the school playgrounds are no longer talking about the latest Call of Duty maps or kill streaks. Young gamers in droves are turning their back on expensive, violent games that show a complete lack of imagination, and their familiarity with the rehashed sequels every year breeds nothing but contempt for them.

Studio executives have a complete lack of understanding of their audience, mainly because a middle-aged man in a suit has long lost something that cannot be recaptured, something which young gamers have in abundance. What I am talking about here is imagination. This one word encapsulates what video-games were built on, and have returned to, in a somewhat poetic circle.

Last week, Minecraft became the first game to dethrone the Call of Duty franchise that has dominated the top position of the Xbox Live activity chart for several years now. A fantastic David vs. Goliath story, where an indie developer can destabilise the establishment.

Last week the Golden Joystick awards saw Minecraft win the XBLA best downloadable game, and a new category was born in the form of ‘YouTube Gamer Award’. Sponsored by YouTube, this saw the triumph of Yogscast, arguably one of the reasons for the success of Minecraft with their semi-improvised comedy drama known as “Shadow of Israphel”.

Minecraft is a world where you build to survive the dangers of the night, and where the only limit is your imagination. Yet for some reason, most people over 30 cannot grasp this simple concept, which is something that is nothing short of fascinating.

My son shows me how to create a portal...

On many occasions, I have found myself in a room full of adults that simply cannot comprehend why their kids are captivated by this game and its retro visuals that look 20 years past their sell-by-date. It doesn’t take long until someone says something like: “Why would you play something like this, on a powerful games console when there are so many games with amazing graphics to play?” The kids give a knowing look to each other and sigh at these adults that do not understand their world.

Who are the stupid ones here? Young gamers who are working together using their collective imagination to build something unique? Or the mature gamers, who play the same Call of Duty maps every single night so they can prestige for the 10th time, like a deranged lab rat looking for a reward in the form of a shiny new symbol next to their gamertag?

We are now living in a world where buzzwords such as ‘innovation’ and ‘engagement’ are paramount to the long-term success of anything, and this is what the makers of Minecraft have tapped into. Change is the only thing in life that is constant, and there is something quite beautiful about our children shunning what has been repeated and repackaged to them. In contrast, they are thinking for themselves, and the fact that imagination and creating something unique is an alien concept to the powers that be is quite a sad state of affairs.

Forget smack talk; lets work together to create something...

Studios have become lazy, and mistakenly thought gamers were lazy too. They thought if they packaged stunning graphics and a few spectacular explosions, they would have a winning formula on their hands. Yet big budget games are rapidly becoming a shallow and empty experience. Quick Time Events mean the gamer just sits there and has to quickly press a button that pops up during a cut-scene, before being bombarded with adverts, more cut-scenes and nubile women characters; because we are all dumb shits, right?

Hell no. Gamers of all ages are much more sophisticated than that, and the winds of change in the air is proof of just that. Gamers voted for games such as Minecraft and Skyrim to win Golden Joystick awards last week rather than Call of Duty. There must be a more than a few worried people out there, as the rehashed sequel business model just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Mainstream media very often prefers to demonise the youth of today, as well as our beloved pastime. The fact that young gamers have reminded us that the concentration on graphics alone is the reason games have been going downhill lately is refreshing, inspirational and heart-warming, in my opinion.

Maybe we can all learn a lesson from this and concentrate on the games themselves rather than the graphics, and realise the power of our imagination that many of us have left dormant after many years of neglect.

Comments (3)

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  1. Neil H said:

    Both my Son and Daughter love Minecraft on the Xbox. I regularly have four player minecraft sessions occur after school is done and they bring their friends home. I've played it for hours too to be fair and I like the fact that the minecraft environment allows my kids to create, learn and to build shared experiences. Really can't beat the "dad come look what I built" conversations. As a 35 yr old gamer, I think I'm always after narrative to keep me entertained. I hate watching soaps, love watching films, I think that If something stays too linear it just doesn't do it for me. Admittedly, minecraft is far from linear and effectively provides a sand pit to do what ever one wanet, it's just a bit, well, samey after a while. Dig dig dig...

    Posted on: November 02 4:52 AM || Report || Reply

  2. Phil said:

    I haven't got round to Minecraft yet but I have a ling held belief that XBLA is a treasure trove of pure entertainment that exceeds any high street stores shelf full of full releases. Be this enhanced classics like Sonic or Streets of Rage or new IP's such as I am Alive or Limbo. What's more is not only is the catalogue of downloadable games full of fun, and fulfilling games, they rarely, if ever cost more than £10.

    I already have 2 full Hard drives and am looking for my 3rd disk.

    Posted on: November 02 11:38 AM || Report || Reply

  3. Trent said:

    I think Minecraft has it's place but has been severly overrated. I got it when it was first available for beta on PC and enjoyed it for a while. After mining and building and mining and building and mining and building for a while I got bored. There's still something to be said for full console games and I think dismissing them as uncreative is a bit much. Minecraft is essentially a pixel-art playground; the creativity comes from the players. Which I suppose is the point but for every exceptional construction there's a thousand giant cocks and shitty dirt houses. The ever-annoying Yogscast did indeed help popularise the game but why they're winning awards for essentially acting like bedwetting tossers while talking over exceedingly boring Minecraft playthroughs I shall never understand.

    I get that it's only just come out on Xbox and now all the console gamers are going mad for it but considering the fact that the first version released was almost a full 2 years behind the PC version and still cost more than the average XBLA title should give you a good idea of how shrewd Mojang are. They generally steal user mods and use them as updates and despite 'releasing' the 'full game' on PC a while back have continued to update it periodically, as if nothings changed.

    Forgive me if I sound cynical, I was just done with Minecraft ages ago.

    Posted on: November 03 7:37 PM || Report || Reply

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