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Feature: Robertson on Minecraft's Baffling, Terrifying, Mature Design

In a new Gamasutra feature, columnist Margaret Robertson discusses how her thoughts on indie success story Minecraft evolved from bafflement to terror and admira
In a new Gamasutra feature, ex-Edge magazine EIC and current Hide&Seek game designer Margaret Robertson discusses how her thoughts on indie success story Minecraft evolved from bafflement to game-generated terror to admiration for the game's subtle, elegant design. Like many who have yet to fully engage the game, Robertson said she was initially "confused, baffled and underwhelmed" by YouTube videos of gameplay which "variously promised enlightenment, clarification, and conversion." The over-the-top proselytizing of fans left Robertson confused, even as it left the game's lone Swedish creator, Markus Persson, nearly $4 million richer. After a confusing and underwhelming initial play experience, Robertson said she eventually returned to the game and found it to be, at its core, a hurried battle for survival against the encroaching dangers that lurk in the darkness of the night. Yet even after building her first protective shelter with her own digital hands, regular Gamasutra columnist Robertson says she found she wasn't fully protected from her fear." "HIT BEING HIT DAMAGE WHAT IS THAT HELP HIT HIT HIT WHERE HIT," Roberston writes of her initial reaction to being attacked in her own shelter. "Three hearts have gone. There's something. I'm taking damage. I'm hitting flailing spinning hitting. No idea what's out there. In here. No idea how dangerous it is. No idea if I'm hitting it or if it's still hitting me. Massive adrenalin spike." "Eventually I realize I'm still alive and stop fighting," she continues. "My health is down but the damage has stopped. Whatever it was, I must have killed it. I'd feel proud, but now I'm just terrified. What was it? How did it get in? Did it spawn inside my house? Can they do that? Are there more?" While the buzz around Minecraft has focused on it's kooky, Lego-adjacent open-world gameplay and massive viral success, Robertson feels the game deserves credit for being "an extremely mature and finely-tooled piece of design" as well. The game's gently directed play make it less an open-world sandbox and more a tutorial-free mission-based RPG, she argues. "You've arrived there because you've seen screenshots and heard stories," Robertson writes. "You know extraordinary buildings and contraptions are possible, and closing the gap between those fantasies, and the reality of your powerless arrival in the game is what guides your progress through those first hours. It's fear, uncertainty and doubt elevated to design principles." Robertson's full column, Five Minutes Of... Minecraft goes into more detail on all of these points.

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