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Minecraft And The Cave Of Origination

Opinion piece on why Minecraft is such and additive game and how it compares emotionally with our dearest childhood experiences.

Remember what it was like to be  an 8 years old kid  living in a huge world filled with adventures waiting to happen at the turn of every corner? I thought I did, until I played Minecraft and I realized that I had lost my childhood sense of discovery a long time ago. 

There are many factors that separate the good video games from the bad ones, but there is only one factor that separates great video games from the rest, and that is the ability to strike an emotional cord within the player.

At first glance Minecraft does not seem like much. The gameplay is as simple as it gets, the boxy art style and graphics are by no means hardware intensive, and the there is no story or final goal to the game. But it’s this simplicity and detachment  from any pre-determined narrative strings that makes this game something special.

When I was a kid I used to have a collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and He-Man action figures. I used to play with them all the time, pretending to recreate huge battles between the Foot clan and the Turtles, or having Skeletor defeat He-Man time after time ( I’ve always had a thing for the underdog). 

 We also had this old wooden chair at my house. To the untrained (read: adult) eye, there was nothing particularly special about this chair. Except it was also a powerful flying platform, equipped with laser cannons, that I would use to explore and get across exotic magical lands. I used to stand on top of the chair and use the back rest as a navigation console and take off on crazy adventures, powered by the best game engine ever conceived:  a child’s imagination.

I don’t remember how many action figures I had and I definitely don’t remember any details about my crazy battles with the Foot clan or the many different horrors my  He-Man suffered at the hand of Skeletor; but I do remember every single detail about my amazing flying platform and all the lands we explored.

 Minecraft is like my old chair: Simple, yet because I am writing the story with every action I make, I am constantly creating emotional synapses that link me directly to the worlds I play.

Have you ever heard the story of the young boy and cave of origination? If you are a true gamer the answer to that question is most likely yes. But for the benefit of those of you who don’t know it, I will tell this epic tale.

 A long time ago, a young boy made a discovery that would change the history of the world as we know it. Walking home from school, he stumbled upon a cave at the base of a mountain. The cave was dark, and the echoes that it produced filled the young boy’s mind with images of the many secrets that the cave was protecting inside. Scared and excited at the same time, he ran home and that night, our young hero had dreams and nightmares filled with monster, treasures, and imprisoned  princesses. The cave had put a spell on him. 

Next morning, our young hero built his own lantern and with blind determination and courage he venture inside the cave.

Inside he found a vast network of tunnels, filled with rooms and narrow corridors, and for one amazing summer, the boy returned to the cave day after day, using his imagination to conjure an epic story in which he was both the protagonist and the writer. 

The name of the boy is Shigeru Miyamoto, and had he not stumbled upon that cave on that fateful day, the industry would not be what it is today. Without the enormous success of the Mario franchise I imagine everything we have in the industry today ( including  Minecraft)  would have never come to be.  

Every time I play Minecraft I think about that story, and I also think about my old wooden chair. Every time I begin digging in one direction I start thinking what will I stumble upon next? And when I destroy a block and ahead of me lies a huge dark cave, my imagination takes over and feeds me with tales of horror and danger, fables of courage and discovery, and the child in me feels alive again.  For each block I break, I get one step closer to finding my cave of origination.

If we take the sum of all its elements, Minecraft is by no means a flawless game, but with everything that is going on with the industry , and the fast pace at which everything seems to be moving nowadays, it’s becoming increasingly hard to remember what  makes a great game.  Minecraft is a wonderful reminder of the essence of gaming and why we, as gamers, play game after game in the search for that feeling long lost. It is a reminder that all it takes to make great video games is a child’s imagination and the will and courage to overcome our fears and continue digging till we find the next cave of origination.

I sincerely hope that in the future we remember the story of Notch and Minecraft in the same way we remember the story of Shigeru and the cave: as a golden passage in the history of video games that reveals once more that the heart of gaming lies in the void of imagination. 

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