What’s in a Game? part II, MineCraft

In part I we introduced 5 general game play categories: Creation, Competition, Collaboration, Collecting, and Exploration (I couldn’t find a suitable synonym beginning with ‘C’). We’ll apply these to MineCraft and see how it fares in each. Note that I’ll be looking at the vanilla unmodded game since pretty much anything is possible if mods are included.


Since MineCraft’s land area is virtually infinite exploration plays a large part in the game, not only for resource gathering but sometimes just for seeing the pretty views. As big as a part that exploration plays there are some possible improvements that could be made. While there are some things to find in the MineCraft world in the latest releases, such as abandoned mines, the world is relatively empty and pure above ground exploration itself has little purpose other than to find a nice place to build a cabin. In this sense MineCraft suffers from a similar issue as Daggerfall did: huge procedural landscape but little to nothing to find or do in it. Thinking back of my many MineCraft worlds I can’t think of any that ever expanded past around 1000×1000 blocks in size, if that large. We shouldn’t force world exploration on the player (in general anyways) but providing an option for the player to be rewarded from exploration would be a good thing.


This is MineCraft’s obvious strength as creation is only limited by your imagination and amount of free time. While the in-game creation affords little possible improvement, the out-of-game modding can use some improvement. As I understand it there is really no built-in support for modding in MineCraft: people have just decompiled the Java source and started adding their own code. Since there is no “official” modding support the usage of mods is relatively haphazard, even after considerable effort from the modding community as a whole. I shouldn’t have to be decompressing and modifying Java packages to install or debug mods. While the MineCraft modding community is huge I’d like to imagine how much better it would be if there was modding support in the game from the start (don’t take this as a criticism of the game, merely an observation in hindsight).


There is a small amount of collecting in the game if the player desires it as evidenced from some of my extensive rooms of chests filled with blocks and items. Whether MineCraft could use more collection game play is good question without any obvious answers. I would personally like to see more types of base blocks, particularly of rare gems and metals along with more things to craft from them. Better ways of storing/sorting items might be useful and more collection achievements plus rewards would add more motivation. Adding random item drops would be another method of encouraging collection although this is partially supported in the form of enchantments already. Despite a lot of possibilities I think this is one area where a few smaller collection oriented features would be better than trying to shoe horn larger features into an already full game.


Competition is another weak area for Minecraft. There is no built-in PVP so player competition is eliminated right away and probably for good reason (not a very strong combat model). This leaves the primary form of competition to only be “not dying” with a secondary one of seeing who can build the “best” thing. While “not dying” in MineCraft is actually relatively hard it is still easy compared to other games. By just using a few common sense rules (don’t go out at night, always keep mines light, don’t play near lava) the game can get downright easy, even on the “hard” difficulty setting. I’ve died more times in unavoidable and inexplicable ways than actual “valid” deaths which pushes the game towards more annoying that actually difficult. The original MineCraft did very well with competition the first time you started: you didn’t know where you were, what to do, or where to go but you knew that you had to make a basic fort by the first nightfall or be killed by the undead. This little bit of fear and uncertainty in survival is actually a good thing but unfortunately it was short lived as with a little experience there’s very little left to actually fear in the game any more.


Multi-player collaboration is mostly about joining other people to help build something bigger than one person could easily do alone. This is a great example of two game play types, collaboration and creation, joining together to form something more than the two of them alone.

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