Swedish coder Markus “Notch” Persson didn’t invent the concept of the block-based building game – Minecraft arrived just after Zach Barth’s experimental title Infiniminer. However, the founder of Stockholm studio Mojang took the idea of a Lego-like construction game based in a procedurally generated environment and perfected it. Originally launched as a work in progress in the summer of 2009, word about this unusual blocky simulation quickly spread on PC gaming forums and a community of enthusiastic modders started to gather around the project, downloading Persson’s version but adding their own rules and graphics. From the very beginning Minecraft was a shared endeavour – a labour of love, shared between creator and fans.
By the time of its full release in November 2011, Minecraft already had 10 million registered players. Later came conversions from PC to Xbox, PlayStation and smartphones, bringing in new audiences. The game was split into two experiences: the Survival mode where players had to battle zombies and giant spiders while mining for resources, and the Creative mode where they were given an unlimited inventory of wooden, glass and stone blocks to concentrate on crafting their own ambitious projects.
This has always been the vital element of Minecraft’s success and importance: it is a dozen experiences in one. It’s about making models, but also exploration, combat and resource management. Participants can build alone or join friends, introducing a new form of online creative collaboration. Using the game’s red stone component, which allows objects in the world to be electrically powered, fans began to build complex machines including working calculators. Others constructed scale models of the USS Enterprise, Hogwarts and King’s Landing. Art galleries and museums began to take notice. The Tate Modern commissioned expert modellers to create versions of modernist artworks in the Minecraft world; the British Museum was officially recreated in the game, as was Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Over the past decade, Minecraft has become a hobby and a social space. Servers have been set up for people on the autistic spectrum, providing a vital means of meeting with and communicating with others. Hundreds of schools throughout the world use the Education edition of Minecraft to teach physics, geology, drama, art, electronics and sustainable farming. The cultural and educational reach of the game is enormous. Minecraft was vital in the rise of the celebrity gaming YouTuber – with names like StampyCat and DanTDM familiar to millions.
With more than 175m copies now sold on an array of devices from smartphones to virtual-reality headsets, Minecraft has transcended the idea of what games are and what they can achieve. When you load the game, what you do is up to you – it gives you the experience you want, and that is different for everyone. There has never been an interactive entertainment experience like it. Game makers truly believe that video games have the power – just like literature, cinema and art – to change lives. This one unquestionably, demonstrably has. Time and time again.