Some people still don’t get Minecraft. Type “what’s the point of Minecraft?” into a search engine and you’ll get thousands of results discussing it. Ultimately, however, Minecraft is a building game, a sandbox of digital blocks where amazing things are possible. Asking what’s the point of Minecraft is like asking what’s the point of LEGO?
Launched in 2009, Minecraft has sold over 120 million copies and you can play it on everything from a low-powered PC to a mobile phone. Venture beyond the game’s Survival mode, however, and it’s the Creative area of the game that keeps people coming back for more. To some it’s a CAD program, to others it’s the modern equivalent of an Airfix kit.
Building a movie set
However you view Minecraft, people are building some astonishing things in it. Director Ben Wheatley recently admitted to building the sets for his 2017 action film Free Fire in the game. As he told The Guardian, this allowed him to “walk around the space and ensure that everyone was in the right position,” during the ninety-minute warehouse shootout.
Creating real-world locations in Minecraft is a popular pastime. Some gamers have painstakingly constructed models of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. Others have embarked on projects to create entire cities, like Portland in Oregon and “all 35 square city blocks in the Chicago Loop,” the windy city’s business district.
This year, the St Kilda archipelago in Scotland was the subject of an ambitious Minecraft build. The remote island chain was digitally recreated as a 1:1 map to mark World Heritage Day.
Why? As Nick Smith, heritage manager at Western Isles’ local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, told the BBC: “This is a really exciting way to use technology so that people can discover a remote and difficult to access place.”
Minecraft Education Edition
That’s the key to Minecraft’s extended appeal. It allows you to explore places you might never visit or build things that don’t exist. The Minecraft Education Edition even offers building-inspired lesson plans. These range from recreating Frank Lloyd-Wright’s Pope-Leighey House to building a refugee camp that conforms to UNHCR standards.
Minecraft allows players to time travel too, jumping back to New York in the 1940s, a recreation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, or to 17th century London. The latter was a project created by the Museum of London to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London in 1666. The extraordinary model of 17th century London was built by the veteran Minecrafters at Blockworks.
The three maps offer “immersive experiences, allowing players to enter the City of London in 1666 and explore the story of the Great Fire like never before. Uncover the causes of this terrible event, help fight the fire and eventually try your hand at rebuilding London.”
It’s not just real world locations that have sparked the imagination of Minecraft fans. Fictional settings like King’s Landing from Game of Thrones and Minis Tirith from Lord of the Rings have been lovingly sculpted in blocky 3D. Video games have been plundered too, including the sterile cityscape of Mirror’s Edge and the medieval world of Skyrim.
A digital playground
One dedicated player has even created a shot-for-shot version of Star Wars: A New Hope in Minecraft.
Minecraft is also a haven for model makers, a digital playground with an unlimited set of blocks. Spend some time on the popular Planet Minecraft website and you’ll be amazed by the artistic ingenuity and the patience of Minecraft’s most avid fans.
For example, OneSidedBattle has created a Nebulon-B Escort Frigate from Star Wars, complete with internal rooms. While Gaulight’s reproduction of a real 20 gun frigate entitled L’Étoile du Roy is extraordinary in its attention to detail.
Minecraft brings out people’s artistic side too. Cakeicing’s Glacial Gaudi is a stunning ice castle inspired by the famous Spanish architect. While Ambariña, a Medieval Mediterranean City (see video above) is a build by Team Lyrah that features an island with more than 120 houses, all of them furnished.
Wondrous working machines
Of course, with its clever Redstone blocks and mechanisms, Minecraft is capable of more than just landscapes and model-making. It’s possible to create wondrous working machines inside the game, like a 16-bit calculator and a smartphone that makes real video calls.
You can even play games within the game. Last year, a coder created an Atari 2600 emulator that could play Pac-Man, albeit at the speed of treacle.
Minecraft has become so much more than a game. With the release of the Minecraft Store, some builders might even be able to make a living at it, designing and selling maps, texture packs and mods. At a time when attention spans are short and new titles battle for the loyalty of gamers, Minecraft is the game that keeps on giving.