This site will work and look better in a browser that supports web standards, but should be accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Why I Stopped Playing Minecraft

November 16th, 2011

Minecraft may be officially hitting 1.0, but I will not be partaking. I've been clean for a month now.

When my mind wanders, something I'll occasionally find myself wondering is: how would I get on if I were to find myself in an untamed land, with no other people, plopped on some Earthy alien world and left to my own devices? How much science could I remember, or work out through trial and error, to survive? Could I build a kiln and fire pottery? Figure out what to eat and what not to eat without poisoning myself? Make mortar out of quicklime? (Since my occupation is 'game developer' obviously the real answer is "I would die instantly" but this is not the point.)

This particular notch in my brain exists because of a book. Invitation to the Game, a spot of young adult fiction I read in the 6th or 7th grade, tells the story of a group of predictably plucky-but-diverse young adults who are repeatedly called away from their dystopian-future lives to play The Game. It's a simulation, one which drops them into an untamed Earthy land with no other people, and leaves them there until they achieve some abstract and secret objective. (One I recall is triggered after they've simply traveled successfully as a group until they found a particular field of flowers.) Each session is longer than the previous, lasting days and then weeks, requiring them to build shelter and gather food, until (spoiler alert if you're still into young adult fiction) they eventually are never brought back. They reach the conclusion that they've been tested and trained through The Game to colonize a new planet, which they name Prize.

See where this is going?

Minecraft, with its survival and crafting mechanics, and its infinite and unique landscapes literally no one else but me has ever seen before, comes along and fits perfectly into that notch in my brain. It does more than that, though, and it gets at the very reasons why I have the career that I do.

I've begun to understand how artists choose their media. Poets think in phrases, writers in paragraphs, film makers in linear screen space. I find that I think in worlds, in landscapes and architecture. Forms get my attention only when people can move around and through them, and everywhere has a mood, a character, that forms in my head. Places make me imagine music, and music makes me imagine places. (It's the secret real reason I make finding apartments so hard for myself.) I pack books on flights and don't read them because I spend the entire trip staring out the window, my eyes tracing the endless twists of roads and the stories of human settlement they tell, the clefts in mountains and the stories of geology they tell. I sunk understandably vast amounts of time into SimCity4 when it came out my junior year of college, because it was a perfectly tuned generator for exactly those stories.

See where this is going?

I eventually had to give it up, because I was simply sinking too much time into it, and this is where Minecraft really comes in. As a person whose main means of both earning a living and recreation is creating worlds, that makes a second and equally deep cleft in my brain that Minecraft fills rather comfortably. Fills it, unfortunately, to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

Where most people have concerts, travel, sports, or a million other domains of hobbying, I have my projects. I have ideas built around new imaginary places and they simply have to be exorcised, have to be made manifest, because it's the only way I can appropriately share them. Terms like "cubespew" or "an experiment in abstract brutalism and skydome radiosity" don't give enough justice to the mood and character that has formed around what that place is in my head. When I don't or can't finish projects, or I lose interest in them, I'm disappointed in myself.

Meanwhile, if my creative energy were needed to power a million American homes or something, Minecraft would be the means by which it would be harnessed and collected. It is a perfectly tuned generator for stories of colonizing new worlds, of geology (oh, the caves!), of surviving by my own resourcefulness, and it's a perfectly willing receptacle for anything I could think to build in it. It could have been the last game I ever needed to play, because it's just so essentially me, and could have been the last place I ever built anything new. This, you see, is why I'm now off the Minecraft.

If you told me a year ago I'd really like a version of Radiant in which I had to fight off skeletons and dig giant holes in the ground in order to place any brushes, I'd call you an idiot. Compared to Maya and Radiant, Minecraft is a pretty terrible toolset for actually making anything, but ... it's just got so much other fun shit in there. It's hard not to want to try. Really hard, it turns out. Oh, the things I could build in these worlds!

I'd grind away a weekend gathering ludicrous amounts of stone or something, because roaming those hills gave me ideas and those ideas must be exorcised and made manifest and then Sunday would be over, and what I'd have to show for my effort would look so feeble and masturbatory compared to my other projects that lay gathering dust and rusting that I'd have a moment of clarity and realize all I was really doing was fruitlessly rearranging bits on my hard drive. I would then swear the game off and delete minecraft.exe (but not the saves), only to redownload it from the oh-so-handy website the next instant I felt even slightly bored or distracted. I did this at least two dozen times. Eventually I was doing it nightly.

I needed to make it permanent, and I needed to do it within that exe-deleting moment of clarity, before the siren called again. Early one Monday morning about a month ago, I therefore made mittense change my Minecraft account password and not bother to write it down, and as I watched him do it I did not feel an ounce of regret.

Minecraft, you are a succubus, and you do me so good but I just don't like who I am when I'm with you. I'll be in UE3. Don't call me.