RPS GOTY Revisited: 2010's Minecraft is the ultimate survival sandbox
Revisiting Minecraft to discuss whether it deserved the GOTY award back in 2010 is a hard task, in the same way that discussing the importance of sliced bread is hard. It’s so significant that, when ranking the significance of other similar things, we all forget it until someone goes “wait wot about Minecraft” and then everyone unleashes a collective “oooo yeahhh”, guaranteeing it the top spot. To echo AliceB’s sentiments upon revisiting Portal, it’s fuckin’ Minecraft.
In fact, I think I could take her Portal revisited intro, replace every instance of “Portal” with “Minecraft”, and call it a day. It’s Minecraft! Of course it was game of the year. It was arguably the game of the decade, an absolute all timer. I won’t spend many words explaining why it is good, because those words would be redundant fodder, like the bloke fighting a soaring dragon by poking the ground under his feet with a sword. I’ll give it a fair go so that Alice can’t say I didn’t try, and swiftly move on to reading all of your (hopefully) lovely comments about why you also like Minecraft. If everyone brings one thing, we can have a show-and-tell.
For the little goblin who just crawled out from under that rock, Minecraft is a sandbox in which you roam around a blocky 3D world and create... pretty much anything. Sandboxes are to be played in, unless you’re eating a sandwich, and Minecraft very much meets that requirement. It’s a game in which to mess around and express yourself, to design something that feels uniquely yours and feel proud of your accomplishments. That could be a cute eco-shack, a whopping wizard’s tower complete with alchemy and enchantment rooms, or even a massive penis. Constructing a staggering wooden phallus in Minecraft is practically a rite of passage between childhood and adolescence at this point, an essential post sex education class ritual. And Minecraft is better than an actual sandbox, because you can do all that while eating a sandwich.
For those who shun Creative Mode, Minecraft is also a survival crafting game in which you hunt, gather, mine, build, and fight to survive in an infinite procedurally-generated world. Or rather, it’s the survival crafting game, the one that led to an unprecedented sonic boom in the genre so powerful that it’s still echoing around that aforementioned goblin’s cave today. If you’ve played anything from 7 Days To Die and Project Zomboid to the more recent Valheim and V Rising over the past decade, they all take something from Mojang’s masterpiece.
It all starts with you spawning in the middle of who-knows-where with nothing but an optional map. I like to opt for the map, because maps mean adventure, and spotting one in your inventory should be enough to have you running off like Bilbo Baggins scrambling to leave The Shire. It’s a call to action that doesn’t need to utter a single word, and it leads you into an exponential chain of discoveries. But, even without a map, almost everything beckons you to explore and find out what options you have available. You punch a tree to get wood, which unlocks a full set of shoddy tools. Then, you find that you can mine stone with a pickaxe, which quickly tempts you into a dark cave. Thankfully, some of that stone was actually coal, which Santa could never have expected to be so exciting, and you make a torch. Plonking it on the wall illuminates the surroundings, pulling back the shadowy curtains to reveal countless colourful blocks.
It’s easy to get lost in the thrills that come with constantly unearthing something new. You hop off the track that time would usually help you keep and dive in, quickly forgetting that minutes kinda sorta exist. The sun’s clock keeps ticking, though, and it soon finishes its shift. That’s when the monsters come, and you decide to live in your cave for safety.
It’s easy to get lost in the thrills that come with constantly unearthing something new.
If you forgot to kill a sheep and craft a bed, you probably sit staring at the dark walls until morning, listening to the peaceful, melodic tunes (which warrant a whole post to themselves) interspersed with the hungry groans of a nearby zombie. If you forgot to kill anything, then you’ll probably starve and go the way of the zombie soon enough. So it goes. It’s a busy first day in Minecraft. One that’s full of discovery, and one that can so easily end in death.
Whether you survive the first night or start a fresh save, the discoveries keep coming. Villages dot the landscape and introduce you to trading, which sends you on a quest for emeralds. A bit of spelunking may soon reveal diamonds, which is a clear indication that you’re the chosen one and should go fight the Ender Dragon with a sword. And, of course, the End itself, a mysterious land which can only be accessed by extracting the eyes from Ender Men and engaging in a clearly, yet never explicitly stated, demonic ritual. It steadily hands you more toys without ever feeling overwhelming, like a Christmas on which you decide to spread your presents over the day, rather than opening them all in one adrenaline-fuelled five minute window and then promptly collapsing from over-excitement.
Minecraft is a hard thing to put into words, largely because it is just so big. Everyone will undoubtedly love something, though, and I implore you to share your fav thing in the comments. It can be anything! Maybe you love the technical and complicated world of Redstone, or adore the jingly noise that XP makes as you gobble it up. Or perhaps it’s something more personal, such as your favourite build or a cool story. Maybe together, we can put into words everything that makes Minecraft gud.
I’ll kick off the show-and-tell with the community creations. Mods, servers, all the lovely stuff that people far smarter than me make and share on the line. Perhaps my earliest experience was joining a pal’s lobby after school to play in a Hunger Games map that they’d set up, complete with a stack of chests to loot as we dashed off the starting line. Now, you can hop into custom servers that offer a wealth of experiences, including Pokemon-, Runescape-, and GTA-likes. You can head to Middle Earth, set sail on the open seas in the Golden Age of Piracy, and indulge in a Walking Dead fantasy. I don’t know how it all works, but I’m glad it exists regardless. Someone even made their own cover of Toto's Africa. Genius like this will never be matched.
And now I throw it to you, dear reader. What’s your favourite thing in Minecraft?