What Is Minecraft All About?

By Bec Oakley

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a game where you dig (mine) and build (craft) different kinds of 3D blocks within a large world of varying terrains and habitats to explore.

In this world the sun rises and sets as you go about your work, gathering materials and making tools. There is rain and the occasional lightning storm, and animals that you can tame, farm or use for food. Depending on which mode you’re playing in, you might also need to fight for your survival against hunger, danger and bad guys.

Despite the similarity of a world made of simple low-res blocks, the game really isn’t like playing with online Lego... it’s like building something out of Lego after you made and moulded the plastic and dyed it with plants that you grew yourself, and then going on an adventure inside it through forests and deserts while monsters are chasing you.

If you’re having a hard time understanding what the game's all about, it might help to think of it less as a game and more as a toy. There aren't a lot of preset goals or steps to take - what kids do with it is really only limited by their imaginations. But here's the basic idea of what it's like to play Minecraft....

When you start a game in survival mode, you're standing in a random spot surrounded by trees, grass, snow, mountains or water. The sun will be in the sky and you might hear the gentle sounds of animals nearby.

Your first job is to find and punch down a tree to collect wood, which you can turn into planks to make a crafting table. This allows you to convert your leftover wood into a pickaxe, so you can start digging down into the ground to collect coal and cobblestone. Once you have those you can make some torches and better tools and weapons, which will be very important in protecting you from the creatures that come out in the night... speaking of which, you need to hurry and make some kind of shelter before that sun starts to set. That's day one in your Minecraft world, which is about 10-20 minutes in real time.

The next few days you'll be busy building a more substantial house to protect you from the monsters, putting together a furnace for smelting, finding sheep so you can make a bed, crafting tools and weapons, making chests to keep all your stuff in and securing some kind of food source so you don't die.

After that, now that you're getting good at keeping yourself alive you might spend some time exploring caves and mining for valuable ores. Or maybe you love fighting monsters and start building elaborate weapons and traps. You might even go off on an adventure to find villages and temples and abandoned mine shafts, or decide to build a city or start a farm. The opportunities and decisions start to become endless, limited only by your skills and imagination.

How do you play?

Minecraft is what’s called a sandbox game, where the player creates the game themselves by manipulating the world within it (like kids playing in the sand). There are no specific steps or goals, so everyone playing the game is having a different experience.

Each time a new game is started it creates a new Minecraft world. You can have many of these worlds if you want, so that each time you play you can choose a different one to roam around in. The worlds are vast and filled with different types of terrain (biomes) and creatures (mobs), as well as things to explore like caves and ravines.

Players can also customize the way they experience each world using a bunch of different options. They can play by themselves (single player) or with others (multiplayer). There are two game modes to choose from - creative (where players have an unlimited number of blocks and items to build with and can't die) or survival (players must find and build all of the things they need to avoid death by hunger, injury or attack from hostile creatures). There are also different levels of difficulty, each with its own unique features and challenges.

Each time the game is played there might be a different number of players or combination of mode and difficulty. There are also unofficial modifications that can be made to the game:

  • Mods - Bits of code that change the way the standard Minecraft game looks or acts (e.g. adding new animals or giving a player more powers).
  • Resource packs - Groups of image and sound files that change the way the game looks and feels (e.g. making all the grass purple).

Minecraft is unlike other video games because 'playing the game' can mean something different to each player. The basic movement and actions through the game are the same for everyone however, depending on which platform the game is played (computer, iPad, iPhone, Xbox or Playstation). Players walk around, jump, dig and punch things with their hand as they go about their day building, mining or farming for resources and food, and crafting these into other useful things like tools and weapons... so they can do some more building, mining or farming.

And that's pretty much it. Simple, right?

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