If you’ve listened to the show at all, it’s no secret that Luke has pulled me into the mystical cube-world of Minecraft. Lately, I’ve been trying to look at my life more objectively and deconstruct the elements of things and understand the relationships between them and me. I’ve also been wanting to write more blog posts, which this seems to be a quaint intersection of all three of these things.
The elevator pitch of Minecraft didn’t (and still doesn’t) hook me. I can clearly remember an excited, lispy Luke telling me about it after he’d been sucked in. “You can build anything. And destroy everything. It’s like a giant playground.”
That description still doesn’t hook me, honestly. But, to jump on the bandwagon (and to satisfy that nagging curiosity) I bought and started playing. It didn’t take long for it to happen – the game clicked for me. It had sunk its roots into me and wasn’t letting go.
The mechanic of its attraction eluded me for the longest time, though. At first glance, the obvious culprit to finger for attraction is the ability to infinitely customize your space. That’s a cool element to the game, but not an attractor for me.
I have a utilitarian disdain for art and personalization. My desktop at work and home is the default Windows 7 theme. My car/desk/office is mostly unadorned with knick-knacks and other symbols of a living room. Even the structures I build inside the game are utilitarian: rough stone, no color with doors.
Ruling out that as a motivator eliminated my primary suspect. It forced me to dig deeper. What is it about this game that other games don’t offer? Something that I get in smaller doses that this game provides in spades?
Construction. In many games, you construct things: a narrative, a character, an item or something along those lines. Construction by itself isn’t the reward mechanic that these games rely on. Progress indicators are a clear indication that yes you are creating something and look at what progress you’ve made on it.
Some common indicators of progress:
- The experience progress bar in most MMOs (World of Warcraft’s is probably the most iconic)
- The construction of a rare item, usually from some equally rare materials
- A percentage complete when on the save menu (Symphony of the Night, I’m looking at you)
But, there are also some other common, less obvious indicators of progress on these things:
- Your character sheet, with skills/abilities that advance (with experience or without)
- The plot – do a little work, get a little story as a progress reward
- Scale – As the scale of what you do increases (from street gang conflict to saving the world) you can see a visible progress in the power level of your game
In Minecraft none of these things exist. You could make the argument that item creation exists. As any Minecraft player will tell you, creating most items in the game doesn’t instill a sense of progress, but one of loss of resources.
No, the progress reward cycle produced by Minecraft comes from the construction itself. Buildings, monuments and the like. With every block placed in their construction, you have an instant, visible indicator of your progress and you get an incredible sense of just what else needs to be done to finish the job.
Even mining through the earth is a subtle indicator of progress – the run back through mineshafts that continually grow longer forces you to recognize the ‘accomplishment’ of having dug that far through the earth.
So what lesson is learned from this? Simple: progress is a motivator.