Many people have asked me, "So, what's the point of Minecraft?" and then I tell them, "Well, here's the thing. There is no point." Some people take that in stride, others can't comprehend a game not having a goal to work toward. Minecraft is an excellent example of sandbox gaming in its purest form. You are dropped into a randomly generated world and free to do whatever you want. There's no end goal or structure to the game. You can build, hunt wildlife, go fight monsters, mine for minerals and rare ore or simply explore the world. Minecraft is your sandbox and how you play around in it is entirely up to you.
The simplest way of describing Minecraft's building mechanics is "break stuff to make stuff" and that's it. The game revolves around this simple mantra. Punching trees (yes, you read that right) gets you wood, one of the most basic resources which you'll need to craft tools which open up even more mining and crafting opportunities. Once you get the hang of these mechanics, the possibilities for creation are nearly endless.
This also brings up a problem with Minecraft in that a huge amount of the game revolves around trial and error. The lack of structure also means there's no hand-holding whatsoever in the beginning to ease new players into the game and those players may have no idea what to do once they start the game. In the beginning, most, if any, progress is made through experimentation. I guess it can be argued that the experimentation is part of Minecraft's genius but for me, this was one of the biggest obstacles on the path toward enjoying the game. I had no idea how to craft tools, or even that such tools existed until, frustrated, I was directed to an external website that contained building guides on everything there is to be crafted in the game and what you'll need to make them.
Before finding out about this website, I was practically at my wit's end with the game, having been killed yet again, losing all of my held items in the process, because some creeper (one of Minecraft's more prolific and annoying creatures) exploded and blew apart the tiny hovel I'd dug into the side of a mountain to hole up for the night. Things aren't all peaceful in the world of Minecraft (unless you want it to be). When the sun sets and the dark veil of night covers the land, Zombies, spiders and skeletons armed with bows and arrows appear, and they all want you dead. At this point, it's best to build some kind of shelter and hole up for the night, hoping that no creepers decide to pay you a visit and blow your dwelling to pieces or, you can go out, sword in hand, and brave the creatures of the night.
So, what makes this fun and appealing? Well, there's no simple, objective answer to that. To enjoy Minecraft, you have to embrace it for what it is. It's a game that allows you to do whatever you want with no restrictions. If you've ever played with LEGO blocks as a child (and if you haven't, I weep for you), you know that most of the fun comes from the act of building, not just the end result. You build, you destroy, you explore, you mine and much, much more. This is what is entertaining about Minecraft, making the world your own.
There's a certain satisfaction that comes from exploring the world that has been created for you. Every world in Minecraft is randomly generated, which is another part of Minecraft's genius. It's thrilling to be mining for minerals and suddenly fall into a dark dungeon, teeming with monsters and bravely taking them on. Even if you die, you know you went out like a pro.
Being in beta form as of this writing, Minecraft is an unfinished game but despite that, it's just as rewarding, charming and genuinely entertaining as many other games costing much more. Even in its current beta form, I'd say Minecraft is more than worth the price of admission. And the best thing about it being unfinished? Notch and his crew of developers behind the project are still adding things to the game. Things like snow, ice, beds, pet wolves (yes, wolves) and so on have been added to the game since it reached the beta stage and with other features such as weather cycles, Minecraft can only get better from here by the time the full game is ready.
So here's the rub. If you don't like the concept of sandbox gaming or playing with LEGOs, you probably won't like Minecraft. This is a polarizing game in that respect and I can see why some people wouldn't like it. For everyone else, this is more than worth checking out. There aren't any fancy visuals or top-tier sound design or even amazing competitive multiplayer (although there is multiplayer in the game, though I haven't tested it) to hook gamers and draw them in. What Minecraft does have are simplistic, easy to pick up and play game mechanics that are hard to put down once you've gotten started. Now, if you'll excuse me, my castle isn't going to build itself…