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Minecraft plus one

We’re doomed. Jen likes Minecraft. I didn’t expect her to like it but she’s invested now, iPhone app and all. That’s all fine and well but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy playing with other people. Minecraft successfully straddles the gap between solo and multiplayer wonderfully. 

A lonely start

I’ve only been playing Minecraft since this past summer, not even a year at this point, and after hitting it hard for maybe a month my play time trailed off. I found that Minecraft has a very low saturation point. You can play it pretty solid for maybe a week and then you hit a point where you kind of feel like there’s nothing left to do. You’ve dug, you’ve built, you’ve killed and you’ve been killed. So I’d quit playing for a long while then come back to it and enjoy it for another week…wash, rinse repeat. I accepted that cycle and didn’t have any problems.

Then my wife mentions in casual conversation that she wants a game that has exploring but not much else. A game where you can just wander. What a coincidence…that pretty much describes Minecraft to a tee. We installed the game on her laptop and she used my account to give the game I try. I had my doubts whether she would like it. I’m not sure she’s ever really sat and played any first-person games, plus with lack of any explicit goals, Minecraft can very quickly feel like a “now what” game. But to my surprise she latched on to Minecraft quickly and loves it. Go figure.

She was playing solo as was I to help show her the ropes. Then it hit me that we could be playing together if we had a Minecraft server. Conveniently enough, a LAN Minecraft server is incredibly easy to install and setup, even if it is somewhat skittish and unreliable (but it might just be my computer). But the server worked and after she got her own account we were wandering in the same world together…and then the real fun in Minecraft started to come out.

It's all in the details
It's all in the details

A family that games together…

Historically speaking I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer. I’ll usually opt for the single player games because I find them more rewarding. However, Minecraft is such a big game that even when you’re in the same world with someone, you don’t have to play “together” if you don’t want to. This is how I approached us playing together but that dynamic quickly changed as I watched Jen learn how to play the game.

Minecraft can be a hard game to jump into because there aren’t a lot of hints in the game that tell you what, where or how to do anything. You’re left to your own devices, which can be very unforgiving. I was able to quickly build a shelter and survive but Jen had some trouble. She kept dying and respawning and getting lost. Apparently her poor sense of direction in the real world translates into virtual worlds as well. So I played the part of guide and i’s been a very interesting and fun role to play…and it was somewhat unexpected.

Digging to find more fun

I’m not holding her hand or anything. She’s capable of figuring things out and having fun doing it (and is not quite proficient), but as I can more quickly hack through things and find my way around, I’ve found myself paying a lot more attention to how I build things and how I label locations. Playing alone, I know my own skill so I can forgo certain conveniences to get around. Now that Jen is playing and is still in the novice class, I’m taking a little extra effort in making things easier to traverse. At first this was my way of helping her along but I quickly found myself taking a lot more pleasure in adding “dressing” to my Minecraft world that I had previously. I’ve now blinged out a lot of places in the world that she may never see…heck, there are places I’ll probably never return to…not just for her but because it’s a new challenge for myself. But it doesn’t hurt to show off a bit either.

Sharing a moment with my dog
Sharing a moment with my dog

Even though I may be better at crafting and building than she is, as I said before, we can be in entirely different parts of the world doing our own thing and still have fun (another reflection of real life). But now when I roam around I’ll come across structures she’s built and abandoned, and it feels wonderful. Minecraft out-of-the-box is very much a last-man-on-earth game and you know you’re alone. On a server that’s not true so when you come across something that you didn’t build yourself there’s a great sense of discovery. It makes you want to create things for the sole purpose of being found by someone else.

Almost-social gaming

However, with all the fun that comes along in building things and wandering around the world with another player, so comes the serious game nerd happenings. Since we’re playing on a LAN server and we’re in the same room, we’ve had many Make Love Not Warcraft moments:

“Did you make a sword yet?”

“How many wool do you have?”

“I need feathers for my arrows, you have any”

“You need a hoe. Two stone and two sticks.”

So even when we’re not playing together in the game, we’re still playing together. Yes, it’s entirely dorky and you do get that third-person moment when you realize just how nerdy you both are, but hey, that’s part of the fun too, right?

I was wrong

I recently read a post at a game blog talking about Minecraft single player compared to multiplayer. Some people commented that Minecraft sucks as a single-player experience and I retorted with witty “does not” type remark, and while I still think Minecraft is fun when playing solo, playing with others changes things entirely. It changes how you perceive and play the game. I’m not going to say multiplayer is more fun because I think it’s just a different type of fun…just like any game. Plus it is great to find some new excitement in a game that I had nearly given up on.