The first half of 2017 was crammed with exceptional games. That high tide ebbed in May, and I've spent the last couple of weeks going back and catching up on what I missed. I've also spent a lot of time playing Minecraft, a game that came out almost six years ago.
I've played a lot of different versions of Minecraft over the years. I spent dozens of hours playing the game on PC when it first came out, back when I needed to keep a crafting guide open on my phone to have any hope of making anything useful. I played for a week on PS4 a year or so ago, and again in virtual reality a bit after that. These past couple of weeks I've been back at it, this time on Nintendo Switch. What began as a test run to see how the game worked on a new portable console has become a bonafide new Minecraft save file. I'm invested.
So far I have a pretty good house going, with a nice front yard.
I cleared out a room for a basement/wine cellar down below. I'm still not sure what I'm gonna do with it.
I dug into the naturally-occurring chambers below my house and cleared out the monsters, so I have a working mine.
I built a window into the corner of the house so I can see the sun set on a nearby mountain.
I'm a boring Minecraft player. I don't play online, I don't play on PC with mods, and I don't spend any time on servers. I don't know how to make complicated mechanisms or what to do with rare materials or monsters. I play in straight-up survival mode, and my creations are rarely all that ambitious. It works for me. Other games demand so much more; more skill, more focus, more attention. I find comfort in Minecraft's predictability.
I rent an apartment in real life, but I imagine Minecraft to be like a low-stress, low-consequence version of home ownership. There are always a few things I keep meaning to take care of, just like there would be if I owned a house. The crucial difference is that nothing costs me any money, and if I commit to a renovation I don't like, I can easily undo it. My to-do list isn't stressful; it's relaxing. I'm clearing out the back yard, but have been meaning to finish up the roof on the wine cellar. And what would happen if I built a second lookout podium along the north side of the house? That might be nice.
Minecraft holds a spot alongside a tiny group of modern games — Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac among them — that seem like they will be around forever. Whenever someone makes a new gadget with a screen and some sort of input method, it's only a matter of time before Microsoft puts Minecraft on it.
Each time I download Minecraft to a new system, I start out the same way. I build three walls and a roof. I chop some wood and make a crafting table. Soon I have a house, a bed and the makings of a plan. There's just one question left, and the possible answers are infinite: What will I do next?