I first wrote this piece at a time when not everyone in the whole world had heard of Minecraft. To me, the zeitgeist is something that happens to other people…
I play video games. I like playing video games. There I’ve said it, get over it.
Now, I’m not an addicted, compulsive gamer zombie who spends his every waking hour glued to his or her controller. In fact I only usually get to play at the weekends. I like the challenge, it relaxes me, stimulates my brain and entertains me. It engages me in a way that just watching T.V or a film can’t.
Now, as you’d imagine there are many, many different genres of game. Sports games, Driving games, First Person Shooters ( or FPS) Role Playing Games (or RPG), platform games, puzzle games, music games etc. Just as with films, books and any other extended artistic endeavour not all types of game appeal to all players. I’m no fan of sports games, or the more serious driving games. Fighting games are only fun in small doses against a live opponent.
No, what I like, and it’s a style that crosses many genre of game, is the Sandbox.
The sandbox is basically a large open landscape that you are free to explore at your pleasure. The game still has levels, missions or objectives but you are free to pick and choose the way you approach them. This may mean solving little puzzles in a virtual Gotham City in Lego Batman 2, or deciding how to take out an enemy compound in Far Cry 3. In Grand Theft Auto it’s the freedom to do, controversially, almost anything morally dubious you want to.
Perhaps the ultimate Sandbox experience is Minecraft, a game which is all Sandbox and virtually no game, beyond surviving and creating the world as your imagination leads you whilst exploring a randomly generated environment.
If you’ve never seen it, perhaps the best way to describe it is as a world built of little bricks; earth, stone, wood etc. That you are free to dig up and put down at your leisure. Any way, any where. Rare metals found deep underground unlock the ability to create simple electrical circuits to work lights or open doors and create train tracks to whizz you around or to turn into huge roller coasters. Don’t like the monsters, switch ‘um off! Don’t want the hassle of gathering your own elements, switch to Creative mode and have infinite resources to really unleash the imagination.
With enough vision, imagination and time you can create huge magnificent, impossible wonders of architecture. One team actually recreated, to scale, the whole of Denmark, landscape, buildings et al.
Minecraft has rightly become one of the most successful games ever. Its creators sold it to Microsoft for an eye-watering $2.5bn in 2014. It’s easy to pick up, non violent, no gradient of difficulty that makes you give up in frustration. Play with friends or alone and build and explore to your hearts content.
A huge world of forests, jungles, deserts, caves and mountains where your only limit to what you build is your imagination.
Now that’s what you call a Sandbox.