Beautiful Minecraft by James Delaney, Published by No Starch Press.

Beautiful Minecraft by James Delaney, Published by No Starch Press — Click the image to buy a copy.

Minecraft has been through a lot — a meteoric rise to success, a shaky sale to Microsoft, a fade into obscurity, and finally a recent explosion back into popularity. Minecraft is like a phoenix; t always seems to come back. But why is that? What makes Minecraft so unique when similar games with more in-game content disappear forever? We’re going to talk about what made everybody’s favorite cubic building game special, why it’s beloved to this day, and why it has the insane staying power that most indie devs can only dream of.

The beginnings of Minecraft are humble: a small project by a man named Markus Persson, under the name Cave Game. It wasn’t publically available, and it wasn’t anything special. It’s bizarre to think that this very early pre-alpha proto-game would become a multimillion-dollar money printer. Then came the classic (and my introduction to the game). I was but a child at the time, and that was when the addiction started.

You see, Classic Creative was free on the web. There was a selection of blocks, and the ability to build. You could create by yourself or with others and generally have a fun, creative time. Then a bunch of new blocks were added, like ores, wools, flowers, gold, etc. The best thing about Classic Creative was the fact that walking caused your arms to flail about wildly. Then came the survival test, which added in health, enemies, more blocks, TNT, and some enemies and NPCs that have since disappeared.

The Rise of Minecraft

Original Alpha Minecraft

And just like that, it started. Lightning struck. The Minecraft Alpha became available, and the game that we know today began to take shape. More everything? More everything sounds good! Then, all of a sudden, Beta hits. There’s a new logo, achievements, creative mode, weather, more trees, better lights, explosions, bubbles, strongholds, and villages. Hunger is now a factor; the reception is mixed. You suddenly had to eat to survive, which is realistic but sometimes limiting.

However, that’s not what made the Beta the fan favorite that it would become. The two big things that I can attribute to that were the addition of Creative Mode and a brand new terrain-spawning algorithm. Let me digress to tell you just how influential Creative Mode was, because this is one of the critical factors that allows Minecraft to stand the test.

More Minecraft alpha this one with a structure floating above a lake

Creation by Minecraft Forum user MisterPink

I had a roommate in college. Nice guy, really creative — which makes sense, as we were going to an art school. Every night I’d see him on an old laptop with his trackball mouse resting on his leg. Eventually, I asked him what he was doing on that beat up old laptop — I knew he had a stronger one for work in his room. He told me he had a Minecraft world and was afraid of losing it in a transfer. So he just opted to work on it on this old, chunky laptop.

He would eventually send me this world; the culmination of almost six years of work put in from high school into college. Sprawling Viking villages, gigantic ships, a cathedral the size of mountains, underground temples — everything you could imagine was here in this world. Everything was connected and notarized with sign blocks telling you where to go, and what path to take to get to where you wanted to be.

This creativity was part of the big draw people had to Minecraft. There weren’t a lot of things to do in the game do besides survive and build. But you could build, and build, and build. Your creativity was almost completely unbound. The new terrain allowed the hardcore survival players to have a new and fresh experience traversing the wild and crazy shaped mountains, or the lush rolling fields, which completely revitalized their experience. New food was added for them to grow, new features and structures for them to explore; it was an excellent time to be a builder or a survivor.

The Golden Years

Minecraft post relieve with shaders

Then the game released. Mojang added a definite end to Minecraft housed in the new boss, the Ender Dragon. But that’s not what made the release so special. The release came with something new and bold. In 2012, something amazing happened — mods came to Minecraft.

The community put its collective heads together and began making their own content for the game. Sure, you could end your gameplay in a fight against the Ender Dragon, diamond armor and diamond sword in hand. But what if you wanted to become a Techno-Wizard wearing power armor, dual-wielding enchanted desert eagles that fire chickens? You could do that, too. What if you wanted to travel to an ethereal sky dimension inspired by Greek myth, complete with sky whales, or go to an enchanted woodland controlled by Liches and infested with beasts of myth? You totally could. The sky was the limit with mods, and some even pushed past that by allowing you to go to outer space.

lighting mods in minecraft

The already high replayability of Minecraft had increased exponentially. And to be real, this is why I personally still play. There’s always a new experience waiting beyond the launcher. The community built around mods, both supporting and creating these fantastic works of fan content is honestly some of the most encouraging I’ve seen in a long time.

sunset in minecraft

via. Lifewire

It was about this time that YouTubers began to pick up the Redstone torch and play some mods on their channels. Tobuscus, CaptainSparklz, and if I recall, even Pewdiepie himself all enjoyed a bout of Minecraft on their channels. (In fact, the Minecraft Alpha is Pewd’s first video. Go figure.) These YouTubers bolstered the Minecraft community, both for playing mods in multiplayer, but also with their general interest in Minecraft. These big (at the time) names coming up and showing hundreds of thousands of children and adults alike everything that Minecraft had to offer ended up having a considerable effect. The community was active. Pre-rendered Minecraft music videos and animated shorts were appearing at a breakneck pace. Entire careers were built around playing Minecraft because it had that much to offer.

The “Fall”

Microsoft Paperclip saying "It looks like you're trying to play Minecraft."

It was about this time something horrifying happened. Mojang sold Minecraft to Microsoft. Mojang was allowed to keep making the game, so what happened? Original Minecraft was created on Java; it was a chunky, bumpy, and laggy experience. A fan-made performance enhancement mod, Optifine, was one of the most downloaded mods for this very reason. Microsoft saw this and said that it could be better, and thus they began making the new Bedrock edition.

Skin selector for Microsoft's Minecraft

A remade version of Minecraft appeared that ran on different code languages for speed and performance. Gone was modding support, gone was the ability to change your Minecraft skin for free to whatever you want. Here now is microtransaction currency, here to stay are onslaughts of skins for money. Minecraft Mobile became the priority, and the Java edition died. Microsoft took it down, and made it disappear.

The community was afraid and on fire. The game spread to phones, every console under the sun, and on toward its future. The fear people experienced, and the bitterness over Minecraft getting microtransactions was enough to drive many people away. The game started to get a new reputation as a “child’s game” and “cringy,” for no reason other than people feeling as though they had outgrown the game.

The Return to the Block

Poster for the major Minecraft combat update

So how did Minecraft and Microsoft redeem the game? Why are people so into Minecraft again? What changed? Honestly, not a lot. Microsoft might have had some blunders at the start, but they didn’t do anything completely irredeemable. The thing is, people outgrew outgrowing Minecraft. There will forever be thirty-nine-year-old balding men with dubstep CGI intros for their Minecraft Mod Reviews, and forever be kids with poorly edited Minecraft Let’s Plays. But people simply stopped letting that get to them.

Are Video Games Art?

Cringe culture as a whole has been slowly dying, which is awesome because it allows people to like things again. Since the community at large didn’t leave, the people returning to Minecraft have been welcomed back with open arms. The modding scene has gotten even more insane, and the YouTubers have evolved their content.

Minecraft with a dragon flying overhead and setting everything on fire. Ice and Fire: Dragons Mod

Ice and Fire: Dragons Mod – Click the image to download it for your server!

This community that stayed is what kept Minecraft alive, even when it was at its lowest. The community that this game had built ended up being beyond bedrock solid. Sure, there were subsets — the players, the builders, adventurers, modders and meme lords. But they all came together to form one tight-knit community of genuinely passionate people. Even when Minecraft fell out of fashion for a bit, it still kept going strong with player numbers that most companies would sacrifice every limb on their metaphorical body for.

Its revival is due in no small part to this incredible community. But it’s also due to the YouTubers who have come back after years of absence. YouTubers are picking Minecraft up by its bootstraps to craft new and engaging experiences. The game is so simple that everybody exposed to it can pick it up and understand building and playing almost inherently. That makes Minecraft’s influence so powerful. Combine that with people just getting nostalgic for Minecraft, Twitter memelords using the game for their memetic medium, and so much more. Heck! You can even play Minecraft in VR with mods, which is just insane!

It’s Minecraft’s 10th anniversary this month, which means there’s no better time for us to think back and realize how much fun there still is to have. The funny block game we all used to play way back in the day is still waiting for us. So the only thing I have left to ask you is, have you gone back yet?